By Matthew Hurley: I suppose I owe something of an apology to Erik Morales. After all, what I thought would be my last article about him, until his hall of fame induction, all but begged him to retire.
There were reasons for that of course. One, he had lost four consecutive fights after what I thought was his last great effort – his unanimous decision victory over Manny Pacquiao in 2006. Two, he had complained of headaches after those losses and admitted that he felt the effects of blows to the head and body like he never had before. And three, simply put, he had always been a personal favorite whose career I had followed and written about ever since I first saw the skinny kid from Tijuana bang his gloved fists together in anticipation of the opening bell. I didn’t want to see yet another great fighter beaten senseless by opponents he would have toyed with in his prime. We’ve all seen that movie one too many times.
So it was with apprehension that I awaited the opening round for his seemingly ill-advised bout against the murderous puncher Marcos Maidana on Saturday night. But just like days of old, when I would drink Corona beer in his honor whenever Morales entered the ring (and I don’t even like Corona), I found myself leaping out of my chair in exultation as the old warrior refused to fade away and took the overwhelming favorite into the depths of hell. Although he didn’t get the victory he won the night, and sometimes that means just as much.
Watching Morales deftly dip and dodge Maidana’s wide swinging power punches, all the while suffering through a right eye that had closed shut in the very first round, was a reminder that ‘El Terrible’ wasn’t just a blood and guts warrior in his prime, but also a skilled boxer with superior technique. But what made Morales such a fan favorite was that whenever he did get hit it seemed to ignite a fire in him that tossed technique out the window. Simply put, Morales has always loved to throw down and prove his machismo and he did plenty of that against Maidana.
But what was most astonishing about this performance wasn’t the long, stiff jab that kept Maidana off balance and stunned him a few times, or that straight right hand down the pike that has always been Erik’s best punch; no, it was his ability to absorb Maidana’s best shots without ever wavering.
At thirty-four, fighting in a division way above what he weighed in his fistic prime and taking everything the hardest puncher at 140 pounds could bang against his body and head was just remarkable. It spoke to his grit, his determination, his will and his pride.
When asked how he was able to produce such a valiant effort despite the terrible injury to his right eye, Morales smiled and replied matter-of-factly, “I have something called dignity and heart.” To which his supporters in the crowd endorsed with raucous applause.
Morales didn’t need this unexpected effort to cement his place in the boxing hall of fame at Canastota. He staked his claim years ago. But what a topper to a great career it was.
Maidana, to his great credit, offered Morales a rematch and knowing Erik, if he can’t secure a bout with one of the other 140 pound belt holders, in order to win a fourth title in as many divisions, he will gladly step back into the ring for another go round with a fighter not many other junior welterweights care to engage. The fight was fought with such intensity, on both sides, that a rematch is really a no-brainer. There is also the possibility of a fourth fight with Marco Antonio Barrera or a grudge match against Juan Manuel Marquez.
Still, I would rather see this great champion call it a day. However, I won’t begrudge him that insatiable desire he harbors to prove his brilliance all over again. He’s earned the right to do whatever he wants and I will follow him to the bitter end because that’s how it must end for Erik Morales. It’s obvious that the only way he will cut off the gloves and surrender to retirement is when he is carried out on his shield. That’s who Erik Morales is. That’s why his fans adore him and that is why he has produced such an exciting, glorious, blood-soaked career
April 12, 2011