ROSEMONT, Ill. – Amid the many moments of triumph, the celebrations of victories hard won, the enduring image of Erik Morales is of him on his hands in knees in a neutral corner, looking toward his father and shaking his head no.
Erik Morales, three-division world champion, future Hall of Famer, had enough sense last Nov. 18 to know he'd had enough.
He took the 10-count against Manny Pacquiao in that fight on the UNLV campus in Las Vegas because he knew fighting on was futile.
Morales has been around for 14 years and has won 48 of his 53 fights, many in spectacular fashion.
He's 18-2 in world title fights, which in boxing is nearly as remarkable as Ty Cobb's .367 career batting average is in baseball. When you have 20 championship fights, they usually figure a way to cheat you out of a few.
This is a guy who has epitomized the warrior spirit, who has risen to meet every challenge.
It's also time for him to recognize, as he did in the third round on Nov. 18, when it's futile to go on. He's going to challenge David Diaz on Saturday for the WBC lightweight championship in what is a blatant bid to stroke his ego.
Morales is one of the five greatest Mexican-born fighters in boxing history. None of the others – Julio Cesar Chavez, Ruben Olivares, Salvador Sanchez or Marco Antonio Barrera – ever won more than three.
Morales, though, is no lightweight. He complained the other day about the conditioning coaches his promoter provided for him prior to the Nov. 18 fight with Pacquiao. They helped him to lose the weight he needed to make the 130-pound super featherweight limit, he said, but they sapped him of his strength in the process.
That, though, is simply being disingenuous, because he can't have already forgotten his previous dalliance at lightweight.
When fighters are successful and begin to make money, they realize they can dictate terms. And one term they often try to dictate, given the opportunity, is the weight a bout is fought at, because cutting weight is perhaps the most disagreeable task in sports. Fighters frequently blame their problems on difficulty with the weight, an excuse that anyone who's ever tried to squeeze a 38-inch waist into 34-inch jeans can relate to.
But when on Sept. 9, 2005, he went up to 135 to free himself of the burden of making 130, Morales was listless and a shell of himself in dropping a decision to Zahir Raheem. You need to understand that Morales losing to Raheem is akin to the Globetrotters getting routed by the Washington Generals, but Morales didn't get the hint.
He returned to 130 pounds and was knocked out in back-to-back fights with Pacquiao.
After the second, he blamed the conditioning coaches and set his sights on Diaz's title. Morales clearly sees Diaz as an easy mark. And for the Morales of 2002 or 2003, that may be true.
But Morales, loser of four of his last five and instilling fear in exactly no one any longer, isn't close to the man he was in 2002.
One of former world champion James Toney's favorite sayings is something that Morales would be wise to remember if he somehow manages to escape the Diaz bout with his wits intact.
You play baseball, Toney would say. You play golf. But you don't play boxing.
Morales is gambling that Diaz, who has 17 knockouts in 34 fights, doesn't hit hard enough to hurt him.
It's a gamble, though, he need not have taken.
It's not as though he needs the money. Anybody can use an extra $1.2 million, which Morales will earn on Saturday. That's especially true of a guy who was born in a ramshackle apartment above a boxing gym in a destitute section of Tijuana, Mexico. But Morales has been careful with his money, apparently invested it wisely and has, promoter Bob Arum says, a bright future outside the sport.
He can do no more to enhance his reputation than he's already done. His fights with Barrera are the stuff of legends. He set a standard that young Mexican fighters will be chasing for decades.
But his fearlessness put him in the line of fire and he's taken too many blows for too long a period of time. He'd come out of fights looking like he was beaten with a tire iron. And those were the bouts he'd won.
Those beatings take a toll on a man. Beatings like the ones Morales has taken are why so many retired NFL players are barely able to walk.
The great Sugar Ray Robinson once told a Senate panel that boxing is a hurt business.
If Morales doesn't take heed of that, he's soon going to find out how true Robinson's words remain today.
- Erik Morales
- Manny Pacquiao