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Morales gets up off the mat

Bob Arum promotes a boxing match the way Brian Urlacher sizes up a running back: He goes at it hard and fast and with everything he has.

If you listened to Arum pitch it for a few minutes, you might be tempted to tune in to watch Rosie and The Donald go at it, so persuasive is he.

But Arum is surprisingly dispassionate about the pay-per-view fight he's promoting on Saturday in Chicago.

He spoke quietly and in measured tones about the lightweight title fight between David Diaz and Erik Morales which is headlining Saturday's card at Allstate Arena.

Arum has promoted most of Morales' fights, two of which were deemed Fight of the Year and at least a handful of others which could have been.

But Arum hasn't been Arum for this promotion. And that's because he's not sure that Morales is still Morales.

Morales (48-5, 34 KOs) is one of the most entertaining scrappers of recent vintage, a guy who's won world titles in three weight classes and who fearlessly took on the toughest men of his generation.

He's still fearless and, at 30, is young even as boxers go. But he's looked like Willie Mays circa 1973 in his last few outings. He's dropped four of his last five, including his last three, and has been stopped in back-to-back bouts by Manny Pacquiao.

Now, while it's hardly a sin to lose to, or even get stopped by, Pacquiao, who may be the best fighter in the world not named Mayweather, there is little explanation for Morales' 2005 loss to Zahir Raheem.

After the loss in his rubber match with Pacquiao last year, when Morales was simply overwhelmed and quit while on his hands and knees when he realized the futility of trying to go on, Arum figured they'd begin to write Morales' Hall of Fame plaque.

"Obviously, I assumed he would retire," Arum said. "Erik's a great kid. You hate to see that. And he doesn't need this. I figured he was done."

Morales, though, had other ideas. He called Arum a few months after that Nov. 18 loss to Pacquiao and suggested he go for the lightweight title.

No Mexican born fighter has ever won world championships in four weight classes. Not Ruben Olivares. Not Salvador Sanchez. Not Julio Cesar Chavez. And not Marco Antonio Barrera.

Morales, who held WBC world titles at 122, 126 and 130 pounds, couldn't resist the lure, especially when he saw that David Diaz held the championship.

Now, Diaz (32-1-1, 17 KOs) is a decent sort of fellow and, well, a decent sort of fighter, but he's not the kind of a guy you imagine when you think of a world champion.

Clearly, he's not Morales' idea of a champion.

"Diaz is a very raw fighter and he has an amateur style of fighting," Morales said.

(Given that Morales is so close to WBC president Jose Sulaiman, you kind of wish he'd expressed that opinion to Sulaiman before Sulaiman allowed Diaz and Jose Armando Santa Cruz to fight for a belt that was stolen from Diego Corrales, but that's another story for another time.)

Arum sees the same things that Morales sees and he knows if this were three years earlier, they'd already be fitting Morales for the title belt.

Now, though, Arum isn't sure. He's so unsure, he's not certain Morales is as ready for Diaz as Jose Luis Castillo was for Ricky Hatton in June.

Before Castillo, another Arum-promoted fighter, took on Hatton on June 23, Arum noted that Castillo could be at the end of the line. It turned out he was, as Hatton stopped a surprisingly listless Castillo in the fourth round.

But Arum, who other than Don King is perhaps boxing's ultimate homer, isn't sure Morales has as much left as he felt Castillo did.

"I'm not going to b.s. something I don't know," Arum said. "With Castillo, I knew there was a possibility he didn't have it any more, and I said that, but I believed there was a chance he could still have a great fight left in him.

"But I had more confidence in Castillo still being there than I do Morales."

He spoke softly, atypical of Arum at any time but particularly just a couple of days before a major pay-per-view fight.

He feels an obligation to Morales, though, and when Morales told him the problem in the Pacquiao fight was that he drained himself making the 130-pound super featherweight limit, Arum felt obliged to give him the benefit of the doubt.

In boxing, the benefit of the doubt can, literally, turn out deadly, but Arum doesn't think Diaz is the guy who could hurt Morales.

"David Diaz is a tough kid and a durable guy, but he's not one of those killers who could do serious damage or injury to Morales," Arum said.

And so, Arum said he felt he owed it to Morales to at least give him the opportunity. Morales used highly regarded personal trainers from Los Angeles prior to the last Pacquiao fight and much was made about their impact on him.

Morales surprisingly weighed in at 128, two pounds under the limit, and pronounced himself ready to stop Pacquiao.

But when he climbed into the ring that fateful night, he knew there were problems and that they weren't Pacquiao's.

"I felt good, mentally and physically (in the dressing room), but when I got up into the ring, I didn't feel the same way. I felt weak," Morales said.

And he fought that way.

It was sad to see Morales in that state, much as it was sad to see an old Muhammad Ali battered by a young Larry Holmes and like it was sad to see an aged Holmes pummeled by a prime Mike Tyson.

It is, sadly, one of the rites of boxing, a bloody and concussive passing of the guard.

Arum will be ringside, as he always is, and will bound into the ring to celebrate should Morales manage to pull off the victory.

"In Mexico, this would be huge," said Arum, who placed Morales third among the country's all-time greatest fighters behind Chavez and Sanchez.

But he also knows it could turn out not so good. He didn't want to talk about it much, but clearly, it was bothering him knowing that a good guy could take a beating for no good reason.

He also knows, the pride that lies deep within that skinny frame, and he wanted to see Morales realize his dream.

"He's a kid it's hard for me to say no to," Arum said. "He's been so great for this sport and this company. He says he thinks he can do it, and I guess it's at least plausible. He knows his body and how he feels better than I do.

"I hope he's right. You just don't know. It's a tough call, but I didn't really know how to say no to him."

Click here for Kevin Iole's column on David Diaz.

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