No fighter – not Arturo Gatti, not Diego Corrales, not Manny Pacquiao – has been in more compelling fights in the last 25 years than Erik Morales.
Each time out, it was almost a slam-dunk guarantee that Morales would deliver an electrifying fight.
The Morales of today, though, is not the Morales of 2000, who that year engaged Marco Antonio Barrera in the first of three highly skilled, bitterly fought battles that signaled his ascent into superstardom.
Morales is now fighting an opponent he cannot beat. Losing is almost inevitable.
He'll face Danny Garcia on Saturday in the main event of a Showtime-televised quadruple-header for the WBA/WBC super lightweight titles at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. He may beat Garcia, though it's unlikely, because he nearly did so in March, not long after gall bladder surgery.
Morales, though, won't beat boxing. No one who has tried has ever done it and no matter how stubborn or insistent Morales is, he won't be the first.
Boxing has raised many men from the slums to riches and fame, but it almost inevitably takes it all back when the fighter doesn't know when to say when.
Legendary middleweight champion “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler walked away after a loss to Sugar Ray Leonard in 1987, never to return, his faculties and wealth intact. The great heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis did the same, retiring after a win over Vitali Klitschko in 2003 while he was still on top.
Even the promoter of Saturday's fight card, soon-to-be Hall of Famer Oscar De La Hoya, made the smart move. A few months after he was pummeled by Pacquiao, De La Hoya wisely stepped away.
But De La Hoya had something Morales doesn't have. Richard Schaefer, Golden Boy's CEO and De La Hoya's one-time manager, arranged for a soft landing for De La Hoya's post-fight career. He invested De La Hoya's money, diversified his holdings and built Golden Boy into a legitimate business.
When it was time for De La Hoya to retire, he didn't have to worry about paying the bills because of the groundwork Schaefer had laid years before.
Few other fighters have that, though. They inevitably fight on because they spend their purses like drunken sailors during their careers and, when the massive paydays end, they can't pay their bills.
To pay the bills, they fight, and when they fight long after their body tells them it's time to quit, they get hurt.
Morales hasn't been hurt – yet – but he fights the kind of fearless face-first style that makes him among the most vulnerable.
He has been hearing cries for his retirement for years now, since he was hammered by Pacquiao in their third fight in 2006. He was 30 then, and defiantly opted to fight on.
Now, he's 36, and it's a testament to his greatness that he's able to be competitive with guys like Garcia after all he's been through.
"What makes you think I can't still fight just because I am 36?" Morales asked at a New York workout on Tuesday. "I know I can still fight and I am going to win Saturday night."
Perhaps he might. Garcia is still largely an unknown commodity, though he seemed to answer a lot of questions by stopping Amir Khan to win the belt in July.
It's not a stretch to think that Morales' less-than-stellar showing in their March 24 bout was due to the lingering effects of December gall bladder surgery.
Give Morales credit for refusing to use the surgery as an excuse for his loss, but it's naive to think it didn't have an impact.
"That is in the past and I don't think I need to talk about that now," Morales said of his surgery. "I am not into making excuses. It was something that happened but we are going to rematch now, so let's see what happens." What's probably going to happen is what usually happens in a Morales fight. He'll get hit and he'll fight back, hard, with every ounce of strength he has left in that skinny frame.
He's utterly fearless, which makes for compelling television but probably won't do much for his brain function later in life.
"When the media people ask you to say goodbye, I don't hear those comments," Morales said. "When you love boxing, you don't think about that. If I'm going to retire, I'll know when. When the time is right, I'll know in Tijuana, where I started my career."
A victory over Garcia will make him a champion again. Though it's unlikely – at this stage, Garcia is younger, stronger and faster – the result of the first fight proved it's not impossible.
It would be a big win for him.
But the biggest win would be if he recognized soon that he's never going to beat boxing. Retiring on top, with his title, money and faculties, is the only way he'll have a chance.
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