ROSEMONT, Ill. – Erik Morales had meant so much to Top Rank during his boxing career that the company's president, Todd duBoef, couldn't stand to stay inside Allstate Arena on Saturday to watch Morales try to win the WBC lightweight title from David Diaz.
With all his heart, duBoef wanted to see Morales hoist a title belt one final time. Morales had won world championships at 122, 126 and 130 pounds and was trying to become the first Mexican-born fighter to capture a belt in four weight divisions.
Boxing, though, isn't a sport for storybook endings and, as duBoef feared, there wasn't one for Morales or for his legion of fans.
Diaz won a unanimous decision to retain his belt in what Morales said was the final bout of his illustrious career. The judges had it 115-113, 115-112 and 114-113 for Diaz. Yahoo! Sports had it 116-112 for Diaz.
"You won't see me again," a placid Morales said after the bout. "Too many shots to the head."
Morales was the rare fighter who never had an off night in the effort department. He lost his last four and five of his last six to finish his career with a 48-6 record, but he competed as hard on Saturday in his final bout as he did on Sept. 6, 1997, when he beat Daniel Zaragoza in his first championship bout.
But he didn't have the snap on his punches or the spring in his legs that he had for much of his career.
Part of that was Diaz, who relentlessly moved forward and pummeled Morales' body incessantly.
"The guy just would never quit, but that's Erik Morales," Diaz said, beaming despite a large shiner under his right eye. "That's why so many of these fans were here in my house rooting for him. The guy's a legend and he comes to fight every minute of every round." Even in a first round in which Morales scored a knockdown, it wasn't vintage Morales. Diaz controlled the first round thoroughly and only got knocked down when he made a mistake and was caught trying to land one extra big shot.
Morales flashed a right hand that caught Diaz on the chin and sent him tumbling backward. Two of the three judges scored it 10-9 instead of 10-8 for Morales because that was his only moment of the round.
But Morales, 30, was leading on all three cards at the fight's midpoint. The fight had been taken out of Morales long before Saturday, though, and he was not able to sustain his first-half performance.
Uncharacteristically, he backed up most of the night, as Diaz relentlessly bore forward. "He's the kind of fighter who comes all the time and he kept it up the whole fight," Morales said. "You have to give him credit."
Morales' father, Jose, complained about what he said were illegal tactics by Diaz afterward, but Morales himself would have none of it.
He took the high road, repeatedly praising Diaz for his courage and promising to cheer him on in his next fight.
Diaz would like that bout to be against someone named Diaz – either WBA champion Juan or IBF champion Julio – and said he would attend their planned Oct. 13 bout to lobby for the winner.
"We need to get this thing down to one Diaz, and I'm ready to bring a couple more of these things home," he said, patting his green WBC belt.
Morales has a houseful of belts from his career and will get one more honor in five years when he's elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
He's not the greatest Mexican fighter of all-time – that would be either Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. or Ruben Olivares – but he's in the top six, along with bitter rival Marco Antonio Barrera, Salvador Sanchez, and Ricardo Lopez.
His 2000 and 2004 fights with Barrera were chosen Fight of the Year and any number of his other fights could have been. His 2005 bout with Manny Pacquiao probably would have been that year's top match had Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo not put on one for the ages a few weeks after the Morales-Pacquiao classic.
But after that first win over Pacquiao, Morales was never the same.
Morales' attacking, offensive style won him plenty of fans and the admiration of anyone who enjoys seeing an athlete give everything he has. But it's also the type of style that tends toward short careers.
"When you fight the way he fights and you take those kinds of punches, you know it has an effect," Arum said. "Sooner or later, that catches up with you. Erik has nothing to be ashamed of. He gave me more thrills than I can count and you can legitimately say he's one of the great fighters of all-time."
Diaz certainly is not that, though he hopes he proved his championship reign is legitimate. He won a belt that was stolen from Joel Casamayor.
He said he hoped he proved himself worthy on Saturday – "This was my championship fight," he said, beaming – but he also knew enough to share the spotlight with Morales.
"If I could have the career he had, I'd be thrilled," Diaz said. "He's the kind of fighter that boxing is all about. He's 100 percent heart."
For a perspective on Morales-Diaz as the fight was unfolding, check out Kevin Iole's round-by-round blog.