Venturing toward a lightweight championship, what would have been his fourth weight division conquered, Tijuana, Mexico’s legend, Erik Morales, found out that in boxing wanting is not the only prerequisite to having. “El Terrible” facing up to the speed injected boxing of Zahir Raheem became a lethargic groper, his chiseled figure and hawkish searching eyes floundered, his brutalizing attrition inducing style disarmed by Raheem’s skilleting punching engagements.
Morales, quiet and polite and suspicious by nature, found his fierce pride had run afoul of Raheem’s career legitimizing reinvigoration. And yet the issue somewhat fatuously debated after their WBC lightweight title contest, of Raheem taking Morales’ place in a planned showcase HBO post-Christmas bash up with Manny Pacquiao, was never a serious consideration for the promoters involved, or indeed for HBO. Raheem will undoubtedly profit from his vanquishing of Morales, but in a time and place as yet undetermined. Unquestionably, Raheem has a sizable marker with both boxing fans and HBO executives. Don’t worry about “The Dream” Raheem. He’s the limit for menace the brooding Morales will have to brook, if he can actually reconstitute himself at 130 for Pacquiao.
The matter of Morales returning, reinvesting in his own decisiveness, interestingly, trumps the presumed logic of palatable fair play and the old adage: to the victor go the spoils. Can, in fact, Morales reinitialize his championship program that was thought to be only meaningful within the program of a resumption of box-offs with Manny Pacquiao, Marco Antonio Barrera and perhaps, perhaps, Juan Manuel Marquez? Yes, we are putting desire before the facts of placement. Marquez remains a featherweight and Morales seems committed, if not resolved, to winning a lightweight crown. Still, Barrera has, or will have, his own date with Pacquiao one suspects, no matter the January 16 result against Morales. Redemption permeates the current interlacing of championship action figures at featherweight and just beyond, with the exception of the marginalized Marquez. Though Marquez, it should be noted, did by choice and apprehension, perhaps, effectively bargain himself out of an immediate rematch with the dangerous Manny Pacquiao. One wonders what greater rewards Marquez has designs upon?
Manifest ego and money, the shaded parallels of pride and economic necessity, create nuanced gaps for rationalizing just how fighters construct their careers, what they decide to dare risk and what they defend as principle. Theory almost devoured its subject when Morales ventured upon the ground beyond 130. Maybe Morales has learned that sparring just over 145 is not the same as taking on top lightweights for championship belts; only the future will, no doubt, make that clear for us and him.
And yet Morales is nothing if not a stubborn man, a man who challenges the notion of accepting limits, kismet’s prescriptions. In a sense, the ultimate career ambitions of the men mentioned above mainly revolve around the dynamics to come when Morales and Pacquiao revisit each other. The cycle, as it is kept in rotation by the needs drawn from redemption and obligation, each fighter seeking challenges worthy of their undivided concentration also enhances the episodic nature of these rivalries. One might assert that Morales and Barrera represents the only visceral rivalry born of hatred among all the possible matchups. We do note that both fighters admit their mutual disgust is more a hindrance than an aid. And for many fans, still, that matchup represents the beginning and natural end point for this amazing cycle of championship contention, almost no matter who were to beat whom in the meantime.
Fans of Marquez and Pacquiao would vehemently disagree with the idea – idealization – of Morales and Barrera. January’s result will in the short term also be pivotal. The ruling of the WBC – for the winner to face Barrera – an odd parallax not constraining upon the economic determinations to be made by Bob Arum’s company Top Rank.
Morales struggles onward, usually jamming arenas with fervent fans. Despite his history for subtle planning, the caricature of him in doubt right up until fight time as to his fighting manner and method has, of late, been bandied about in critical circles. Still a fighter who holds his personal history in trust every time he hears the bell, he retains the reputation as able to focus, manifestly on the project of winning, winning by brutal assertions, if little else. Whether or not Morales is to fight with a simple goal to be achieved or with the purposefulness of a multi-talented veteran looms in the minds of even his supporters as more and more problematical.
Some cite oncoming exhaustion, while others lament the natural course of attrition commensurate with a person who’s been fighting professionally for thirteen years and has not reached 30. That fact – of his list of ring victims reading as a catalogue of the best fighters of his era – enters the conversation on Morales with the twang of recollection and not as fighting words to defend his rightful place within boxing’s peerage. At least this is true for some speaking critically or caustically. Is the great Morales being understandably distracted by his trainers and promoters duties, the commitment to his three growing children and a new woman in his life? Or is that too convenient a set of mischaracterizations? Morales has only lost to two fighters in 51 bouts. Do we indulge folly in paying undue attention to his welterweight poundage against Raheem? Can we call it a simple miscalculation and leave it at that? Does it matter what his thinking, in fighting at least 6 or 7 pounds over his preferred fighting weight?
Why not choose to accept that Morales is living more and more off the highs of fight to fight enthrallment; frankly against Raheem, who fought brilliantly, Morales looked lethargic and almost bored by the need to actually win a contest of purely technical boxing. Odd to say, but Morales just wanted to fight it out! Applied tactics do make technical errors either appear negligible or marginal and Morales clearly had, for perhaps the first time in his career, not thought out how to fight for a win in a championship fight. It was as if he was thinking only of his body and its reaction to fighting at 145+, totally disregarding the obvious fact he had to fight an opponent, a talented one. Much in the same way Barrera – when all was said and absorbed – had no adaptive strategies against Manny Pacquiao.
Morales believe he is still in the prime of his career, his life in boxing ascending. He devoutly believes in fate and yet in the necessity of being consistent, giving everything he has each time he signs a contract to fight. Whether he breeched his most closely held belief in the months leading up the Raheem bout only Morales knows for certain. Surely, the man and the champion Morales will give credit and respect where it is due, to Raheem. In doing so, he will accurately access his own state of willingness and range of competences heading toward his rematch with Manny Pacquiao. Still principally trained by his father Jose, “El Terrible” continues on with his career making adjudications daily, the linearity of his fights approaching yet another as part of the journey of self-development and execution of manifest skills. That’s why Morales endlessly goes back to the basics training at the Otomi Altitude Center north of Mexico City, building up his reflexive confidences from the foundation of technical soundness. Minute details mean a lot to Morales, the eternal student of his own applied techniques.
Once again the driven Manny Pacquiao will have to face down Erik Morales coming into a fight with him in need of a winning performance. Morales will try to play the bigger man, escalating his offensive tempo, raising his hit rate as he surges, meeting power with enveloping forcefulness.
“I have always believed you give the fans everything you have. They pay their money and we are professionals; that’s how we must respect the fans … each fight decides your career.”
Working on each facet of his preparation, Morales enacts scrupulousness; exercising his passion he throws himself into his work, his calling, of being a championship prizefighter. Never one to dwell on the past, Morales keeps to a focused diligence of effort and intensity mixed with calmed fortitude. Yes, he does take time away with his children or his girlfriend for days to the beach, but once he’s sequestered himself in training mode, that enterprise becomes the boundary of his life. Morales has said that he rages into his opponents at moments of doubt as much certitude. For in the act of applied aggression, he at least remains convinced, more good things are likely to result than bad things. True, the Mexican great does at times manipulate advantage from the security of his jab or work counter shots against swarming foes. Mostly though Morales loves to switch it up against fighters, boxing to engage with measuring repetition just so he can break through with a decisive scoring combination or fall out of a smothering all-out attack sequence to impale a desperate-to-counter opponent with surgical jabs.
That’s Morales at his best, when thought has been pre-translated to reflexive application. So the needs of training the body, discipline invoked, become the express needs of mind, a champion’s shield.
As he has grown into this late 20s no doubt his lines for attack and defense have blurred, having become more angular and less circular in the ring. If it can be debated as to whether or not some of his punching has increasing lacked “snap” over the last few years, there’s no doubt been a noticeable impatience with his attempts to situationally box. The last pure exhibition of boxing came against In Jin Chi. Against Chi Morales did what was necessary and effective, though in the end he gave the crowd less of himself, as his career had until then defined it. Since the win over Chi, he’s devolved back to type, boxing only to set up swarming attacks. The once fluidly balanced fighter in Morales is eroding; his style ebbing toward batterer, with every fight. More easily frustrated during fights, Morales has begun to straighten up during mid ring collisions forgetting to clean up with his left hook coming out of exchanges. Defensively Morales has regressed to some degree and that degree showed up like a vengeful spirit against the flashing fisticuffing of Zahir Raheem.
It’s as if all of Morales’ technical options are still there for his choosing, yet he seems internally impatient in the ring now, rushing into things he once evaded and punished.
We can indulge speculation all we wish but there’s a zero sum elementalism awaiting Morales. And, yes, Morales knows exactly where he’s at. Perhaps, he will just fold away the loss to Raheem into the patterning of his storied career. Pacquiao once again enters the melodrama of Morales’ epic to reprise his role as daunting obstacle, a man in form, ready to rip up the legend of Morales.
And people never seem to learn about Morales, no matter how many times he proves his excellence, no matter how many times he comes to his own rescue. Erik Morales will give everything he’s got in his rematch with Manny Pacquiao. That’s just the kind of man he’s always been, will always be.
Who wins the WBO Middleweight title fight Dec. 19th?