Erik Morales versus Manny Pacquiao was always a pick’em. That the judges’ scorecards all read 115-113 after 12 furious rounds confirmed as much. And I do not say it was “always a pick 'em” just because I was unable to correctly pick the pick 'em. It really was a bit of a coin toss going in.
Fast forward a week and Morales’ performance still seems masterful, while the thought of Pacquiao inspires similar admiration, especially the way the Phillipines’ favorite son gutted it out after sustaining a nasty cut from an accidental head butt in the 5th round and still went on to provide the Morales supporters with a scare down the stretch.
As good as the bout was, in some ways Morales vs. Pacquiao left questions unanswered – unanswered, that is, in a good way. Morales was full value for his victory, but there is a compelling body of evidence to justify a rematch, and I would suggest that this is undoubtedly a good thing.
If there is one question nobody need ponder, though, it is why Erik Morales fought the fight as he did. Morales can box beautifully when he wants to, controlling opponents with his jab, as he did Pacquiao. And Manny Pacquiao is a bit one-dimensional. I grant you this. But simply put, Morales is too big for Manny Pacquiao. Or if you prefer, Pacquiao is too small for 130, at least when he is facing an opponent the caliber of Erik Morales.
Morales was razor sharp, dictating the pace by boxing beautifully when he decided to and alternatively fighting like a Mexican whenever he chose. Erik Morales was simply too much for Manny Pacquiao.
Pacquiao had his moments, but as the fight wore on there was a sense that somehow Pacquiao’s shots were not having the expected effect on the bigger Morales. At the 130 lb. limit, Pacquiao’s speed seemed to have shaded along with his stamina, which to my eye appeared unable to power Pacquiao’s traditional perpetual motion attack to the same level as in the past.
Did Morales’ clinical execution on the night have something to do with Pacquiao’s inability to scale previous heights? Of course it did. But somehow Pacquiao just didn’t look right at 130.
“I was too big for him, I really feel that,” said Morales after the fight. Since El Terrible was the one in the ring with Pacquiao, I am inclined to believe him.
Morales, it should be said, also acknowledged his ring experience and his ability to control Pacquiao with the jab were major influences on the outcome. Even so, Morales’ dominance with the jab was at least in part a function of the Mexican’s superior size.
It is worth remembering that Erik Morales first fought at 122 lbs., whereas Manny Pacquiao turned pro at 106 lbs. In terms of percentage of body weight, the climb from 106 lbs. to 130 lbs. is a huge gulf, and one which should not be discounted. Without a stone and slingshot, a smaller man is typically required to expend more energy to stay the pace with a bigger man and this played true to form with Morales and Pacquiao.
“Pacquiao is a great fighter, but to be honest with you, I never really felt his power,” Morales said.
Even though Morales appeared to have forgetten the 12th round in which he was visibly shaken by Pacquiao right hands, Morales coped comfortably with Pacquiao’s power, and not just because he boxed his way around the Pacquiao left hand throughout the night.
Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, not surprisingly, had a different view on the matter. Roach berated Pacquiao’s promoter, Murad Muhammad, for signing a contract which required Pacquiao to wear Winning gloves, manufactured in Asia, as opposed to the Reyes gloves—the so-called “puncher’s glove”—favored by Pacquiao, which are made in Mexico. According to Roach, the debilitating force of Pacquiao’s power punches was muted by the Winning gloves, which Roach likened to “pillows.”
Did the choice of boxing gloves make a difference? There’s no way to be sure. But at least give Roach credit for bringing this issue up well before the fight had taken place. Regardless of whether Roy Jones Jr.—not necessarily the final arbiter of all boxing related matters—said on the HBO telecast that the gloves didn’t make a difference, Freddie Roach clearly felt they did.
Perhaps more important than the choice of gloves, however, are a number of other admissions by Roach in the days following the fight. Despite Manny Pacquiao’s insistence that he is comfortable at 130, Freddie Roach has acknowledged that Pacquiao may indeed be a little small for the super featherweight limit. At the very least, Roach has indicated Pacquiao may come in a little lighter if he faces Morales again. Roach conceded that going up in weight may have caused Pacquiao’s speed to shade enough for it to make a difference. The plan, according to Roach, may very well be for Pacquiao to come in lighter next time to regain some speed that may have been lost by the weight gain.
Pacquiao himself said it was not the weight that affected him so much as the cut he sustained in the 5th round.
“I couldn't see out of one eye,” he said. “If I am not cut on one eye, I think I can knock him out.”
Whatever the case, the stage is now set for a rematch which would be sure to create real electricity. In the first go-round, Morales fought superbly, arguably as well as he can fight. Had he been prepared and fought at the same level against Marco Antonio Barrera in their last match, Morales may have beaten Barrera. Morales appeared to be in better shape, had a better game plan, and possessed a more resolute mental edge against Pacquiao than in his third bout with Barrera. On that night, it was Barrera who had a reputation to salvage and it was Barrera who was the beneficiary of one of life’s greatest motivators—desperation.
In many ways, against Pacquiao, Morales played Barrera to Pacquiao’s Morales: it was Morales this time who came in with a desperate need to prove something and it was Pacquiao who had perhaps lost a glimmer of the mental edge which had driven him pre-Barrera. After all, if reports are accurate, the size of Pacquiao’s entourage now tends to fluctuate somewhere between a small mob and something resembling the cast of Ben Hur. This is not to mention the weight of a nation now seems to weigh on his shoulders when he steps between the ropes.
Now that Morales has reestablished himself as a one of the game’s premier operators, it is Manny Pacquiao who has something to prove. Might this be enough to make the outcome different the next time, if there is a next time?
Despite the physical advantages Morales holds over Pacquiao, the answer to that question must surely be “maybe.” Were Morales to reproduce this type of performance again, it is difficult to see Pacquiao getting past him. However, should Morales’ form dip somewhere below magnificent, then the door opens for Pacquiao and quite possibly the hunger for vindication is enough to take him through it.
Either way, here’s hoping any unanswered questions are answered via a rematch. Morales proved he is a boxer and a warrior of the highest order. Whatever superlatives befit a boxer, remember to attach them to Erik Morales’ name in the future. Manny Pacquiao, likewise, is a fighter—a force of nature, really—always worth watching. Together they produced a night of boxing that let the creaking, old dear that is the fight game put its best foot forward. This doesn’t happen enough. On this night boxing proved that when it gets it right there are few sports that compare.
So despite Erik Morales’ abundant choices as to where he goes from here—and they are plentiful—here’s hoping Morales-Pacquiao II is somewhere in the cards.