The anticipated war between Manny Pacquiao and EriK Morales, billed as “The Grand Finale,” turned out to be more of a savage ambush as the Filipino sensation beat his legendary Mexican opponent into likely retirement via a third round knockout. Throughout boxing history, many fistic greats have followed an unfortunate right of passage into retirement that involved fighting a younger, stronger opponent during the twilight of their careers. Morales, one of the great warriors of his time, was unable to escape that fate Saturday night in Las Vegas when he was simply overwhelmed and out-gunned by a human buzzsaw known by his beloved fans as “Pac Man.”
Knocked down three times in three furious rounds of action, Morales, the Tijuana tough man that he is, went down swinging with everything he had in his arsenal. It just wasn’t enough against the seemingly superhuman Pacquiao, whose ambushing style, dazzling speed and punching power forced “El Terrible” to shake his head in bewilderment as he lay on the canvas, his face beaten, watching the referee count him out. His corner begged him to get up, all of Mexico begged him to get up, but like so many aging greats before him (he’s an old 29), Morales’ time was up and he knew it as he stared up from the seat of his pants at the powerful Filipino eager to pounce once more.
The scene inside the Thomas & Mack Arena after the fight was an outpouring of emotion for these two heroes of their respective countries. For Pacquiao, the many raucous Filipino fans erupted into a frenzied celebration, with the sight of Filipino flags engrossing the arena and the stomping of feet and voiced admiration for their beloved son resonating to deafening proportions. The Philippines has waited a long time for the next coming of Flash Elorde, a Hall-of-Fame super featherweight champion, and Manny Pacquiao has answered their prayers far and beyond what could’ve been imagined for the “Pac Man” packs a walloping punch combined with a full-throttle southpaw style that has catapulted him not only to elite status as a super featherweight but to the verge of pound-for-pound supremacy.
When Top Rank promoter Bob Arum was asked who the pound-for-pound greatest is, he quipped, “Sugar Ray Robinson, but remember I’m an old school guy.” His contemporary answer though was Manny Pacquiao, exclaiming, “There’s no question, I think he’s the best absolutely.”
After an initial loss to Morales in which he was bothered by a cut and outwitted by the Mexican legend, Pacquiao has come back to twice knock out a fighter who had never even tasted the canvas before in 51 fights. Trainer Freddie Roach anticipated Pacquiao’s stunning performance, saying before the fight, “He had the best training camp ever, he’s in the best shape of his life, and I expect him to fight the best fight of his life.” He did exactly that, forcing even El Terrible, a man who bows down to no one, to raise the white flag in defeat.
For Erik Morales, Tijuana’s 29-year-old golden boy from the depths of El Norte, there may never be another rousing victory for his Mexican faithful to celebrate. That shocking reality seemed to overcome some of his loyal fans inside the Thomas & Mack Arena following the fight as Morales sat on his stool in his corner, his head down in despondency. Behind me, a man clutching the Mexican flag was consoling a woman crying for her hero. Everywhere you looked there were empty gazes and heads in hands. Their idol had been conquered in brutal fashion with such swift precision that they hadn’t yet come to terms with the result. It was just too much to bear.
Morales is the only other Mexican fighter in history besides Chavez to win world titles in three weight divisions and he has carried a similar burden of carrying his country on his shoulders throughout his illustrious career. Boxing in Mexico is a truly sacred art and so the greatest of pugilistic artists are raised to almost divine heights, responsible then not just for themselves but for their entire nation. Erik Morales’ disappointment extends further than his personal legacy, throughout all of Mexico in fact, to all his fans that he feels he’s let down.
The pain was evident on Morales’ face after Manny Pacquiao knocked him out for the second consecutive time. After the fight, he acknowledged that it was time to consider retirement. “This was the first time in my career that I felt the power of my opponent—maybe it’s getting to be that time.”
It wasn’t the accumulation of blows though that bent Morales over in agony after the fight, but rather the mental anguish of having to head home to Tijuana a beaten man. Before leaving the arena, Morales spoke briefly after being given a final standing ovation sendoff by the press, a testament to what he’s meant to the sport. As he held back tears, he said a brief goodbye to Las Vegas and to boxing, as he knows it. “It was great to be here fighting, but if I fight again, it’ll be in Tijuana.” With that, he was gone, the great El Terrible of El Norte, riding off into the sunset drowning in disappointment, likely never to return again.