Near the downtown section of Tijuana lies the notorious “Zona Norte”. Home to working families barely making a living, “La Zona” is also home to many bars, pimps, hookers, drug dealers and users. It’s like a surreal movie location that even Hollywood’s finest set designers would find a challenge to re-create.

The parents are usually transplants from other states like Sinaloa, Michoacán or Zacatecas. The kids who are born and grow up in this part of Tijuana have no choice but to be hardy and tough.

“La Zona Norte” is also the place where former world champion Erik “El Terrible” Morales grew up and blossomed as a boxer under the tutelage of his father Jose, himself a former fighter.

As Morales was being assaulted against the ropes on Saturday night by Marcos Maidana on HBO pay per view, you couldn’t help but feel for the two division world titlist.

The 34 year old has been fighting since he was five. He rose through the ranks in spectacular fashion after turning pro at sixteen and became an international sports star.

Along the way, he engaged in some of the most talked about fights of his generation. His dislike for Mexico City rival, Marco Antonio Barrera, was as real as their three legendary fights were intense. He was also the last man to defeat superstar Manny Pacquiao.

The cold hard truth is that Morales didn’t want to be in the ring on April 9th 2011 in Las Vegas. But there he was, surviving the onslaughts and the manic rough-housing of 27 year old Maidana. After almost 60 fights, Morales wanted to be retired just as he was in 2007, basking in the fruits of his hard labor.

Instead, after some investments went south and his bank account grew thin, he agreed to a comeback three years later. He scored three wins in his return before a big money fight was secured against the intense and borderline dirty fighter out of Argentina.

“Chino” Maidana, a non stop punching machine, seemed intent on retiring Morales for good as soon as the first bell rang. He came out like a battering ram caught in a hurricane, landing easily and in high volume for the first three rounds. Morales repeatedly found him-self at the end of some wicked combinations that left him with a small eggplant growing over his right eye.

A Maidana win seemed like a foregone conclusion. Boxing fans on Twitter started to proclaim their sadness in witnessing the old lion being taken down.

He could’ve folded or quit as some of Maidana’s past opponents have done. He could’ve shown up, received a beating and collected his hefty $250,000 + minimum purse. He could’ve sat on his stool after round six and pointed to his eye afterwards. But he didn’t. Like the people of “La Zona Norte” he persevered and fought on in order to live and work another day.

Just as Maidana seemingly pummeled Morales against the ropes, “El Terrible” would surge back with rallies of his own. At times hurting and stunning Maidana who was favored 4 to 1 by most betting houses. The fight that started as a mismatch ultimately became competitive, thrilling and dramatic.

In the end, the scores of 116-112 (twice) and 114-114 were more than appropriate. Although the judges didn’t factor in Morales fighting with one eye completely closed for most of the fight, they were fair.

“I fight for the people of Tijuana,” Morales said proudly afterwards. His eye remained swollen and blackened shut after having received an uppercut/hook in the first round and several follow up shots afterwards. “I think Maidana may have won a close fight but it wasn’t a clean win.”

And indeed there are still questions to be answered. Would the out-come have been different had Morales been fighting with two good eyes?

The only definite answer we got on Saturday night was that Morales still has something left. “I have a lot of speed and I showed that I have dignity and heart,” he said after the fight.

Morales will continue fighting even if he doesn’t want to. It’s all about regaining the financial foothold he once had. But how will he fare against the young bucks of the heavily loaded 140 pound division?

Tim Bradley, Amir Khan, Victor Ortiz and Josesito Lopez are part of the new generation of fighters battling for 140 pound supremacy. These are all tough matches for Morales that will either make him a bigger legend or finish “El Terrible’s” career for good.

After all the positive critical reviews, there’s a very good chance that Morales vs. Maidana II will take place not too far in the future. There are even rumors that Morales may face Barrera one last time. Juan Manuel Marquez also remains an intriguing possibility.

It doesn’t matter who he fights next. Morales will cause problems for all the fighters named above. Not only by way of his supreme boxing skills but because of the indomitable spirit that runs through his being.

It’s exactly what you’d expect from someone raised in “La Zona Norte”.

Catch the replay of Morales vs. Maidana on HBO Latino this Friday. You can also catch it on HBO Zone on Saturday.