El Terrible Just Terrible Vs. Z Man

10.09.05 - By Frank Gonzalez Jr.: Styles make fights. Its cliché' but it was a reinforced fact Saturday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where one of boxing's best fighters, Erik "El Terrible" Morales, 48-3-0-34 KO's, was just plain terrible against Philadelphia native, Zahir "Z Man" Raheem, who out boxed and beat Morales to the punch for most of their 12 round fight. Raheem advanced his record to 27-1-0-16 KO's and took home the WBC Intercontinental Jr. Lightweight Title.

Raheem should be 28-0, but in July of 2004, the combination of a biased referee, Robert Gonzalez (who unfairly penalized Raheem more than once) and the unreliable Judges at the Reliant Center in Houston Texas, deemed Raheem the loser of a fight he clearly won over hometown favorite, Rocky Juarez. Juarez, like Morales, proved susceptible to being out boxed all night by the quick fisted, defensively slick Raheem..

Zahir Raheem is not a big puncher but he jabs, throws frequent combination punches, and has good enough mobility to slip out of harms way on defense. Against Morales, he was clicking on all cylinders and made Erik appear to be fighting in slow motion.

From the first round on, Raheem was dictating the tempo, landing left hooks with accuracy, jabbing effectively and landing right hands that countered Morales' punches, while chipping away at his confidence. Late in the round, Morales landed a couple of shots and looked to be figuring out how to deal with the speedy Raheem but the bell rang and he was down 10-9 after the opening round.

The second round was an exhibition of Raheem's superior boxing skills, as he peppered Morales with jabs, followed by up and down combinations that were scoring. Morales was confused, he didn't know whether to slug or box. In the midst of his confusion, he forgot to let his hands go and paid the price. Late in the second, Morales rallied but the result was that both fighters slipped sloppily to the canvas. Morales lost another round and things were not looking good.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Before the fight started, I figured Morales would win by TKO, sometime prior to the seventh round. But boxing is 'the theater of the unexpected' and Raheem was proving that cliché' to be true too.

Had Morales pressured Raheem relentlessly, cutting off the ropes and digging to Zahir's body in close, he would've had a better chance of winning. Maybe Morales wasn't feeling well, or had other things on his mind. Maybe he was just having a bad night. It happens to the best of them. As the fight progressed, it was more of the same, round after round. Morales could not find his rhythm and Raheem was scoring at will.

In the fifth round, Raheem landed a big right hand that sent Morales into the ropes, which kept him from falling. That punch woke Morales up a bit and he aggressively pursued Raheem into the opposite ropes but was incapable of landing anything significant. You could hear a pin drop at the Staples Center, where Morales fans watched in hushed disbelief.

In the sixth round, Morales landed a solid right hand that wobbled Raheem, who slipped to the canvas a couple of times after that. Was it the slippery advert in the center ring or was it just that Raheem was hurt and losing his legs? Either way, Morales did not take sufficient advantage of Raheem's questionable balance.

It was more of the same until the eleventh round, when in an act of machismo consistent with his ring persona, Morales put up his right hand tauntingly, then used that hand exclusively to try and knock Raheem out.

Raheem, strategically committed to boxing outside, staying out of harms way and sitting on what had to be a considerable points lead. Morales landed a vicious right that saw Raheem go down. It was incorrectly ruled a slip. A moment later, Morales landed another right hand that blasted Raheem backwards and his glove touched the canvas-which technically, should have been called a knock down but was ruled a slip by the referee John Shorley.

That should have been a 10-7 round for Morales but even so, it was too little, too late and in the final round, Morales didn't show enough urgency, squandering whatever last chance he had to win by KO. Morales didn't even throw a punch for the last few seconds before the final bell sounded. After the bell, Morales walked to his corner, arms at his sides. Raheem raised his arms and celebrated.

The Judges scores were 118-110, 116-112 and 115-113, all in favor of Raheem.

Sharkie's Machine scored it 116-111 in favor of Raheem.

During the post fight interviews with HBO's Larry Merchant, Raheem was humble and gracious in victory. He praised Morales for the legendary fighter he is and when asked how he pulled off this upset said, "It's just my time."

Morales, with his face swollen from absorbing so many punches made no excuses. He said that Raheem was very fast and difficult to fight. HBO's translator, Ray Torres, was horrendous at translating Erik's words from Spanish to English. Anyone who speaks Spanish could tell that Torres rarely translates what the fighters actually say. It's surprising that Ray Torres manages to keep his job after doing it so poorly after so many years. He must have powerful inside connections to keep that job.

In a side note, prior to the fight, a bio clip of Morales showed his mother saying that if her son losses a fight, she would give him a beating. Morales smiled in confirmation. If that is true, after his mother consoles him, he's due for a disciplinary session with his mother on the plane ride back to Tijuana Mexico.

The swirl of hype surrounding a potential rematch between Morales vs. Pacquaio may fizzle in the aftermath of Raheem's convincing win over Erik Morales, whose corner was quick to say that Pacquaio rematch was going to happen. Morales competitive fire may urge him to make a rematch with Raheem instead. But after what we saw Saturday, Morales handlers may not want to risk that, since Erik does not match up very well with Raheem.

Congratulations to Zahir Raheem. This victory bounces him to the upper echelon of the elite fighters. His well-deserved rise to the top guarantees to add more spice to one of the most exciting divisions in boxing.

Morales' rival Manny Pacquaio fought on the under-card, beating Hector Velazquez by TKO 6 in a tougher fight than Pacman might have expected. But Valazquez went along with the script and surrendered at the end of the sixth round after being knocked down by a flurry of Pacman punches. Pacquaio had to be licking his chops watching Morales fade against Raheem.

Styles make fights and Pacman has to feel that he can beat both Erik Morales and Zahir Raheem, after seeing them fight each other. Morales looked like a fighter on the decline and Raheem showed that his legs get shaky under fire. But remembering how Pacman fared against Juan Manuel Marquez, after flooring him three times in the first round, then getting out boxed for most of the remaining rounds leads me to lean towards Raheem, the proficient boxer, should they fight. Pacman has great punching power but is sort of one-dimensional. It's probable that Raheem would exploit Manny's vulnerabilities and out box him to a Decision victory.

Is this the beginning of the end of Erik Morales? Has his body filled out too much to make the weight that made him great? Or, is Raheem just that good? Time will tell.

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Article posted on 11.09.2005

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