Morales vs. Pacquiao: My Thoughts...

05.10.06 - By Lee Purchase: Unfortunately for boxers, each great fighters' career inevitably has to encompass a 'crossroads' fight, and what used to be just winning or losing now becomes do or die, win or bust, sink or swim. Erik Morales, after a long, illustrious, thrilling career which has spanned the last decade and brought us some of the most exciting bouts in Bantam/Featherweight history, is now at this decisive land of purgatory along the pugilistic road.

I call it purgatory because 'El Terrible' has failed to deliver in his last two fights on a grand scale, losing a lop-sided decision against the decidely average, defensively-minded Zahir Raheem which was following by a brutal knockout defeat to his new arch-nemisis, the pound-for-pound destructive filipino force that is Manny 'Pacman' Pacquiao. He now has the chance to redeem himself following the most devastating part of his career and be ranked among the best yet again.

With the manner in which Morales lost these last two fights, it would be easy for people to forget how the Tijuana star swept through the lower divisions a few years previously with such bravado. It would also be easy to forget how he registered wins over such top opposition as Marco Antonio Barrera, Junior Jones, Paulie Ayala and Manny Pacquiao in their first enthralling battle to name but a few from his stellar resume. Skilled, powerful, balanced and with a heart unmatched across boxing (maybe apart from his countryman Barrera), his legacy will undoubtedly be marked as one of a true great.

But Morales now stands at a proverbial precipice at the relatively early boxing age of 29. The ill-judged move to lightweight to fight Raheem showed his tactical failings against a larger man with a mainly defensive mentality, and his lack of conditioning and obvious dietary struggles at the 130lb limit gave Pacquiao the physical edge in their rematch. As well as these pitfalls in his most recent bouts, the results beg another question: has he burnt himself out physically, the result of the multiple all-action wars he has been embroiled in over years? Has Morales desire also burned out, as unimaginable as it is to fathom? The answer to the former may seem obvious to many observers, even the oft-indomitable Arturo Gatti has been washed up, in my opinion, for the last few years due to the exertions his career has demanded. It would be impossible for a boxer to fight the fights that Morales has and not be adversely affected at all at this point in of his career. The jury is still out on his will to win, and this will ultimately be definedcome mid-November, when the extent of his training and work with a nutritionist due to his ongoing weight problems will be shown on the grandest stage of all.

Pacquiao, in stark contrast, is deservedly on such an ascent in his career, a prize-fighter in his hungry prime with the speed and raw power to knock out anyone in the 130lb weight class and below. His unorthodox style and blinding hand speed create numerous opportunities in the ring to deliver telling blows, not to mention his unprecedented popularity in the Phillipines - it seems to dictate that the patriotism, belief and encouragement from his countrymen is carried in every punch. The expectations that comes with each fight is almost unprecedented considering his arrival into the pantheon; his sensational stoppage of Marco Antonio Barrera. Having also currently inked a seven-fight deal with Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, the most exciting, prominent fighter in the lower weight classes has joined the fastest growing, most glamorous promotional company in the sport, and in a business sense (with the possibilities of future bouts) their union is a marriage (of financial convenience) made in heaven.

However, although he is improving with every fight, certain deficiencies in a boxing sense have, in the past, lead to outright frustration- his over-exuberance and impatience have been used against him with his foes employing effective counter-punching with decent results. It has also been demonstrated that it is possible to minimise the use of his violent tendencies in the ring with a stiff jab. This occurred namely against Morales in the first fight and to a lesser extent, Juan Manuel Marquez following an explosive first round in which Pacquiao floored Marquez three times. In the Morales bout in particular, 'Pacman' was using Winning gloves rather than his usual Reyes brand (what change in power this resulted is arguable, but it is thought this restricted his power on the night.) A culmination of small hinderances (including a large cut) combined with a career best performance by Morales ended in his first defeat at super featherweight.

Pacquiao's reaction to adversity was shown in their rematch, when he was at a psychological disadvantage and in some quarters was considered the underdog for the first time since before his crushing win over Barrera. The first five rounds looked distinctly similar to the first fight, with Morales having a tactical edge to a large extent. The turning point was the sixth
round, in which Pacquiao was the most aggressive that he had ever been against El Terrible and suddenly the straight left against which Morales' defense was so ineffective started to take a huge toll. He was unprepared for the whirlwind that Pacquiao had unleashed, and was irreversably knocked out of his stride; then followed a lop-sided beating with Morales enjoying sporadic moments of ascendancy. The consequence of such dominance was a ten round knockout, and with Erik's features looking worse than they ever had before.

For a boxer with the pride of the Mexican legend, it was unthinkable for him to suffer such brutality against a rival, and, fortunately for us the viewing crowd, the seed was inevitably planted for the forthcoming rubber match. As someone who has followed Morales' career for the past couple of years with an avid interest, this without doubt presents the greatest challenge of his life to date. Judging by the evident strength of Pacquiao now at this weight, and his future prospects providing he beats Morales on November 18th, my mind tells me that Manny could win this fight by a big margin, and another knockout is by no means beyond the realms of possibility.

My heart though is hoping for something much different and for Morales' own sake he has to step up to the plate. I won't deny that Erik Morales is my favourite contemporary boxer, even with the aftertaste of his recent failings. If he can return to the boxing style which he adopted so well in the first fight (similar to his second fight over Barrera, in which he was more tactically adept for the first two-thirds of the fight) then he can return to the upper echelons of the boxing fraternity. The prospects of the upcoming fight though, when considered, undoubtedly favour Pacquiao, and Morales will doesn't just have something to prove- he'll be in the fight of his life. November 18th is earmarked to be the coronation of Pacquiao as Golden Boy's newbie, but the real golden question is whether Morales has still got it in him to spoil the party...?

Article posted on 05.10.2006

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