Erik Morales – Nine years later

19.11.06 - By Rizwaan Zahid: September 6, 1997 Daniel Zaragoza, the legendary Mexican fighter took on a fighter who was not only undefeated, but nearly half his age. A 39 year old with 65 fights on his record, had two more knockouts than his 21 year old opponent had wins. For both it was the toughest fight of their careers at that point. This 21 year old was not any regular fighter, he was Erik “El Terrible” Morales..

A close fight throughout, the fight headed into the 11th round, something that Morales had only seen three times before in his career. However, with 20 seconds left in the frame, a straight lead right hand to the abdomen sent Zaragoza down. The look said it all on his face. Looking to the corner on his left, then the corner on his right, you could just imagine he was thinking that this was the last time he would see himself in the ring as a fighter.

At the time, Larry Merchant said, “This really isn’t a sad death of a king, so much a passing of the torch to a new generation.”

The question was, was Morales simply at the right place at the right time, or was he truly going to be a legend? Only time would tell.

One year later, he dismantled Junior Jones in the fourth round with repeated overhand rights that would later be known as his trademark punch.

Not only did he have power in his hands, but Morales also the techniques needed to be a great champion. He had warrior like capabitliies, as shown in his 12 round brutal slugfest with former champion Wayne McCullough. He continued to put on crowd pleasing performances, beating the likes of Kevin Kelley and In Jin Chi. Taking one of two from Marco Antonio Barrera, he later decided to try yet another weight class, this time testing the waters at 130.

Morales never took an “easy” fight since then. Taking a 12 round decision against both Jesus Chavez, and Carlos Hernandez, he fought Barrera for a third time in yet another fight that yet again won the award of fight of the year. Even then, Morales wouldn’t take a night off, as his next fight was against Barrera conqueror Manny Pacquiao.

Yet again, Morales exceeded the expectations from writers and fans as he fought out a hard close twelve round decision.

Later that year, he would fight Zahir Raheem as a “tune-up” for a potential rematch with Pacquiao. Out of shape and fighting at 135, Morales was batted around and simply outboxed by Raheem who took a comfortable decision.

The question now was, can Morales still do it? He was only 29, but every fight had drama with the potential of being fight of the year.

Nonetheless, a rematch was made with Pacquiao on January 30th of this year. After a close six rounds, Pacquiao took over landing a relentless amount of punches over and over again. The left hand repeatedly was inflicting damage along with a new weapon in Pacquio’s arsenal, a very well developed right hook. Eventually after a few more power punches, Morales fell down which was the first clear knockdown of his career, the only other one coming in the first Barrera fight where his glove grazed the canvas. One more knockdown later and referee Kenny Bayless called a halt to the proceedings marking Morales’s third loss in four fights.

A grudge match was made between the two for November 18th. After a fast start by both fighters, they continued to trade in the second round. Morales feeling he had Pacquiao in trouble chased him to the ropes, where he was the victim of a counter left that made his knee touch the mat. However, as expected, he continued trading giving fans across the globe an entertaining fight.

One round later, it was more left hands that sent Morales to the canvas yet again. Still, he decided to stand up and continue his fight for survival, even landing a few punches of his own. Then Morales did something I personally have never seen him do - He clinched, and held on. Nevertheless, he was sent down again.

Nine years later the look Zaragoza had was the same Morales had on his face. The night he knocked out Zaragoza he celebrated as if to say, “There’s a new superstar now”. On the canvas again, he looked in the corner, then up at the referee Vic Drakulich, then back at his team in the corner with a look of realization on his face. With his mouth open, and looking tired, he shook his head, almost saying “I used to be the one who was knocking guys down. I just can’t do it anymore”.

The torch seems to be passed on yet again, this time to Pacquiao.

When coming to the ring, although Morales appeared to be past his day, he still looked like a fighter. However, during his interview with Larry Merchant, after the fight, Morales looked as if he was an old wise man, with knowledge of something he could once do, but now, he can only sit back and face the truth, that he’s not the fighter he was nine years ago.

Article posted on 20.11.2006

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