Erik Morales – Living in the Shadow


30.11.04 – By Shane Rhinewald: We have all heard the story before. The destitute youth, lonely orphan, and impoverished outcast rise up against incredible odds to generate incredible wealth, wield unimaginable powers, and take revenge upon those that ridiculed them. Oliver Twist proved the value of perseverance in overcoming his upbringing and Cinderella upstaged her evil stepsisters. The fairytale story of Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera, however, does not end so simply.

Morales, born in the ghettoes of Tijuana Mexico, has managed to amass wealth and fame throughout an illustrious eleven year career, but he has never vanquished his version of an evil stepsister in Barrera. Barrera, born into a middleclass family in Mexico City, lived a privileged life compared to Morales. For him, boxing was never do or die. He never had to sleep in a shoddy apartment or train in the grime of a Tijuana gym. Instead, Barrera lived a city life that Morales, living in the fringes of Mexico, could only have dreamed of.

The animosity between the two men, perhaps the two greatest Mexican fighters of the last decade, predates their first epic fight in 2000. However, after splitting two close and controversial decisions over the following two years, the dislike, at least for Morales, morphed into pure, cold hatred. The resentment between the two men from vastly different backgrounds vying to be recognized as the best fighter in Mexico finally exploded on Saturday night.

The fight on Saturday marked the exclamation point to a grueling and passionate trilogy of attrition and skill. Barrera, the gutsy warrior, went to war with Morales, the prideful combatant, in one final contest to determine whom history would recognize as the better fighter. They went to war in a battle of money versus poverty. Morales put more on the line than his 130-pound belt. He put his machismo, pride, and heart on the line, too, against his arch nemesis, but unlike in the fairy tales, he lost it all. His rags to riches story ended with raw and bitter defeat.

Morales will forever live in the shadow of Barrera. The memories of this night, a fight in which he was certain he would beat an aging Barrera, will open again and again like an infected and weeping wound. The odds were stacked against Barrera. At 31, Barrera fought against both Morales and father time. The beating he had taken at the hands of Manny Pacquiao just seven months earlier, according to the critics, had sapped Barrera of all he had. For the 27 year old Morales, this was his time to shine and add another historic victory to a Hall of Fame worthy career.

But instead, Barrera will shine and Morales will always be a dim shade standing beside him. Barrera gave the performance of a lifetime, and Morales disregarded any advantages he had in skill and reach to fight toe to toe with the cagey veteran. Both men stood in the pocket trading power shots, and Morales, confident of a knockout victory, dwindled his opportunity. The pugnacious Tijuana native fought desperately and valiantly, but the Mexico City elite proved to be the scrappier of the two. Morales would have easily won a boxing match, but on Saturday night, he lost a fight. The coddled city boy beat the hardened product of the streets at his own game.

After the fight, the dejected, angry, and bitter Morales refused to shake Barrera’s hand in an act of classless shame. He had been beaten at his own game, despite an assured victory if he had boxed from the outside. Morales, in fact, had beaten himself, but his hatred for Barrera never wavered. In fact, it manifested itself again when he tossed water upon Barrera’s father. Morales, the hotheaded warrior, will never be the same again. The fire still burns in his belly, but like Fernando Vargas a year ago, he has been humbled. The lesson is there for all to learn. There are chinks in every armor.

Morales may go on to win more titles and stunning victories. He may learn and grow and mature. He may become a better fighter or a more complete fighter. He may move up in weight class and beat legends in the making. But no matter what he does, he will always and forever be remembered for Saturday night. Barrera fought fire with fire and brought Morales to his knees, and in that moment of weakness, when all had been lost, Morales did not act with humility. No. Instead, Barrera was the classy victor that history will remember, and Morales was the appalling loser that refused to accept to defeat. Hubris, in the end, destroyed him.