Would it be "Terrible" for Morales to Strike Back?

By Michael Katz


Would it be "Terrible" for Morales to Strike Back?

Maybe the end is not near. Maybe the writing on the walls about this being "The Grand Finale!" or, in Spanish, "La Gran Final!" is not as indelible as the picture of Erik Morales sitting hoplessly on the canvas at the end of his second fight with Manny Pacquiao. Maybe El Terrible will rise again.

He was seated on the apron of the Top Rank Gym, his bony legs dangling. He was wearing what looked like a woolen sweater. His face was gaunt, but the sunken cheeks were not as deep as they were before his last meeting with the Filipino typhoon he faces for the third time Saturday at the Thomas and Mack Center in Vegas.

His eyes were bright, and even from the Spanish you could tell he was alert, hardly the punchy, struggling old warrior one might expect after 114 amateur fights, 52 pro bouts, 172 championship rounds and more than 13 years of getting punched for a living - especially since he's lost three of his last four fights.

From the way he handled the questions from the herding masses, his mental reflexes were obviously sharp. Someone mentioned Floyd Mayweather Jr., ostensibly the finest boxer in the world today, and his recent performance against Carlos Baldomir and upcoming date with Oscar de la Hoya.

He said de la Hoya and Felix Trinidad Jr. were supposed to have the "fight of the century" back in 1999, but it was "the fraud of the century." He said he didn't expect much more from de la Hoya and Mayweather.

"When I put my baby to sleep, I put a Mayweather fight on (the television)," he said. "If I ever get to the point where I fight like that and my fans boo, that is a sign to walk away."

He sloughed off the notion that his recent 1-3 record means he has reached the inevitable end. "I just hope that all who wrote me off and said I was done use that same pen to give me credit after my victory," he said.

He pointed out that the one recent victory was over Pacquiao in a bruising, bloody 12-round brawl last year. "I was winning the second fight, too," he said.

Maybe it was the struggle to make weight, not having his father, Jose, in the corner for the first time as a pro - twice, in his amateur career, it was pointed out by his manager, Fernand Beltran, he did not have his father with him and he lost both times - or changing the camp site. Maybe it was global warming. Losing fighters can teach rationalization at the PhD level. Morales said he would do well before tiring the second half of each round.

His promoter, Bob Arum, sent Morales a team named Velocity to get him into shape without too much dieting, the father is back ("It was a mistake," said El Terrible). They went back to the mountains above Mexico City to train

Yet Arum has dubbed this fight "The Grand Finale!" and if it's as good as, say, any of the three Morales had against Marco Antonio Barrera, or his first go with Pacquiao, why wouldn't the promoter be thinking of a fourth chapter?

"There'll be Grand Finale II, the Sequel," said Fred Sternburg, the quick-witted publicist.

Or did "Grand Finale!" refer to the possibility this was the end of El Terrible?

Morales made a throat-cutting gesture. "We're done with this guy (Pacquiao)," he said. "Three is enough."

Yet, if he wins, it would set up a fourth meeting with his hated rival, Barrera, who was routed by Pacquiao before this series began.

"(Barrera) keeps saying I'm going to win," said Morales. "He doesn't want to fight Pacquiao again."

De la Hoya and Mayweather could divvy up $60 million. Morales said he was paid 400 pesos, "or 40 dollars," for his debut back in 1993, for his first ten-rounder he got $1,000. He's going to make an estimated $2.5 million Saturday night, but this is not about money, and it's not about legacy.

In Tijuana, where he was born 30 years ago above his father's walkup gym in the red light district of the border town, he can be considered a philanthropist, buying computers in bulk to equip schools, playing Santa Claus at Christmas.

His legacy as a fighter is secure. He will be a first-ballot hall of famer. He is, said Rafael Mendoza, the all-knowing Mexican fight agent, unquestionably one of the six greatest Mexican fighters in history (Mendoza's list starts with Ruben Olivares, Julio Cesar Chavez, Salvador Sanchez and Miguel Canto and includes Morales and El Terrible's great rival, Marco Antonio Barrera, after which "no one comes immediately to mind which means there is a big dropoff after these six," he said.)

"I worked very hard to get to this level," he was saying through the interpretation of Ricardo Jiminez, Top Rank's aide-de-camp. "Another thing, I enjoy it. I love to get in the ring. I love to give the people what they want."

Fighters fight and usually for too long, but maybe not in this case. Mendoza, who has managed fighters like Pipino Cuevas and Daniel Zaragoza (whom Morales beat for his first world title more than nine years ago), is astonished that the odds make Pacquiao a 12-5 favorite (you get 2-1 if you play Morales). "Maybe 7-5," he said, "but this is a very close fight."

And Mendoza believes that Pacquiao is a "great fighter," not just a good one. He remembers asking Muhammad Ali why he was a great fighter and was told, in effect, "not only can I defeat the best out there, I can make you look good against me."

"Now that's a great fighter," Mendoza exclaimed. He said he took Oscar Larios, a world-class boxer, to the Philippines this summer and was surprised that he managed to go the distance with Pacquiao.

"But he told me how great Pacquiao was, how he would look over here and he'd be gone, and then when he shifted, bang, Pacquiao would knock him down," said Mendoza. "He's got incredible speed."

At 130 pounds, Pacquiao is lightning years faster than Floyd Mayweather Jr. was at this weight. Yet Mendoza should not be alone in giving Morales, if he can make that weight, a hell of a chance against a great, younger, faster and harder-hitting foe.

Morales has refused to talk about his weight, except to say a few days ago "I'm a couple of million dollars over, but I'm right on (schedule)." It's in the contract that he has to pay Pacquiao $500,000 for every half-pound he is over.

"My training has been to beat Pacquiao, not to beat my weight," he said.

The fatigue problem, he said, was "solved - I will not run out of gas."

That still leaves the problem of Pacquiao, who might just have improved so much to now be considered the best, pound for pound. Someone asked Morales what was the difference between Pacquiao the first and second times they met.

"Did you see any difference?" Morales snapped back. "He isn't any faster, any stronger, any smarter. He has not changed anything. I know his weaknesses and I know his strengths. He has no defense and no technique. He has never gotten any better. His defense has never gotten any better. He's still getting hit with the same punches.

"He hasn't changed. Even when I was tired during the later rounds (of the second fight), I was able to land my punches. He is the same fighter he has always been."

The real question is, after so many rounds and so many wars, is Morales the same fighter? If he can approximate his old form one more time, then what we have here is probably going to be a lot more exciting than what we will have May 5 for de la Hoya and Mayweather.

SPEAKING OF WHICH: I'm convinced the reason Mayweather, 29, is talking that this will be his grand finale is that his brittle hands are becoming big pains again. For about seven years, after veteran cornerman Rafael Garcia started wrapping them, the hands held up well. But in camp for Baldomir, he had to take off a week because his left was hurting and then he said he injured the right in the middle of the fight. Floyd Mayweather Sr., de la Hoya's trainer, said his son's hands "won't hold up with Reyes gloves (as insisted by Oscar) and you know what, he'll hurt his hands early."

"Mark my words," big Floyd told David Mayo of the Grand Rapids Press, "he will hurt his hands early."

The father, who has been asking $2 million, or roughly ten times his normal fee, to work de la Hoya's corner against the son, will meet with his fighter Saturday, but the chances are he'll be worth every penny in increased revenues. Never mind the usual hype - this fight has Greek tragedy written all over it, Father vs. Son, Oedipus tearing his eyes out, film at 11, but first a visit to the couches of Dr. Phil and Oprah.

"His daddy's got something for him," the father said to Mayo. "A spanking. If he fights de la Hoya any kind of way (like he fought Baldomir), he can hang it up. He'll get the crap beat out of him."

PENTHOUSE: The Boxingtalk.com check that didn't bounce.

OUTHOUSE: Dino the Deadbeat.

DISS AND THAT: The Hawaiian Punch, Brian Viloria, surrendered his 108-pound belt almost without a fight to Omar Nino of Mexico earlier this year, and his manager, Gary Gittelsohn, still can't explain that passive performance but expects a reversal on the Thomas & Mack undercard. "I don't know where Brian was last time," said Gittelsohn, "but I guarantee he'll show up now. If I thought he couldn't beat Nino, I'd have gone in another direction. But I wanted this placement (on the Pacquaio-Morales card) so people could see him." Viloria is the minus $1.75 favorite?.Michael Arnoutis, undefeated but with only 18 pro fights, is surprisingly favored at minus $1.30 over Ricardo Torres, who gave Miguel Cotto such a tussle, in their meeting for a vacant junior welterweight title?.The card should become the third biggest boxing show at the Thomas & Mack with a 17,000-seat sellout. The second Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfield fight did a bit more than 17,000 and the record 19,000 plus was set when Don King sold about 2,000 standing room tickets to Julio Cesar Chavez-Hector Camacho.


Send questions and comments to: mkatz@boxingtalk.com