Professional fighters often find it hard to walk away from the sport. They keep convincing themselves that they still have what it takes to compete at a high level.
Most of them figure out the hard way that they just do not have it anymore.
There was a palpable sense of fear for the safety of Erik Morales when he was scheduled to fight the dangerous Marcos Maidana and it was for good reason.
Of his 29 previous victims, only two made it to the final bell. Simply put, Morales has never faced anyone as big as Maidana.
The worry was that Morales was too old, too battle-worn to deal with a young gun like Maidana. The fact that Maidana was coming off a loss only made him more dangerous. Yet, it was Morales who asked for this match. He saw holes in Maidana’s game and he thought he could exploit these.
We didn’t see it. We thought Morales was blinded by his chase for a world title in a fourth division, something that no Mexican has ever done. We thought Maidana was too young, too strong, too legit for an old Morales--almost suicidal we thought. We believed that Morales knew what to do against Maidana. Our doubt was whether his body can accomplish what his mind dictates.
He may just be 34 years old but the ring age of Morales is way more than that. Fighters such as Shane Mosley and Bernard Hopkins may be older but they do not carry the same wear and tear that Morales does.
Because he has been in so many wars, Morales can be considered an old 34-year-old fighter. This is largely because El Terrible has always been the people’s fighter. He fought with his heart on his sleeve, never backed down from any challenge, and willingly took blows to the head for the chance to throw some back.
The first four rounds of the fight were all Maidana. In the very first round, the Argentinean connected with a wicked left uppercut that closed Morales’ right eye. At that point, all the hopes for an upset had seeminglu evaporated. The odds of Morales beating Maidana were already slim. The odds of Morales winning with one eye closed were non-existent. A flurry of punches, and the referee could have stepped in and stopped the fight. But those punches never did come.
Morales started fighting back, one-eyed and all. He was moving beautifully and was connecting at will. For a moment, we forgot it was 2011. We forgot that Morales has more losses than wins since beating Manny Pacquiao back in 2005. And so, for the next eight rounds, Morales scratched and clawed his way back into the fight. He even staggered Maidana at one point which had the Argentinean clinching as if his life depended on it.
At the end of the fight, it came to the judges’ decision. Would Morales' boldness swing the decision to his favor? As some of us already know, the miracle didn't happen: Morales lost by majority decision. But in the process, he once again earned the respect and adulation of boxing fans worldwide. With that gutsy performance, Morales proved that he still has what it takes.
After the match, more eyes were fixed on Morales than Maidana. More people were interested what the loser of the match had to say.
Maidana won that fight clearly. The success he had in the first four rounds was just too much for Morales to overcome but it does not mean that Morales should bow his head in shame. We want to see him fight again in fact, hopefully against another Mexican legend (and Pacquiao victim) Juan Manuel Marquez.
On that particular night, this warrior from Zona Norte, Tijuana, Mexico, Erik “El Terrible” Morales showed the world what boxing should be, and reminded us just how beautiful the sport of boxing really is, even with Pacquiao's name far and away from the poster.