These are terms, phrases and snippets of slang that are consistently slung about the sporting world on an almost daily basis. Often, the painful truth is so much to the athlete's detriment that any future agreements are laden with conditionals, what-if's and so forth. Just look at the glaring example set forth by Peyton Manning's nearly one hundred million dollar contract from the Denver Broncos.
Get hurt and you're through.
The situational stress experienced by most boxers is quite similar, only in this case you don't necessarily have to sustain an injury. The holes in agreements between fighters and promoters are at times to blame, yet very few seem to question the possibility that the desire and ever incendiary urge to compete could be the underlying cause as to just why a boxer continues to push onward.
Enter Erik Morales (52-7, 36 KO), who is set to defend his WBC light welterweight title this Saturday evening in Houston, Texas. Across the ring, he'll find an undefeated and game fighter from Philadelphia in Danny Garcia (22-0, 14 KO). Win or lose, Erik Morales should know that his legacy is secure and a bucket of plaster into which he'll someday plunge his fist is now but a mere formality.
The fighter known as "El Terrible" is a young 35. However, there's the common case of mere ring rust and then there is ring tetanus. The classic brawler from Tijuana, MX may have captured more than just lighting in a bottle by way of his most recent performances.
It's difficult to move forward without taking a quick look at the past.
Multiple wars with multiple legends
Morales is in a class all his own. He has the unique distinction of being part of pugilistic trilogies with Manny Pacquiao and of course Marco Antonio Barrera. He has had no qualms with the former, yet he's been involved in a timeless war of words with the latter. Speaking of the former, who is of course on the peak of many of the mythological yet mundane "pound for pound" listings, Erik Morales was indeed the last to defeat him. This was in March of 2005.
Morales lost to Marco Antonio Barrera in the last bout of their trilogy by majority decision in 2004.
Additionally, Morales still deserves to be soundly represented in the triumvirate of fighters who not only faced Pacquiao multiple times, but also carried the Mexican coat of arms with great pride and valor; Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez. In terms of their bouts with the "Pac Man", we have been left with a dud, a thud and a stud. This is another matter and for another day.
After his magnificent outing in Las Vegas, Erik suffered four consecutive losses. First, he was pot-shot for twelve rounds by Zahir Raheem in September of 2005 when he attempted to capture a vacant lightweight title. Erik Morales often complained of the great pains he so strenuously took to keep his 5'8" frame in the 130 pound weight division.
And the Mexican legend's third meeting with Manny Pacquiao was much more difficult to witness than the second, which was actually a close one until the final third of the contest. Part III concluded with Erik being knocked to the canvas and then almost instantly acknowledging that he could take no more punishment.
Calling it quits
The breaking straw ended up as his loss to David Diaz in August of 2007 as Erik took a shot at becoming a champion in a fourth weight class. The unanimous decision loss was close, but considering that he fell against an opponent who would later be utterly steamrolled by a previously mentioned foe, perhaps just as many had presumed, the wars inside the ring had finally come to surface for Morales.
So, off rode Erik Morales into the scuffling sunset and into the hearts and memories of boxing fans worldwide. He didn't have much else to prove and he would always hold that trump card of being the last one to defeat "you know who", provided that the once subjugated opponent never lost another fight in his career.
What a difference a day makes
Of course, he returned and to most the reappearance was a welcome one. No fights are "gimmes" in this game. Conceivably the most insulting signs of indifference shown towards boxers in general come from the media, many of whom don't remember the feeling of ascending up a flight of stairs, let alone taking a punch to the face or to the porridge den. Morales ran off a string of three consecutive victories in fights throughout Mexico, one of which was a knockout.
Then came April 9, 2011.
Maidana vs Morales official fight poster
What a night this turned out to be. It was an evening of odd occurrences. The then-undefeated and highly-feared James Kirkland was knocked down three times in the opening round of his bout against a fighter from Japan who to many had only existed on YouTube. Robert "The Ghost" Guerrero easily beat vivacious slugger Michael Katsidis. There were some other noteworthy bouts, of course but the boxing world was clearly focused on the main event. "Action Heroes" as it was billed came to a close with a world title fight.
As most writers will now be the first to admit, not many (if any) of them gave Erik Morales even a glove laced in concertina wire puncher's chance of being anything more than slowly moving target for the dreaded onslaught of Marcos "El Chino" Maidana.
The bout perhaps should have had "summary execution by order of his majesty" as its tagline. Anyone who had seen Maidana fight was well aware of his merciless ferocity and his toughness to boot. See his winter 2010 fight with Amir Khan if any further and not so distant proof is needed.
The folklore surrounding the kid from Baja, CA would take off like wildfire once the bout was in the books.
Another matter of note is the fact that Erik fought with such commendable gallantry with just one fully functional eye. His right one was hideously swollen and shut for most of the bout. Beautiful it wasn't, but respect has no face to recognize outright.
(Pictured right: Erik Morales after his bout with Marcos Maidana in April 2011)
There's outsmarting the ruffian and then there's taking his best wallop. Erik Morales did a bit more on the absorption end of the spectrum from start to finish, yet he flung the fracas right back at Maidana. He lost a majority decision but perhaps gained more in defeat than most do in victory.
The fire still burns
We should love the thought of modern-day prizefighters giving the utmost effort to win, entertain and leave it for all to see. When valiant demonstrations of sheer guts are shown, the gift to us is the astonishment that the fire still burns.
Take a seat this Saturday night (HBO, 10pm ET / 7pm PT) and hopefully there's at least one more to keep it above a kindling glow. What a difference a day can make. In this case, an evening. It took less than hour for Erik "El Terrible" Morales to state his case. He's not likely prepared to endorse the notion that he was but a limited engagement.