By Lem Satterfield
The date was August of 2007, and legendary Mexican great Erik Morales lingered in the ring at the Allstate Arena, in Rosemont, Ill., after having failed to earn the 135-pound, WBC lightweight title against champion David Diaz of nearby Chicago, this, while competing in the highest weight class at which Morales had ever fought, and for only the second time in his career.
A man who had once vanquished Mexican rival and fellow three-divisionn king, Marco Antonio Barrera as a super bantamweight, as well as eight-division titlist and current WBO welterweight champion, Manny Pacquiao as a super featherweight, Morales had suffered his fourth straight loss by one, two, and, three points, respectively, on the cards of judges Herminio Cuevas Collazo, Robert Hecko, and, Nobuaki Uratani.
The losing streak had begun with a September, 2005 loss to Zahir Raheem at 135 pounds, this, on the heels of Morales' having unanimously decisioned Pacquiao in March of that same year.
During his losing skid, Morales was stopped in the 10th, and, third round, respectively, by Pacquiao (52-3-2, 38 KOs), in January and November of 2006 -- both times at the Thomas & Mack in Las Vegas.
But as much as Morales was disappointed in defeat against Diaz, the man from Tijuana, Mex., told Top Rank Promotions' CEO, Bob Arum, and others, that he was even more troubled by what may have been the resulting head trauma -- a constant ringing inside of his head.
"Erik said that to me. He said that in spanish to [Top Rank Promotions translator] Ricardo Jiminez, to [Top Rank Public Relations Director] Lee Samuels and myself in the ring after the fight," said Arum.
"Erik says, 'I don't know what's wrong with me. Every time I get hit, there's a ringing in my head,'" said Arum. "And I said, 'Erik, you've got to retire, and I want you to retire now.' And he retired at the press conference."
But on April 9, Morales (51-6, 35 knockouts), who turned 34 in September, will pursue his fourth straight win since unretiring nearly a year ago on March 27 when he enters the ring at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas against hard-hitting, former WBA interim junior welterweight (140 pounds) titlist Marcos Rene Maidana (29-2, 27 KOs) of Argentina.
There are those who believe that Morales should not be fighting in general, particularly against a dangerous, devastating puncher like Maidana.
But does Maidana-Morales have the potential for disaster written all over it?
Arum won't say that it does, but he also will not say that it does not.
"What do I think of Erik Morales fighting now? I'm not a doctor. As long as he's thoroughly checked out...but like I say, you have got to understand. Was it a temporary thing? How do I know? I don't know. I'm just reporting what happened with me and him. Understand that I'm not making any value judgements on his current condition," said Arum.
"I'm telling you what happened. And all that I'm going to say is what happened. I have no thoughts because that's not a decision for me to make. All that I'm doing is telling you what happened," said Arum. "What is for me is to honestly report what was said to me, Ricardo, and Lee Samuels in the ring that night, and what I did as a result of it. Period."
Although it is not required by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, NSAC director Keith Kizer said that Morales' promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, has promised to submit an MRI on the fighter to the commission, which will then have it reviewed by its physician, Dr. Timothy Trainor.
"I remember having similar conversations with Bob Arum about the ringing in Morales' ears. We're aware of it and we'll get his medicals, and we'll get that extra scan from Golden Boy," said Kizer.
"And then, we'll give it to our doctors and see if there are any issues," said Kizer. "So Erik Morales is going to have to prove his medical burden, as would any fighter. If he does, great."
Kizer said that the last MRI on file for Morales with NSCA was taken in 2004, after which the fighter was approved for a boxing license. The last CAT Scan on file by the NSAC for Morales was taken in 2006 following his second knockout loss to Pacquiao.
"They were both brought back normal," said Kizer, "and without any issues."
But testing and observation alone won't necessarily prove that Morales is out of danger, according to Las Vegas-based neurologist, Dr. Margaret Goodman, a former ringside physician and Medical Advisory Board Chairman for the NSAC.
"The tests are not the answer. By the time Erik Morales' MRI's show something, it could be too late. The whole point is to stop someone before they demonstrate signs and findings of chronic brain injury," said Goodman, who "was part of advancing medical testing of both M M A fighters and boxers that included MRI scans and testing for anabolic steroids" in the early 2000s.
"The evaluation may be helpful in the future, but not now in determining licensure," said Goodman. "Nothing is better than having the opinions of those that know Morales and his performances. By the time and MRI shows something, it is too late. I believe that Arum's comments are very important."
Morales is coming off of December's 12-round, junior welterweight, unanimous decision over 39-year-old Franciso Lorenzo (36-9, 16 KOs), of Irvington, New Jersey.
Prior to Lorenzo, Morales had scored September's, 143-pound, sixth-round knockout of light-hitting, 32-year-old Willie Limond (33-3, eight KOs) of Glasgow, Scottland, whom Morales floored three times with final round body shots.
And before facing Limond, Morles had ended a 31-month absence from the ring, as well as his four-match losing streak that was part of five losses in his last six fights with the March, 2010, 12-round, welterweight unanimous decision over Jose "Jicaras" Alfaro in Monterrey, Nuevo, Leon, Mex.
Morales dropped the 26-year-old Alfaro, of Nagarote, Nicaragua, to 23-6, with 20 KOs in a 142-pound bout.
"I spoke to [Golden Boy Promotions] Eric Gomez, and he was at Morales' last fight with Lorenzo, and he said that Erik has looked good. He's seen Erik in sparring as well, and he looked good there as well. I saw a video of Morales online where he was interviewed and Maidana was interviewed separately, and both gentlemen were speaking in Spanish, but they sounded very sharp," said Kizer.
"Just watching them talk and listening to their speech patterns, they both sounded very clear and there was no slurring of words and no speech issues whatsoever. I was very pleased to see that," said Kizer. "I know that it doesn't mean that you're okay simply if you're speaking okay, but it definitely helps that you are not slurring words or you're not forgetting what you're saying or you're hesitating and you can tell from the video that he sounded pretty good."
It has been nearly six years since Morales scored what now stands as perhaps his biggest career victory when he unanimously decisioned Pacquiao over the course of 12 rounds On March 19, 2005, this, to rebound from a November, 2004, majority decision loss to Mexican rival and fellow three-division titlist Marco Antonio Barrera.
The trilogy betweeen Barrera (67-7, 44 KOs) and Morales, who won the first fight and lost the next two, has a legendary status which, for Mexicans, rivals the one between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.
Nearly five years to the day after defeating Pacquiao, Morales beat Alfaro, who was coming off of an October, one-sided, 10th-round knockout loss to Mexican southpaw, Antonio DeMarco, who won virtually every round of their WBC interim lightweight title bout before stopping Alfaro.
Alfaro had won three straight fights, two of them by knockout, before facing DeMarco.
"Obviously, he's fought recently and done well in his last three fights against pretty good opponents," said Kizer. "But we'll have to see, and if the medicals for him or anybody on that card have any issues, we'll act accordingly."