By Chris Robinson
When looking back at the career of Erik 'El Terrible' Morales there are countless battles and performances from the Tijuana fighter that stand out. Halting Brooklyn's Junior Jones in a bull ring in Tijuana, three memorable tussles with Marco Antonio Barrera, dominant junior lightweight conquests over Carlos Hernandez and Jesus Chavez all instantly come to mind.
But if you had to pick a fight where Morales' back was to the wall and he came through after making a valiant stand, you would look no further than his March 2005 upset over Manny Pacquiao inside of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Coming off of a bitter loss with fierce rival Barrera in their third fight, this bout was looked at as Morales' last stand given the rising tide that Pacquiao had shown himself to be.
The unassuming General Santos City fighter by way of the Philippines was coming off a destruction over Marco Antonio Barrera in November of 2003 and a follow-up majority draw with Juan Manuel Marquez that left many breathless. Despite failing to officially defeat Marquez, Pacquiao's stock was still high because of the savage nature of the fight, one in which he floored the Mexico City fighter three times in the opening round.
Pacquiao figured to be a little too much to handle for Morales heading into the contest yet what we saw from Erik was an inspirational and gritty performance. For twelve pulsating rounds the two men traded blows at a constant clip but for the most part it was Morales who was a little sharper and more effective with his shots, ultimately winning a close unanimous decision while also showing new wrinkles to his game as he outboxed Pacquiao during key portions of the fight.
Well-respected trainer and cut man Miguel Diaz was in Morales' corner that night and spoke with admiration of his fighter's effort.
"Morales fought a perfect fight that day," Diaz reflected. "I worked his corner and I remember that he did everything. He boxed, boxed, boxed, and he didn't get into the movement of typical Mexican fighter. And he offset all the moves of Pacquiao. Pacquiao was not the same guy that he is right now. He was coming up as a star."
But the glory would be short-lived as Morales would go on to lose his next four fights, including two disheartening stoppages to Pacquiao in return bouts in Las Vegas. I asked Diaz if seeing Morales crumpled on the canvas after absorbing sustained punishment in his second fight with Pacquiao was all he needed to realize that the legend's career had seen his best days past and he agreed.
"Of course," said Diaz. "He said that he wasn't really enjoying what he was doing. You saw the the results in the last fight with [Marcos] Maidana. He enjoyed what he was doing and he produced a tremendous fight."
When mentioning the name Maidana, Diaz is referring to the dramatic battle between the clubbing Argentinean and Morales inside of the Mandalay Bay last month. The 34-year old Morales was looked at as a sacrificial lamb heading into the fight but produced an astonishing effort that same him match Maidana punch for punch in losing a very close decision verdict.
More reflectives on Pacquiao: Al Bernstein remembers the Ledwaba breakthrough / Larry Merchant remembers the day Manny and Marco Antonio Barrera crossed paths / Bert Sugar muses on the possibility of Pacquiao-Marquez III
Shocking to some but Diaz, who used to work with Maidana as well, hinted that he saw it coming all along.
"In a way, yeah, but I was kind of expecting that," he continued. "Before the fight I always said that all those old pros, when they come back, they have a rest for a couple of years, they heal all the things that they have in their body and they get better results."
Another old dog will be looking to give an effort as harrowing as Morales' when former five-time champion Shane Mosley meets the aforementioned Pacquiao this weekend at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Shane is a heavy underdog and at 39-years old Diaz doesn't know if he can keep pace for twelve rounds.
"It's a tough fight for four or five rounds," Diaz stated. "The Mosley everybody knows is pretty good with his boxing ability. He's got a good defense; he's got a good movement. For the first four of five rounds it's going to be a very entertaining fight. People will enjoy it and eventually the speed and the stamina of Pacquiao will prevail. I wouldn't be surprised if he would stop Mosley by the eighth or ninth round."
Diaz has been serving as Pacquiao's cut man dating back to his victory over Oscar De La Hoya in December of 2008 but some had wondered if he would be returning for the Mosley contest. Reason being, Diaz and Pacquiao's strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza have been on uneven terms dating back to a disagreement in the corner during Manny's November victory over Antonio Margarito.
Diaz reassured that nothing has changed when I asked if he was again set to work the eight-division champion's corner this weekend.
"Yeah, of course."