By Jake Donovan
Everything about Erik Morales’ last ring appearance flashed the signs of a once-brilliant career that was clearly on borrowed time. The four-division titlist missed weight, was out of shape and offered a lethargic effort for twelve rounds in conceding to his younger foe.
Like any proud warrior, Morales wasn’t quite ready to go out on such a low note. So came the decision to exercise a rematch clause that leads to this weekend’s return go with Danny Garcia.
The bout takes place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. It’s the first event for the brand new arena, but perhaps the last call for the proud Mexican warrior who seeks to regain his title in the headlining act of a Showtime-televised training camp.
"I had a very good training camp and I am ready," said Morales, insisting that weight will not be an issue this time around. "All I have to say is that I am ready to put a great show next Saturday night."
There was a time when Morales (52-8, 36KO) put on a great show every time he stepped into the ring. Two of his three fights with longtime rival Marco Antonio Barrera landed as Fight of the Year (2000 and 2004), nor was there any shortage of entertainment in three fights with Manny Pacquiao and back-in-the day wars with a host of others.
Even in the twilight of his career, Morales found a way to give the crowd a thrill per second. His 12-round war with David Diaz was among the best fights of 2007, a bout in which he came within a round of becoming Mexico’s first-ever four-division champion four years earlier than when he managed to finally accomplish the feat.
As fraudulent as was the title at stake in last September’s showdown with Pablo Cesar Cano, the in-ring action was a true fight indeed. Perhaps it was the proverbial “last great performance” that is said to be left in every great fighter. Morales fell behind early, but dug deep to overcome adversity and eventually bump off an undefeated fighter to make history for his boxing-rich nation.
Then again, it was said that his March ’05 win over Pacquiao was the last semblance of greatness still existent in the action hero who one day will be a shoo-in for the boxing Hall of Fame. For several years, it appeared that his upset split decision win was as good as it will get for the rest of his career. Four straight losses followed before bowing out of the game following the aforementioned loss to Diaz.
Though few knew what to expect, Morales’ most faithful fans – namely, anyone who likes watching a fighter leave it all in the ring – welcomed his comeback with open arms upon his ring return in 2010.
Three straight wins followed, though ironically it was last April’s majority decision loss to Marcos Maidana that prompted hope and thoughts of resurrection in a career long ago written off.
The rally against Cano five months later only told part of the story. Morales already proved his mettle in his willingness to take on Maidana, who was fresh off of a Fight of the Year-level war with Amir Khan. That Morales was willing to engage in back-to-back wars spoke volumes the moment he signed on to face original opponent Lucas Matthysse.
An injury suffered late in training by Matthysse paved the way for Morales to instead face a young, unbeaten fighter in Cano. Still, it required a hell of a rally after a troubling start that saw an aged veteran outboxed and outfought every step of the way. No such drama surfaced in his lone title defense, a go-through-the-motions loss to Garcia. The 12-round performance was indicative of the insufficient training put forth in the preceding weeks.
Taken into consideration was the emergency gall bladder surgery he underwent, which led to the postponement from the original January date.
“I know my son and I know he had problems due to the gallbladder surgery before the first fight,” points out Jose Morales, Erik’s father and trainer. “This time has to be different because there are no excuses or injuries."
Two months of recovery and reload time apparently wasn’t enough, or perhaps Morales already achieved all that he sought to accomplish during his comeback when returning two years prior.
Reported training habits for the rematch suggest that he has learned from his past mistakes. Morales cut himself off from the media – including a no-show for a recent conference call - for most of the past 12 weeks while training in high altitude deep in his native Mexico.
"I have to be honest… Erik is very well motivated for his rematch against Danny Garcia," said Jose Morales of training camp. "My son did a great job for almost 12 weeks to make sure that the result will be different. “For this fight, he has had more time to plan everything and do different things."
The one thing he will have to do different is definitively prove that he is in fact the better fighter between the two. Even with Garcia admitting to have shown his legendary foe far too much respect, the outcome was all but a foregone conclusion. Many regard Garcia as the best 140 lb. fighter in the world at the moment, which of course presents Morales with yet another uphill climb.
Before Morales gets a chance at revenge and have a say in the 140 lb. race, he needs to convince the masses that he’s still in fact a 140 lb. fighter. A nutritionist and a cook were brought into the fold, preparing Morales’ meals on site to ensure that he’s a healthy and strong 140 lb. or less by Friday’s weigh-in – and even better on what could be the last meaningful Saturday night of his career.
"Training camp was excellent and I strongly believe I will have no problems making my mark on the [140 lb.] division,” Morales insists. “My body responded well to my training regimen and I feel that this time the outcome will be different. I want to be a world champion again."
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox