By Lem Satterfield
Las Vegas-based neurologist, Dr. Margaret Goodman, a former ringside physician and Medical Advisory Board Chairman for the Nevada State Athletic Commision, responded to a recent BoxingScene.com report on three-division world champion, Erik Morales.
In August of 2007, after losing his fourth straight fight, by unanimous decision, to David Diaz, in a failed bid to earn the WBC lightweight title, Morales complained to his promoter, Top Rank Promotions CEO, Bob Arum, of a ringing inside of his head whenever he was punched.
"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" after losing to Diaz.
Morales' losing streak had begun with a September, 2005 setback against Zahir Raheem at 135 pounds, this, after having unanimously decisioned current eight-division titlist and WBO welterweight king Manny Pacquiao in March of that same year.
But Morales' losing skid had included being stopped in the 10th, and, third round, respectively, by Pacquiao (52-3-2, 38 KOs), in January and November of 2006.
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 faces hard-hitting, former WBA interim junior welterweight titlist Marcos Rene Maidana (29-2, 27 KOs) of Argentina at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on April 9.
Although it is not required by the NSAC, Morales' promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, will submit an MRI that will be reviewed by the NSAC's physician, Dr. Timothy Trainor, according to NSAC director, Keith Kizer.
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 NSAC also has on file, a CAT Scan taken from Morales in 2006 after his second knockout loss to Pacquiao.
"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."
Dr. Goodman gave her thoughts on thoughts on the issue of Morales' return to the ring in this Q&A.
BoxingScene.com: What are your thoughts on Erik Morales fighting again based on what you read in the story?
Dr. Margaret Goodman: I think it is appropriate for the NSAC to require an MRI of Erik Morales. However, that is not enough.
It is not enough for any fighter with Morales' experience and history, irrespective of their prominence. As I mentioned in your article, by the time an MRI shows changes it is too late.
Yes, an MRI is important to rule out abnormalities in the brain like prior trauma, bleeding and structural abnormalities like tumors. But the actual scan -- as opposed to reports -- needs to be compared to the 2004 scan by a neuroradiologist to insure that there are no significant changes such as brain atrophy or shrinkage.
In addition to an MRI, my recommendation would be for a fighter with Morales' experience to undergo neuropsychological testing to assess cognitive function.
If this had been done a few years ago, then it could be compared to his current state. He should have a thorough medical and neurological exam by a neurologist.
Then, most importantly, his performance and speech should be compared to his performances in the ring ten years ago. Yes, no one is better ten years later, but his balance, coordination, and agility can be compared and assessed.
BoxingScene.com: Does Erik Morales' ability to appear to be speaking clearly necessarily mean or represent the absence of any evidence of brain damage?
Dr. Margaret Goodman: Speaking clearly may solely be medically assessed by a neurologist and/or a speech pathologist looking at old interviews and comparing to new ones.
This especially crucial when the athlete speaks a foreign language. I speak Spanish, but would never find myself qualified to review a Spanish-speaking athlete's speech quality.
BoxingScene.com: What problems could be manifest as a result of what Erik Morales complained about -- the ringing in his ears, etc. -- after his last loss to David Diaz?
Dr. Margaret Goodman: The ringing described by Arum may or may not be of significance, but could be post-concussive symptoms. They definitely warrant further medical evaluation.
In instances like determining Morales' fitness to box, tests won't always tell you what a commission needs to know to make the correct determination.
BoxingScene.com: Is it enough for an observer to say that Erik Morales looked good in sparring or in his success victories as far as determining his health and motor skills in correlation to any evidence of brain damage?
Dr. Margaret Goodman: The fact that Morales fought three recent opponents that never had his experience or skill does not tell us enough. The fact he reportedly looked good in the gym is inadequate.
That is a controlled setting with a paid-sparring partner.
BoxingScene.com: What procedures do you believe the Nevada State Athletic Commission should be following to assure that Erik Morales is fight-worthy and not necessarily in danger?
Dr. Margaret Goodman: The NSAC, unlike many other commissions, has the resources to require athletes with longstanding experience to undergo the necessary evaluations.
They have a well-qualified medical advisory board headed by Dr. Al Capanna, a neurosurgeon, that should determine the appropriate testing and review many of these cases coming before the NSAC.
To do any less is not fair to the fighter. Muhammad Ali was also licensed by the NSAC many years ago when he had definite evidence of Parkinsonian symptoms.
Obviously, Erik Morales's case is different, but unfortunately, the evaluations done then and now have changed little. That is to the detriment of the sport and the athletes who give so much of themselves. Often, they give way too much.