by David P. Greisman
There were worse ways to go out of the sport they love, and the sport that loved them back, than to lose to whom they did — and how they did.
They were not beaten off of television and in a remote location, stubbornly lingering long past their shelf lives and far removed from the spotlight.
There was still sorrow in the final fights of Arturo Gatti and Diego Corrales, the same sadness that came in seeing Erik Morales felled in what truly must be his last stand. Morales spoke Saturday night with a mix of dejection and acceptance. The end is near, he said, and his career will end after he says goodbye with a fight in his native Tijuana.
There are worse ways to go out.
Morales lost to the top-rated fighter in the 140-pound division, a well-rounded boxer named Danny Garcia who, at 24, is a dozen years Morales’ junior. Garcia had turned pro nearly five years ago, when Morales had already begun his initial sabbatical, hanging up his gloves for two and a half years.
It had been the right choice for Morales to leave then, too.
He had lost four in a row, and five of his last six. The sole victory had come in the first episode of his trilogy with Manny Pacquiao. But then he came in out of shape and out of his element against a slick boxer named Zahir Raheem, was stopped by Pacquiao in their rematch, and stopped even sooner by Pacquiao in their rubber match. His last hurrah was a valiant yet unsuccessful challenge of lightweight titleholder David Diaz.
He said afterward that he was being hurt by punches more than before. We welcomed his retirement, even if it meant we would lose the warrior who had thrilled us so. We celebrated the punishment he had delivered and recognized that which he had taken. And so we worried when he announced his comeback.
He would be facing opponents who were naturally bigger, who would have less trouble hitting an aging veteran with declining reflexes, who would be hurt less by his offense, and who would not be as slowed by the burdens of time and additional weight.
He never truly found great success, but he never truly embarrassed himself either.
Morales ticked off three wins against lower-tier opposition before stepping in the ring against Marcos Maidana in April 2011. Maidana was the kind of opponent that had made us worry. Morales put on the kind of performance that made us smile. He turned back the clock for one evening, giving Maidana trouble but ultimately not doing enough to score the upset, losing a majority decision.
Later in the year, he stopped an undefeated but unheralded prospect named Pablo Cano to take a vacant alphabet title. That set him up for a bout in early 2012 against Garcia, another undefeated younger foe whose toughest opposition to date had come against an over-the-hill Nate Campbell and an on-the-decline Kendall Holt.
Garcia, however, had shown signs of true talent. Against Morales, though, he also showed too much respect. The bout went the distance, Garcia holding back at times in deference to Morales’ experience. Garcia did put Morales down toward the end of the fight, a sign of the disadvantages Morales would have against younger, faster and stronger. And then there was Morales’ weight. He had come in over the limit, one more sign that his conditioning wasn’t there, that his body no longer belonged in boxing.
Garcia and Morales fought again seven months later. Little had changed for Morales. Lots had changed for Garcia.
Morales had admittedly struggled once again to make 140, though this time he came in below the limit. That might have been helped by the banned substance, clenbuterol, that he had tested positive for in the weeks before the bout. Garcia, meanwhile, was no longer a mere kid titleholder testing himself against a wily veteran, but had since become a confident and capable champion. He had bested the best fighter in his division, Amir Khan, and now was seeking to make the statement against Morales that he’d failed to make earlier in the year.
He wasn’t as gun shy against this old gun. He’d always had superior firepower, and now he was even better at using it. Morales, meanwhile, couldn’t take it. Not the right hand that buckled his knee toward the end of the third round and left him stumbling back to the wrong corner. And not the left hook that nearly spun his body all the way around before sending him to the canvas — in about the same position he had been at the end of the third Pacquiao bout — and sending his trainer into the ring to keep him from being hurt further.
There are worse ways to go, but it was nonetheless sad to see a warrior who could no longer bear the brunt of battle, who could always call on his surplus of experience and courage and heart but no longer could rely on his chin, legs and reflexes.
It was as sad to see Diego Corrales at welterweight against Joshua Clottey, no longer able to make the lightweight limit and competing two weight divisions above where he had been at his best. Corrales no longer had as much of a size advantage from boiling down his lanky frame. He was slower now, and even more susceptible to getting hit and hurt. Clottey was a very good welterweight. Corrales, clearly, was nowhere near as good.
And it was sad to see Arturo Gatti’s final fight, against Alfonso Gomez, a decent welterweight but never top tier. Gatti, like Corrales and Morales, had gone up to a heavier division class after his body no longer could take cutting so much weight. It was one thing for Gatti to be demolished to Floyd Mayweather Jr. It was respectable for him to be stopped by Carlos Baldomir. But the Gomez defeat was the end, and Gatti recognized it.
Gatti retired and was found dead two years after the Gomez loss. Corrales died tragically in a motorcycle crash a month after losing to Clottey. Morales plans to call it a career after one final hometown show.
Their fights had become dances with danger. They were never capable of winning, but instead were doing all they could just to stay competitive in defeat. There are worse ways to go. They weren’t fighting on non-televised shows, weren’t having their last grasps at significance playing out before a smaller audience.
But they were no longer great at the sport they loved, and no longer able to put forth the performances that made us love them.
Mike Tyson sat in a curtained-off section of an arena in Washington, D.C., in June 2005, barely an hour removed from being stopped in six rounds by an unexceptional opponent named Kevin McBride.
“I just don’t have this in my gut anymore. It’s just not in my heart anymore,” Tyson said during the post-fight press conference. “I’m not trying to take anything away from Kevin McBride. We know his record. We know his credentials. And if I can’t beat him, I can’t beat Junior Jones.”
There was a sense of catharsis in this. However sad it was to see Tyson lose to McBride, to see Gatti bloodied and beaten by Gomez, to see Corrales downed and defeated by Clottey, and to see Morales knocked around the ring by Garcia, it would’ve been worse to see them continue — for us to know that it was over for them before they had realized the same.
The 10 Count
1. This is why we’ve long wanted Evander Holyfield to retire, and why we’ve long been amazed that he just hasn’t seen what we see — that his time has long since passed.
The familiar refrain from Holyfield has been that nobody will give him the chance at a title shot anymore. Except he got those chances, most recently in 2007 (when he lost to Sultan Ibragimov) and in 2008 (when he lost controversially to Nicolay Valuev).
Since then he’s fought once in 2010 (stopping Frans Botha), and twice in 2011 (a no contest with Sherman Williams and a technical knockout over Brian Nielsen). His last appearance in the ring was nearly a year and a half ago, and it’s not like Holyfield has lined up any more keep-busy bouts in the meantime.
The Klitschkos have said they won’t fight him, that they won’t pummel their idol. They can’t be blamed for that, but also can’t be blamed because of this: As much as we roll our eyes when they stay busy against some overwhelming underdog, the criticism would be off the charts if Wladimir or Vitali went in against an overwhelming underdog who is also 50 years old and inactive.
Holyfield feels he can earn the shot with his name, and in some circles that can be true — look at the ghost of Roy Jones Jr. being trotted out here, or the shell of James Toney showing up there. Alas, Holyfield had told members of the media last week that he’d be retiring on his 50th birthday (which was Oct. 19), but then he changed his mind and said he will wait, if he needs to, until the Klitschkos lose.
“Somebody is going to beat them at some point,” he told Shaun Powell of Sports on Earth, “and then I’ll fight that winner.”
It’s been nine years since we saw James Toney beat Holyfield so badly that his corner threw in the towel — only the second time in his career he was stopped. As middling as the non-Klitschko heavyweights are, nobody wants to see Evander get hit the way we saw Erik Morales hit on Saturday.
2. Holyfield’s deferred retirement delays a Hall of Fame conversation that would have been coming up in five years — that is, how much (if at all) the implication of Holyfield in a performance-enhancing drugs investigation years ago should affect his chances of making it into Canastota.
In 2007, reporters for Sports Illustrated who had been looking into a raid on a Florida pharmacy noted that one of the alleged clients was an “Evan Fields” who had the same birthday and phone number as (and a similar address to) Holyfield. In 2004, Holyfield had received testosterone, human growth hormone, Glukor and injection supplies, according to the report.
If you want to assume that Holyfield never used performance-enhancing drugs prior to 2004 — and if you are of the mind that being implicated later in one’s career shouldn’t change what was accomplished earlier in his career — then you probably make Holyfield a Hall of Famer.
We just don’t (and can’t) know whether Holyfield used earlier in his career. As the Sports Illustrated reporters noted, however, there was suspicion about Holyfield in 1994 from Dr. Margaret Goodman, then of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, who considered what could have caused the heart problems Holyfield was having at the time. Holyfield was questioned about whether he had used human growth hormone:
"There were questions [because] the abnormalities Evander had with his heart were findings that could have been consistent with growth hormone use,” the reporters quoted Goodman as saying in 2007. “The problem was there was no test, and Evander denied any use of growth hormone."
There’s no evidence or testimony, though, just a medical expert going through possible causes for a condition. That’s not enough.
I have a feeling the boxing Hall of Fame will be like the baseball hall — the first person voted in despite being implicated in using performance enhancing drugs will open the door for more to come.
3. Holyfield wasn’t the only boxer last week to change his mind about hanging up his gloves. But then again, rare is the fighter who doesn’t make at least one comeback.
So even Glen Johnson is apparently returning, despite his heartfelt retirement in July after losing to Andrzej Fonfara. Reports have him returning in December to challenge undefeated super middleweight prospect George Groves.
On Dec. 15, when they meet, Groves will be 24, and Johnson will be 18 days away from turning 44.
4. I don’t like that Erik Morales was allowed to fight Danny Garcia this past Saturday despite twice testing positive for a performance enhancing drug called clenbuterol. But I think we need a lot more information. Here’s what’s on my mind:
- The two tests that came back positive for Erik Morales were from Oct. 4 and Oct. 10, according to Dan Rafael of ESPN.com. The ‘A’ and ‘B’ samples from both of those tests came up positive. When were the ‘B’ results for each test known?
- What were the contractual terms for releasing that information? The promoter, Golden Boy, had contracted with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. I’m not sure how USADA works, but Voluntary Anti-Doping Association head Margaret Goodman told me earlier in the year that her agency automatically sends test results to the athletic commissions, the Association of Boxing Commissions, and FightFax.
“We do not release results [to others] unless the athlete asks us to,” she said. “We are just a testing organization that facilitates the testing. [Releasing results] is not our role. The role is up to the athletic commission or the fighter or the promotional entity.”
- The New York State Athletic Commission said in a statement that it has “inconclusive data” about Morales in order “to make a final determination regarding the suspension of [his] license.” This is well and good for a fighter who tests positive after a bout — the commission doesn’t conduct testing beforehand — but what about when a fighter comes up positive for a substance prior to a bout?
When Andre Berto and Lamont Peterson tested positive for banned substances, their cases came many weeks before their respective bouts. New York had already issued Morales a license. It’s important to know when the commission knew about the test results, because that plays into whether it should’ve called him in for an emergency hearing. The boxers deserve time to mount their cases, but that doesn’t mean they deserve the right to go forward and fight in the meantime.
- Last year, the World Anti-Doping Agency decided not to appeal a Mexico Football Federation ruling that dropped doping charges against a massive number of youth soccer players who, like Morales, had tested positive for clenbuterol and, like Morales, claimed contaminated beef to be the culprit. Agency officials felt there was veracity to the players’ claims.
But WADA is still cautioning athletes to take responsibility for what they eat — in the same manner that they must be responsible for the supplements they take.
Clenbuterol is still on the agency’s list of banned substances, with “no threshold under which the substance is not prohibited.” WADA acknowledges on its website that “it is possible under certain circumstances [that] the presence of a low level of clenbuterol in an athlete’s sample can be the result of food contamination.”
5. How few punches did Randall Bailey throw against Devon Alexander? Let’s put it this way:
Toshiaki Nishioka, in his non-performance Oct. 12 against Nonito Donaire, landed just 49 of 199 punches over the course of less than nine rounds, according to CompuBox statistics.
Bailey, in his non-performance Oct. 19 against Alexander, landed 45 (less than 4 a round) out of just 198 punches thrown (less than 17 a round) — and that was over the course of 12 rounds. Of those, Bailey landed just 28 power punches (less than 3 a round) out of 79 thrown (less than 7 a round).
That statistic (45 total landed shots) is a CompuBox record for fewest landed punches in a 12-round fight, according to Keith Idec of BoxingScene.com.
For comparison’s sake, let’s look at Bailey’s win over Mike Jones earlier this year: In that bout, Bailey went 52 of 298 over the course of about 11 rounds. Of those, Bailey landed just 18 power punches out of 64 thrown. That paltry output was able to work against Jones, whom Bailey knocked down with a right hand in the 10th and then out with another right hand in the 11th.
Throwing even less wasn’t going to be enough against Alexander. Bailey waited, and waited, and waited to load up on his vaunted heavy right hand. Yet on those rare instances when Bailey was able to hit Alexander, he never came close to hurting him the way he had Jones.
6. Thank goodness, as boxing writer James Foley said on Twitter on Saturday, for the feud between Top Rank and Golden Boy, which has been preventing big fights from happening for years.
No rematch between Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander.
7. On a much more positive note, there was Danny Jacobs’ win on Saturday over Josh Luteran.
For as much glee as some people seemed to take when Jacobs was felled by Dmitry Pirog two years ago — Jacobs, after all, was vilified for being an Al Haymon client and an HBO-hyped fighter — there shouldn’t have been anything but warm hearts at seeing the 25-year-old back in the ring.
Jacobs had fought twice after losing to Pirog, but he hadn’t been in the ring since March 2011. That’s because he had cancer, and the tumor was wrapped around his spine.
He’s overcome cancer, and exceeded the doctor’s predictions for what he’d be able to do. Everything else he does from here is the proverbial icing on the cake.
If ever a fight was about more than boxing, it was this one. Rare is the fight that means so little — yet means so much.
8. I can understand the need for finding the right expert voice to complement your broadcast booth, but Chuck Giampa clearly wasn’t it for Showtime when it came to the judge’s perspective, and retired referee Joe Cortez doesn’t seem to be it either.
Broadcasting isn’t easy, and it takes time for those new to the headsets to get used to the role. I’m just not sure Cortez’s point of view is needed enough to justify whatever the expense is. I think he spoke twice during Showtime’s broadcast, and nothing he said added much value.
This isn’t FOX Sports having Mike Pereira on tap to delve into referee rulings during several NFL games in the same day. A boxing referee’s perspective is necessary far less often.
9. If ever Showtime needed Antonio Tarver as an expert analyst, by the way, it was for the Morales situation.
10. The information that comes out next about Erik Morales’ drug tests might just be the difference between a contaminated cow and a load of bull…
“Fighting Words" appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter at @fightingwords2 or send questions and comments to [email protected]