By: James Blears

Erik Morales is much more elusive out of the ring than in it.

On the business side of the ropes if you want a war, and if you want to stand toe to toe and trade, more often than not, Erik will happily and willingly oblige.

This proved to be a most costly strategy error for Erik in his third clash with Marco Antonio Barrera.  Barrera who’s shorter and more compact, was geared up for a short range war, and Morales was ready to tango from the opening bell. The result was that Barrera broke Morales nose with a pinpoint left uppercut in the opening round.

Erik showed what a truly great fighter he is, by overcoming this setback. But it was only in the second half of the fight, that he finally put his willingness to slug and his festering loathing of Barrera to one side on the back burner, and belatedly started to use his shrewd boxing brain, to pick off the smaller man with long range power shots. It’s likely that the outcome of the fight would have been quite different had he employed this tactic earlier. He also would not have picked up so much bumps, scuffs and bruises, to which he is always rather susceptible.

Tactics against Manny Pacquiao will dictate if Erik pulls off the most crucial victory at a crossroads of his stellar career, or get another right royal mauling.

Both Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez have been on the receiving end of Manny’s ballistic blitz. It overwhelmed one, while the other although badly shaken up, managed to brilliantly adapt and stick to a rigid no frills plan B, namely box, and at all costs, stay well away from that murderous left hand. It showed that Manny’s Achilles heel was not so much the cheap socks, but rather his difficulties with a slick and disciplined boxer who was determined not to be tempted into, or participate in a power punch contest.   

In this fight, Erik has got to use the physical advantages at his disposal. He’s taller than Manny, he’s naturally heavier and bigger than Manny, and he’s also an appreciably better and more versatile boxer than Manny.

On the other hand, Erik’s just nowhere near as fast as Manny, and he’s been in more long draining outright wars, and is not as fresh as Manny. Also, and significantly, over the last several years, he’s not been stopping opponents in devastating style like Manny. Erik seems to have lost the knack of putting them away, and therefore has to go twelve long rounds.

Whatever that wily fox Freddie Roach says, Manny is primarily a fighter, not a boxer. Even with the absolutely invaluable extra time gained by the Juan Manuel Marquez fight cancellation, and with all his tutored skills, it will have been difficult to say the least, for Freddie, to transform Manny’s right hand into the thunderbolt weapon his left obviously is. Introducing lateral movement and bringing out latent guile is a gradual process, and my guess is that although Freddie has been trying and indeed employing this, he’ll have sensibly be sticking to Manny’s greater strengths which involve facilitating his power punching, honing his lightning speed and reflexes and getting him into the best shape of his life. And that shape will be absolutely incredible. 

The conditioning part concerning Manny is actually quite tricky, because as Freddie confided in Mexico City at the press conference, Manny has a tendency to overwork and it’s his job to insure that the physical peak is reached just at the right moment, and none of the explosive potential is left back in the gym. In other words, Manny’s dedicated work ethic, has to be carefully nurtured and tempered.

Freddie has said he’s most hopeful that when Manny connects, Erik won’t be able to resist, and will characteristically retaliate in an almost reflex type of mode, rather than stick to his boxing. It’s then that the openings and possibility for a knockout would occur. If Erik goes against his nature and stays focused and dedicated, it’s going to be a very difficult awkward night for Manny.

Erik has publically stated that he’s ready for a war, and considers this is the fight of his life. We will have to wait for the night to discover if this is a clever verbal ruse, or whether he will indeed allow emotion, and natural aggression to rule cool professionalism.

Erik’s worst potential enemy is actually himself. Not only can he punch as hard as a mule can kick, he can also be as stubborn as one.

I have gained this knowledge of Erik’s  stubbornness, from actual experience. Most Mexican boxers are as friendly as punch and very easy to interview, even in the build up to big fights, provided that you respectful, and flexible with their training regimes,  and if you  request rather than insist, and most importantly, you DON’T  overstay your welcome.

Erik does not fit into this category, at least for me, and although I’ve consistently endeavored to do my homework, be brief and positive, plus friendly polite and highly respectful of his magnificent achievements as a wonderful champion and ambassador of boxing, the willingness to cooperate and try, has always been exclusively one way traffic.

It’s a pattern that he’s followed for a decade, and the loss is most certainly mine, although I do keep plugging way. His Father Jose, who’s a really nice person, and an absolute gentleman, agrees a time, and Erik always arrives horrendously late. He’s obviously not pleased to see me or any other scribbler or snapper at the hallowed Otomi High Altitude Center. His answers to questions very rarely extend to a full sentence and it’s obvious that he’d rather be elsewhere, relaxing having his teeth drilled without anaesthetic at the dentist.

When I recently took a television team to film him, he shadow boxed for about a minute and then wanted the team to leave. When his Father asked him if we could film him hitting the pads for just a tad longer, he tapped and pawed them a few times, and then really went to work as soon as we had switched off the camera.

To be fair and give him his due, he did apologize for this, and his team generously gave us some handsomely adored caps. I had to smile, because mine was the only head too big to fit into any of them. That did tell me something and it also somewhat chastened me.

To my mind, Erik will definitely be a much more difficult opponent for Manny than Marco Antonio Barrera or Juan Manuel Marquez. Barrera walked into a firestorm, and Marquez did not have the firepower as a boxer and a counter puncher to pose a knockout threat to Manny.

Erik well knows that this is a defining fight, if not the defining fight of his career, and with a victory, all sorts of attractive options are open.

Some scribes worry that he should not have taken on this mammoth challenge so soon after the Barrera slugfest. But in reality that was back in November, and Erik is at his best when he is kept busy.

This fight has all the hallmarks of an historic and epic encounter. Victory is not assured for either of the two. Forget the betting in Las Vegas. As so often at this rarefied level, it all depends who adheres to and executes his game plan the best.

In my own personal view, if Erik is prepared to discipline his mind and resist his very natural instincts, he’ll win a narrow split decision and if this happens, it would guarantee a mouth watering rematch.

But don’t listen to me. I’m only a bighead!