Alan Dawson – London
Erik Morales… a first ballot hall-of-famer, a natural fighter – it is said he was even born in a boxing gym, enjoyed 117 amateur fights, 59 professional bouts, was successful in 18 world championship contests whilst also sharing the ring with 14 title challengers and 17 world champions; two of them thrice and another twice. There is little doubting the man is a ring legend who has just punctuated his legacy by becoming the first from his country, Mexico, to claim major honours in four separate weight divisions. On The Beak details his greatest hits…
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Morales' TKO over Cano underlined an already legendary career. Credit: S. Verbeek - MABG, Dallas
Championship winning fights
1997: WBC super bantamweight title – Daniel Zaragoza (55-7-3, 28ko pre-fight record)
Morales scooped his first world honour at his first attempt after already collecting domestic prizes as both Mexican and NABF champion. Having first laced-up gloves as a five-year-old in 1981 he went on to amass 11 major amateur awards in his homeland before competing in his first pro prizefight at 16. He was just 21 when he took on Zaragoza… a veteran at 39 who was making the sixth defence of his third reign as a 122lb champ, and had already despatched of gritty Northern Irishman; Wayne McCullough.
Morales was not as polished as he was during his eventual pomp. He was a brawler at the time and, as comes with the territory of slugging, was caught by incoming shots from Zaragoza’s loaded guns – most notably the right cross. Morales’ will and fighting spirit prevailed over Zaragoza’s experience and ring nous and Erik claimed the win in the penultimate round, stopping the two-weight world champ with a one-two combination; a head-bound orthodox jab followed by an overhand right guided direct onto the solar plexus. Zaragoza sat on his backseat; loathe to make the count.
“This really isn’t a sad death of a king, so much a passing of the torch to a new generation,” HBO commentator Larry Merchant aptly stated post-fight. That torch is something Morales supposedly relinquished to Manny Pacquiao, during their second and third fights in 2006, but his stubborn comeback in 2010 and subsequent fights has ensured he remains competitive with the super lightweight elite.
He made nine successful defences of the WBC title as well as annexing Barrera’s WBO belt.
2001: WBC featherweight title – Guty Espadas Jr (33-2-0, 21ko pre-fight record)
Morales loved declaring war and relished the fights where his opponents returned fire with fire. Espadas Jr, who was trained by Ignacio Beristain at the time, provided Morales with a grueling 12-round battle. Guty had a granite chin and powerful pop in his punches. Morales was undefeated going into the bout but was seen as something of an underdog, however, he began his fight against Espadas Jr in strong fashion by utilising the jab from good range and bombarding Guty with triple hook shots.
It was not long before the two exchanged blows from the inside, trading hooks, uppercuts and body shots. The end of the second round seemed ruthless from the outside as two proud Mexicans went gung-ho within the space of a phone box. Espadas Jr’s conditioning was sterling, he came on strong in the second half of the fight and, even though the double-hard Morales won by way of unanimous decision, the scoring is considered debatable due to the way the fight finished – with Espadas Jr in the ascendancy and Morales on the backfoot.
When speaking with ringtv.com, Morales rated the brutality and toughness of his trench-fought combat with Espadas Jr in the same league as the marquee slobberknockers he will forever be synonymous with: the trilogies with Pacquiao and Marco Antonio Barrera, together with his trumping of Wayne McCullough, In-Jin Chi and Jesus Chavez.
With the points win, Morales was a confirmed two-weight world champion and made one successful defence, lost his title to Barrera in their second fight (again, under debatable scoring), before reclaiming the vacant title against Paulie Ayala as Barrera refused to accept the championship. After Ayala, Morales defended the featherweight crown a further two times.
2004: WBC super featherweight title – Jesus Chavez (40-2-0, 28ko pre-fight record)
If the distance fight with Espadas Jr was a two-way thumping from the trenches then Morales’ epic with Chavez was violence in the streets as both boxers suffered angry cuts. Defending champion Chavez stuck accurate combinations onto Morales in the second round but El Terrible responded resoundingly by dropping Jesus twice.
Chavez injured his shoulder early, though, and was inhibited by the injury, minimising his ability to throw power punches with his right. The crowd were in raptures by the fight’s end… on their feet, praising a warrior-like performance from both combatants.
Morales won more decisively against Chavez than he did versus Espadas Jr, but he was able to erase any doubt of that fight as he teekayoed Guty in the third round of a WBC eliminator, contested immediately prior to gaining a title in his third weight class.
By snaring Chavez’s super featherweight belt, Morales became only the second Mexican to reach the zenith of three divisions – second only after all-time great Julio Cesar Chavez Sr (and later to be joined by Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez and Fernando Montiel).
2011: WBC super lightweight title – Pablo Cesar Cano (21-0-1, 17ko pre-fight record)
The overhand right – the punch that Erik had allowed to repeatedly leak through his armour and land on his head in his very first championship fight – was this time used effectively by Morales against effervescent challenger Cano.
The 21-year-old troubled the veteran warhorse early on as Morales failed to find rhythm, however, using all his savvy ring craft, Morales sought to aggravate the cuts on Cano’s face… his head stained with a claret splatter leaving his corner with the tough decision to pull the young buck out of the fight before the eleventh round.
Observers point to the dubious nature of the fight having world championship status as Timothy Bradley was stripped by the WBC due to “inactivity” and instead labeled a “champion in recess”. Morales had already endured an ebb-and-flow fight with Marcos Maidana that On The Beak scored a 114-114 but the ringside judges had it as a majority decision for Maidana. Morales was then due to box Lucas Matthysse, another tortuously tough puncher from Argentina, but withdrew late due to injury, leaving the WBC having to push Cano as the replacement.
Despite the politics, Morales achieved what no other Mexican had before him… stormed to another major honour in a fourth division.
(Video embedded above credit – Youtube, 2008sALINAs)
1998: WBC super bantamweight defence – Junior Jones (44-3-0, 26ko pre-fight record)
Blessed with great technique, Junior Jones headed into his fight with champion Morales having an extraordinary record of 34-0-0 against Mexicans – two of those wins against Barrera. Morales pulled one back for his country by staggering Jones on multiple occasions before knocking him down and claiming a technical knockout win in the fourth.
2000: WBC/WBO super bantamweight unification – Marco Antonio Barrera (49-2-0, 36ko pre-fight record)
The first installment of a three-part series resulted in a win for Morales, although it was seen somewhat as an unofficial win for Barrera. The result, though, was reversed in the second fight as Barrera got the official nod despite Morales appearing to produce the superior work. The 2000 fight was hailed as the outright fight of the year winner as it was non-stop action.
Morales commented after: “He was brave… we both gave it all we had. We were both hurt. He was the biggest puncher I ever faced in the ring.”
2001: WBC featherweight defence – In-Jin Chi (21-1-0, 14ko pre-fight record)
Another all-out bullet-laden slaughter with Morales firing continuously at an opponent who may as well have been clad with a ballistic vest under his chest and a steel plate over his jaw. Chi had great chutzpah, was a forward-stepper but docked a point in the tenth for a litter of fouls. Morales finished the fight with his left eye swollen shut – the catalyst an accidental clash of heads.
Out of all his opponents, it is Chi who had Morales’ respect for his resistance: “That was one very tough guy,” he reflected one day to thering.tv. “I should have knocked him out with the number of hard punches I landed to his chin but he just kept coming forward.”
2005: Minor super featherweight titles – Manny Pacquiao (39-2-2, 30ko pre-fight record)
Morales also fought a trilogy with Pacquiao and, currently, can lay claim to be the last man to defeat the Filipino pound-for-pound king. Their 2005 duel was the first time they crossed swords, with Pacquiao trumping Morales by way of knockout – twice – in 2006.
It was another highly-anticipated fight and it didn’t disappoint on the night as it was a high-tempo battle, an edge-of-the-seat thriller… Morales displayed his true grit by taking punishment early on, emerging second best throughout each of the opening three rounds, but found his groove and dominated the middle and latter stages.
“I was controlling everything and I threw a good left jab. I knew he was fast but my ring [knowledge] was able to control everything he had… I wanted to punish him,” he said post-fight; comments rarely heard from an opponent Pacman has faced.
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