Note: This story appears in the July 2011 issue of THE RING magazine, which is available now on newsstands or in our new digital format.
Eric Morales shocked all doubters by demonstrating on April 9 in Las Vegas that he could once again go toe-to-toe against an elite fighter. With 58 fights against some of boxing’s best, including a decision victory over Manny Pacquiao in 2005, the 34-year-old Mexican puncher resembled the Morales of old.
Following a third-round knockout loss to Pacquiao in 2006 and a 12-round decision loss to David Diaz in ’07, Morales, who turned pro at 16, fit the profile of a fighter who had experienced too many wars and announced his retirement.
Still, like many boxers well past their prime, it wasn’t surprising to see Morales return to the ring after a 31-month hiatus. But when the popular Mexican, who had eased back into competition with three wins over modest opposition, was suddenly scheduled to face Marcos Maidana on a pay-per-view card, the skeptics abounded.
“Morales surprised everybody,” said HBO commentator Larry Merchant. “Every reporter was measuring the distance from the ring to the hospital.”
I, too, feared for Morales’ safety. I was fortunate to work or attend each of his Las Vegas fights from 1995 to 2005. Early on, he was calm and relaxed, always in perfect physical condition, competing at 122 pounds. As his career wins accumulated and he began fighting at 130 pounds, Morales attended many weigh-ins wearing a plastic warm-up suit, sucking on a sliver of ice, and resembling a concentration camp victim. This coincided with stories and photographs of a pudgy-cheeked Morales walking around at 180 pounds or more in between bouts.
Irrespective of age, no world-class athlete can compete at his peak ballooning up and down in weight and abusing their bodies between fights.
So, how did Morales change the destiny that befell so many others like him?
“Morales wasn’t just a brawler; he had skills—like Barrera,” said Merchant. “Their willingness to do battle is part of their makeup as a fighter. I honor him for it.”
Merchant also believes that the years Morales had away from the ring restored him physically and mentally.
“He came back at a more natural weight, and he had the kind of opponent in front of him to help him turn back the clock. If he fought [Amir] Khan, he might look 10 years older, but with Maidana, who has the same strengths and toughness, coming to him, Morales looked 10 years younger. I call Maidana, ‘Kid Cahones,’ and Morales was ‘Kid Cahones’ before him!”
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