LOS ANGELES — Erik Morales answered the first question that popped into many fans’ minds as soon as he took the podium at a public rally and news conference for his fight with Lucas Matthysse on the Sept. 17 Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz undercard.
“Once again I’m reading comments on Web sites from people who think I’m crazy for taking this fight,” Morales told a group of fans and members of the media Wednesday at Placita Olvera, his comments translated from Spanish. “It’s the same things that were said before my last fight. People were afraid that I was going to get killed. They thought I was crazy for fighting Marcos Maidana.
“I want to confirm to everyone, I am crazy. I’m crazy for what I do and for what I’ve always done with dignity.”
What Morales, an 18-year veteran with more ring wars under his belt than he can even recall, does is challenge himself against the toughest available competition. And the former three-division titleholder does indeed ply his brutal craft with dignity.
This was never more evident than in his last bout, a hotly contested 12-round majority-decision loss to Maidana, THE RING’s No. 3-rated junior welterweight and a 6-to-1 favorite to beat the 34-year-old Mexican legend.
Morales (51-7, 35 knockouts) courageously fought the relentless slugger with his right eye swollen shut from the second round on during the April 9 pay-per-view event from Las Vegas. Despite being partially blinded, the “old man” held his own — especially down the stretch — enough to earn a draw or even narrowly win the bout in the eyes of many ringside observers.
Fans and members of the media were once again awed by Morales’ valor, but many also breathed a sigh of relief that he did not get seriously hurt as many boxing pundits had predicted.
But now Morales is jumping right back into the danger zone by taking on Matthysse (28-2, 26 KOs), THE RING’s No. 6-rated junior welterweight who is just as young (28) and powerful as Maidana (both have an 84-percent KO ratio).
And Matthysse has much better technique than his fellow Argentine. Morales was able to effectively counter Maidana’s raw power and aggression with his superior boxing skills.
How will he do it against a young powerhouse with poise, balance and technique?
That’s for Morales to know and everyone else to find out on Sept. 17.
“I’ve studied tape of Matthysse,” he said. “I know what I’ve got in front of me, a strong fighter, a good boxer who can hit very hard. So people ask ‘Why is he doing this? We don’t understand.’
“It doesn’t matter if people understand me or not. I believe this is a fight fans want to see. To be honest, I don’t know why I’m doing it either, but I love doing it.
“And on Sept. 17, Mexicans will have a great party. We’re going to celebrate because I’m going to be victorious.”
Fans don’t have to be Mexican in order to party when Morales fights, and the future hall of famer is worth celebrating whether he wins, loses or draws against Matthysse.
READY TO RUMBLE – AGAIN
Morales says those who are worried about the amount of punishment he took in the Maidana fight are misplacing their concern.
The ultra-rugged veteran claims that the fight was not particularly tough and that Maidana took more of a beating.
“It was a difficult fight but only because of my eye,” Morales said through a translator during a RingTV video interview. “Outside of that, it wasn’t a difficult fight. I wasn’t getting hit. I wasn’t pressured. I wasn’t close to losing or getting hurt.
“Two weeks after the fight I was back at the offices of Golden Boy (Promotions) to see what was my next fight. They asked me ‘When will you be ready?’ I told them July 30, (I wanted a) rematch with Maidana (on that date). Maidana’s answer was that it was too soon, too tough of a fight for him.
“I was ready from that time on. With the exception of my eye, which needed some time to heal, I was ready to fight a few months after the (Maidana) fight.”
THE WBC BELT
Morales hopes to become the first Mexican fighter to win major titles in four weight classes if he beats Matthysse. The WBC stripped its 140-pound belt (unjustly so) from Timothy Bradley for not defending the green strap in a “timely fashion.”
That action brought about an uproar from many fans and members of the media, but not as much as when it was announced that Morales would fight Jorge Barrios for the vacant belt on Sept. 17.
To say that Barrios, a former 130-pound belt holder from Argentina, is unworthy of a title shot is a gross understatement. Since suffering an 11th-round TKO loss to Rocky Juarez in 2008, the 35-year-old veteran has fought three times (twice in ‘09 and once last year) against second- and third-tier opposition.
Thankfully for the “Star Power” promotion, Barrios’ many legal woes prevented him from leaving Argentina and Matthysse was brought in as a much better replacement.
However, although Matthysse is rated No. 7 by the WBC (Morales is No. 3) and No. 6 by THE RING (Morales is No. 8), some observers still believe that Morales is chasing bogus history by fighting for the Mexico-based sanctioning organization’s title.
Obviously, Morales disagrees with that line of thinking.
“I’m not one to say if (Matthysse) should be fighting for the title,” Morales said. “That’s not up to me, that’s up to the organizations, but he’s highly ranked and he’s a very difficult fighter. He’s a very strong, tough fighter. I was asked if I wanted to fight him for the title and I jumped (at the opportunity).”
Morales believes a victory over Matthysse will earn him the right to be called WBC “champion” because of the 28-year-old contender’s recent track record. Although Matthysse has lost two of his last three bouts, most observers believe he won the close split decisions he dropped to Zab Judah last November and to Devon Alexander in June.
And what about Bradley, who won the WBC belt when he beat Alexander via technical decision in January? Morales did not dismiss the American titleholder [Bradley still holds the WBO belt], but he said the undefeated Southern Californian’s uncertain future plans and lack of communication with the WBC brought about the sanctioning organization’s decision.
“He was given an opportunity to defend his title. He hasn’t defended it in a long time,” Morales said. “My understanding is that the WBC sent him several letters to seek what his intentions were of defending the title. He never even responded to them.
“So they put him in ‘champion in recess’ (status), (which means) he has the opportunity to fight whoever wins this fight for the title right away without having to make merits or anything because obviously he’s a good fighter and a champ.”
The opening bout of the split-site Mayweather-Ortiz pay-per-view card (which includes the Saul Alvarez-Alfonso Gomez fight in Los Angeles) is an excellent matchup between undefeated prospect Jessie Vargas and talented fringe contender Josesito Lopez.
Vargas (16-0, 9 KOs) and Lopez (29-3, 17 KOs) were on hand at the Placita Olvera public rally on Wednesday and both well-dressed young fighters charmed the media with their articulate bilingual comments and pleasant mix of humility and confidence.
However, it’s their styles that make this a good fight. Both Vargas and Lopez are aggressive boxer-punchers with good skills and solid whiskers.
The 10-round bout, which takes place at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas under Mayweather-Ortiz and Morales-Matthysse, is a legitimate test for Vargas and a tremendous opportunity for Lopez.
“Jose Lopez is a very good fighter, but I feel I’m a better fighter and I’m going to show it on Sept. 17,” said Vargas, a 22-year-old Las Vegas resident who defeated iron-chinned journeyman Cristian Favela (UD 8), faded former titleholder Vivian Harris (RTD 1) and spoiler Walter Estrada (KO 2) this year. “I hope we can give fans a great fight, which I’m sure we will.”
Lopez, who has won eight straight since dropping a majority decision to Edgar Santana in 2008, is also confident their fight will deliver.
“Whenever you put two fighters like me and Jessie in the ring you’re guaranteed action,” said the 27-year-old Riverside, Calif., native, who scored a seventh-round KO of unbeaten (17-0-1) prospect Mike Dallas Jr. (KO 7) in January.
Photos by Gene Blevins-HoganPhotos.com/Golden Boy Promotions