Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images for Golden Boy Promotions
Erik Morales proves that, in blood sports, at least, athletes rarely heed that Neil Young lyric about it being better to burn out than fade away. No, legends never go that quickly—or that sensibly—in boxing. It seems harder for fighters to quit the ring than it is for Lena Dunham to keep her clothes on every week on HBO, and Morales, over twenty years after his pro debut, welcomes back the adrenaline rush when he faces Jorge Paez, Jr., on March 22 in Monterrey, Mexico.
In his last fight, more than a year-and-a-half ago, Morales was brutally knocked out by Danny Garcia at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. This is a hell of a way to sully a legacy. To make matters worse, Morales failed two pre-fight drug tests, but was permitted to keep testing by the SNAFU New York State Athletic Commission until he finally passed. In retrospect, it would have been better for “El Terrible” if he had been disqualified from competing. That night, he hit the deck like a man who had been sideswiped by a Crown Vic. But the fierce pride that allowed Morales to win seven world titles in four weight classes—and made him a Mexican sporting icon—is now a sputtering wick, waiting for a final gust of wind to blow out the spark.
Paez has not exactly set the world on fire since following in the footloose footsteps of his famous father “Maromero,” a moneymaking TV staple in the early 1990s known for breakdancing in the ring before fights, kissing round-card girls between rounds, performing backflips after decisions were announced, and wearing outlandish trunks in which to wage war. Once, he even fought with the “Batman” symbol shaved into his head.
Paez, Jr., on the other hand, has been making a fair living as a C-level pro in Baja California, Quintana Roo, and Guadalajara. Not long ago, Paez swept two celebrity matches against Omar Chavez, whose father, Julio Cesar Chavez, Sr., must wonder daily about the mysteries of DNA. Against Morales, now 37, Paez gets a chance to add to his small-change rep by beating a fighter he must have watched on television again and again as a child. To see him now, perhaps, may be as much of a shock to Paez as it is to anyone else who saw Morales at his ferocious peak.
Morales in his younger days.
Because every time he fights, Morales resembles less and less what he once was: the quintessential Mexican warrior whose flair for toe-to-toe showmanship marked him as one of the bona fide greats. After all, Morales never lied in the ring, and he will try to tell his unique truth, win or lose, one more time in Monterrey, the same way he always has: con pimiento.
Carlos Acevedo is the editor of The Cruelest Sport and a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in Boxing Digest Magazine, Maxboxing, Boxing World Magazine, and Esquina Boxeo.