August 4, 2007 -- Allstate Arena, Rosemont, IL
Winner: David Diaz UD-12
Of all the nights that Diaz-Morales had to take place, it was August 4th. I didn't watch it live, because that was the night of Marquez-Vazquez II on Showtime.
If only all great fighters could go out the way Morales did -- and that is hoping that he stays retired, though there has been buzz that he wants a rematch. "El Terrible" gave us so many great moments and great fights over his brilliant career, and then he ended it all with another one. I remember reading the reactions and the articles over the next week, and almost all of them noted that, yes, we all expected Erik Morales was maybe taking one fight too many. Having been destroyed quick and dirty by Manny Pacquiao in November 2006, Morales was attempting to become the first ever Mexican-born fighter to win a world title in four weight classes. Moving to lightweight would be no easy task, particularly with as much as he'd put his body through over the years. Diaz is nothing special, really, but he's naturally bigger and stronger than Morales, and he's a pressure fighter. He lives and dies on being able to swarm.
It added up to Morales bowing out somewhere in the mid-to-late rounds, to be honest. As much as any of us like Erik Morales, the only hope we had that he would win was a fool's hope. In a young man's sport (Hopkins aside), Morales was a very, very old 30 years of age, and on a three-fight skid, losing twice to Pacquiao and once to Zahir Raheem. It had been two and a half years since we'd seen the "El Terrible" that beat Pacquiao. Most of us figured that was Morales' last great performance.
In some ways, it was. David Diaz is a solid fighter, but he's not Manny Pacquiao. He's not a world class type of guy. He's a rugged professional, and a smart fighter in that he knows his limitations and sticks to what he's good at. You could maybe start forming an argument that Diaz underestimated Morales, but I wouldn't buy it for a second. This was by far the biggest fight of the 31-year old Diaz's career, at the Allstate Arena in his hometown, Chicago, headlining a pay-per-view against the Erik Morales.
You think David Diaz didn't come out wanting to put the finishing touches on Morales' career? Please. He lucked into what was then an interim title bout against Jose Armando Santa Cruz in August 2006, two months after fighting Cristian Favela (11-10-4 coming into their bout) in Cicero, IL. Who had he ever fought to earn his pretty record? Kendall Holt? Jaime Rengel? Holt knocked him out, and Rengel was done by the time they got together in 2004.
Just look at the first round. Diaz stormed Morales and had him hurt early. The champion was fighting like a hungry challenger, using the spotlight against Morales to make his own name, in a fight where he was the oddsmakers' favorite. With Morales against the ropes and Diaz looking like he wanted to end the night early, "El Terrible" came out of Erik Morales. Trading shots with the stronger, fresher fighter, Morales landed a crushing right hand that put Diaz on the canvas. Suddenly, Erik Morales was Erik Morales again.
He used his head, and boxed circles around Diaz for the first half of the fight, with vintage Morales combinations and a defense that thwarted almost all of Diaz's counter attacks. He was leading on every official scorecard after six rounds. He had turned back the clock.
Then, that clock sped up on him. Diaz started pressuring, and wearing the former three-division champion down. On every single one of those official scorecards, Diaz won the final six rounds. Every round, every card.
Morales repeatedly got stuck against the ropes, trying to mount some sort of counter attack. He proved to be a better counter puncher than Diaz had in the opening half of the fight, but it wasn't enough to win many of those rounds.
But it was the championship rounds that sealed this one, high drama all the way. In the tenth, Morales looked like he was on spaghetti legs, with Diaz continuing the relentless assault. Then in the eleventh, Erik charged back. The 12th was epic -- Diaz unloading with punches in bunches, going upstairs and downstairs to try and finish off the tired Morales, and Erik doing all he could just to stay on his feet. Then in the final minute, he fought back again.
As the bell sounded to end the fight, Diaz was still throwing. Erik Morales hardly had enough energy left just to get back to his corner. He left every ounce of himself in the ring in Chicago, and the two rightly received a standing ovation for their fantastic efforts.
You can make an argument that Morales won the fight. A good portion of the audience that night felt he did. Morales felt he did. I wouldn't have seen it as any sort of injustice if he had. It was a very even fight, and punch stats show Morales landing more and at a higher percentage (Diaz 161/733, 22%, and Morales 169/584, 29%).
At any rate, and no matter how you feel about the decision, it was a great final hurrah for a true legend. Both men left the ring bruised, swollen, and battered, having given it everything they had. It's corny, but they both left as winners. Morales further established his legacy in defeat, and Diaz added a major win to his record, putting him into discussions for bigger fights than he could have imagined a year ago.