Erik Morales can't leave Houston tonight with the WBC junior welterweight title belt, a belt that all but had a bow on it last September when he won it in Las Vegas against Pablo Cano. Yesterday, he failed to make weight for his defense against Danny Garcia, forfeiting the title at the scale.
At the time, we chose to focus on the good: Morales, however he got the distinction, became Mexico's first four-division world titlist, and as a champion's champion, it was worth celebrating in a sport filled with bogus champions and all but meaningless belts.
Now, it all seems a bit less fluffy. He's given up the belt with a shrug of his shoulders, telling ESPN.com that it "doesn't matter" to him since he's already won the belt. Morales said, somewhat more admirably, that keeping the fight was more important than keeping the belt. "No point," he said when asked about burning off those final two pounds.
No point. That's all too familiar a story in boxing, and unfortunately, Erik Morales has probably hit a low in terms of fan respect.
About $50,000 will come out of Morales' pocket and head to Garcia for the two pounds, which is fine with Garcia, even as the Philly fighter rails against the Mexican legend for disrespecting the sport and the fans. Garcia is fighting because getting world title shots often isn't easy, even if you're promoted by someone like Golden Boy, and this is his first crack. He wants it, bad, and he plans to take the belt home. To give up the fight over two pounds, in Garcia's mind, would be insane. This is what he's worked for.
Morales, of course, has been on stages bigger than this one numerous times. The belt doesn't matter to him. He flat-out said it. The money also doesn't matter to him. By all accounts, the 35-year-old star isn't fighting because he's broke, he's fighting because he loves to fight.
When Dan Rafael was on ESPN Friday Night Fights last night, he noted that he was surprised by Morales' remorseless reaction to missing the weight, indicating that he felt the legend was basically shrugging it off, unconcerned with how it looked, how it came off, what it really meant.
My initial reaction, eternal cynic that I am, was to laugh a bit at the idea that anyone in boxing should be expected to feel bad about something like this. Reputations are destroyed as soon as they're built in any sport. Dwight Gooden was once just the loveliest young man, humble and respectful. Turned out he was human with flaws. It's one of the reasons I try not to do backflips over every Andre Ward human interest story -- someday, he might screw up, and then what? A bunch of people feel betrayed by someone they don't really know past press clippings.
But then I thought about it, and I admit I started feeling let down. Like anyone else, I have favorite fighters. Erik Morales has long been one of them. To see him miss weight, give up a belt, and basically respond, "Yeah, BFD. Whattayagonnado?" actually is disappointing. Sometimes, you want to believe in the good guys, no matter how hard you try not to. I never thought Morales seemed nice, necessarily, but he was a professional to the core, a fighter who came to fight every time out, would never let you feel like your money was wasted.
I'm not saying that this permanently sullies the name of one of a generation's best, most memorable, and most beloved fighters. It's just nearly impossible, I think, to not feel a twinge of disgust. Of all the things I could have expected to make Morales vs Garcia some type of disappointment, Morales missing weight never came to mind.
But it was just in the wind or something on Saturday. Hernan Marquez reportedly missed weight in Mexico, with Michael Koncz responding by pulling Rodel Mayol out of the fight. Morales' buddy Jose Luis Castillo, who got a cherry gig and a $25,000 payday to fight Jose Miguel Cotto in Houston because he's Erik's pal (he certainly wasn't there because of his recent record - he can't even beat Jorge Paez Jr anymore), missed weight as seems usual.
It's one thing for a flyweight to probably just grow out of the 112 pound division. It's one thing for Castillo to order the usual. But Morales?
Et tu, El Terrible?
Maybe I should have expected something like this. After all, I've said before this fight almost never has felt "real." When it was originally signed for January, I expected a pull-out. We got one, when Morales bailed to have surgery. Then it was rescheduled.
Well, it's happening. But it's only half a title fight. More important, Erik Morales has let boxing fans down, maybe for the first time.