Erik Morales is a Hall of Fame fighter, respected by all and loved by many, but he’s never exactly been one to mince words about his rivals and many of his fights. He spoke with Jessie Vargas on the latest episode of Peleamundo — which has quickly become maybe the most reliably entertaining show during boxing’s pandemic shutdown — and as the interview went on, the 43-year-old legend got more and more animated, let’s say, taking aim at Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez in particular.
Early, Morales talked about how he’s doing in retirement, having not fought since 2012, and his recent work as an elected official in Baja California, where he’s been doing his best to help locals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
He admitted he misses boxing “a bit,” and that his move into being Jaime Munguia’s trainer hasn’t been entirely easy.
“We go to the gym and all of that, but in the end nothing is ever the same as when you were a boxer,” Morales said. “When you got in the ring, when you trained and won money easily. Now it’s not as easy, it’s more difficult. But I have a good time, I like it. I’ll be very honest, training isn’t easy for me, because relaying things about boxing to other people isn’t easy.”
Morales’ sentiment about coaching being harder than participating for a former star athlete isn’t unusual, in boxing or any other sport. Some have made the transition successfully, but others have found it too difficult to impart their wisdom, sometimes getting frustrated because their charges aren’t as gifted as they were and don’t pick things up as easily as they did.
Morales, who retired with a career record of 52-9 (36 KO), was thought to be done after a run of four straight losses from 2005-2007, as he didn’t fight again until 2010. But he says that his first absence from the sport was never a retirement, and that he hasn’t had regrets since actually retiring.
“The first time I left it was really a break. I didn’t really say, ‘I’m never returning to boxing.’ I said, ‘I’m going to return, but I’m going to start distancing myself because I’m very tired,’” he said.
“When I finally got done in 2013, I didn’t want to go back to fighting. I always had that clear, that when I really left I wasn’t going to come back. I wasn’t going to think about tomorrow, about maybes and what ifs. I was happy with my career. I had big moments, beautiful moments, and I undoubtedly enjoyed the memories.”
Of today’s game, Morales has some mixed feelings.
“In every boxing era, you have great fighters. At the end of the day, some will always reign supreme, who is more capable than the rest. But in every era, at every time, there are good fighters and attractive fights,” he said.
“But right now the fights that are just for business are dominating, fights that are more about promotion, less about value. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. It’s good, to help economically and all, for their best interests. But little by little the doors are opening, like the fight between Tyson Fury and Wilder. It was a very good fight because it opened up the possibility that Top Rank and PBC join forces to make fights.
“That’s how big fights happen, so maybe we’ll see Crawford vs Spence. That could be a huge fight. And that kind of fight — let me explain, there shouldn’t be exclusivity between promoters. They shouldn’t just fight with their promoters, they should all mix so that the best fights get made, so that people can enjoy and see big fights in the ring. But generally in terms of levels, everyone is trying to bring their best.”
Asked if he enjoys watching the sport still, his feelings were less mixed, though with some humor and an understanding of his own personality.
“I think I’m too much of a, pardon the expression, a son of a bitch. Because I’m very demanding, and ended up very tired of watching boxing,” he said. “I don’t like to watch all the fights, though I do watch the most interesting ones, or when I have to go work, when I’m with FOX. Then I have to watch all the fights.”
Vargas asked him in particular about a likely rematch between junior bantamweight titlists Juan Francisco Estrada and Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, which has been brewing for years. The two are highly-regarded fighters, but Morales says he’s not intrigued by the matchup.
“It doesn’t have much strength as a fight,” he offered. “It’s more exciting to watch a cartoon. It doesn’t matter, I’d much rather watch a movie.”
That bit seemed to spark Morales a bit, as did questions about his contemporaries. Vargas asked if there was a fight he didn’t get that he wishes he had, and Morales had a quick answer.
“The one that never happened, that we did everything in our power to make, was against Juan Manuel Marquez,” he said. “You can talk to the people at Golden Boy, talk to Eric Gomez. Or you can talk to Robert Diaz. I talked to them and tried to make the fight once. And then when [Marquez] went to Top Rank we tried to close the deal. And no, it never happened.
“He didn’t want it. The fight with Maidana [in 2011], that could’ve been the Marquez fight. And then, instead of fighting the second one against Danny Garcia [in 2012], it could’ve been Marquez. It didn’t happen. He didn’t want it. He wimped out. He got scared.”
That spirit continued when he was asked if there were things he would change about his career. Though he says he doesn’t focus on it anymore — saying that what’s done is done — he admitted to having some regrets about fights he wishes he hadn’t taken the way he did, in particular his second and third bouts with Manny Pacquiao, both coming in 2006.
“For the second Pacquiao fight, I had trouble making weight, and for Pacquiao I’d rather have died than miss weight,” he said. “I took the fight when I should have just told him to go hell.”
He continued, “Look at the fact that these days a lot of people give Marquez a lot of credit, that Marquez knocked out Pacquiao. But think about this. Imagine, [Pacquiao] fought me at 130 pounds. And for the second one he didn’t want it to be 130.5 or 131 or 132 pounds. On the contrary, every pound I was over would cost me $50,000. So he pressured me in such a way that I couldn’t go over at all, because if I went over and recovered — could one say that’s synonymous with fear?”
Vargas didn’t particularly agree with Morales’ line of thinking, but Morales had more on the subject.
“How scared could he have been of Marquez if he fought him at 126, 135, , and 147? How scared could he have been of him that he said, ‘Let’s fight at 147, no problem. Let’s fight at , no problem’? He wouldn’t even fight Erik Morales at 131 or 132. At 130, otherwise no. Because he knew that’s the only way he could beat me.”
It is worth noting that in 2005, after Morales beat Pacquiao in a terrific fight and one of the gutsiest, craziest performances you’ll ever see in a ring, Morales did move up to lightweight in his next bout six months later, where he was upset by Zahir Raheem. After that, he took the deal to move back down to 130 to face Pacquiao in Jan. 2006, and again in the Nov. 2006 rubber match. Pacquiao stopped Morales in 10 in the January bout, and wiped him out inside three rounds in November.
After the two losses to Pacquiao, he still got another world title shot from the WBC, going to David Diaz’s hometown of Chicago and dropping a close decision in yet another very entertaining fight in a career full of them.
“I had to move up, and took the first chance, and I fought David Diaz at 135. I was robbed in Chicago, the same that happens to many that go there,” he said. “I was robbed and I said, ‘I’m not coming back,’ and I left boxing in a sad state of mind.”
He admits that it was more than just a sadness, and that he had to dig deep just to come back to the ring three years later.
“I think I won the fight. They robbed me in 2007. So I left boxing for a while, took a rest. I went to rest because I was sad, depressed, and frustrated,” he said.
“I had to go to therapy to get out of my hole. It’s a feeling that invades you where you see life one way, and see it in a different light. At the end of the day I came back, but it took a lot of work to get there.”
Morales did come back, of course, and the second act had some memorable moments of its own, chiefly an absolute war with Marcos Maidana at 140 pounds in 2011. He also won another world title that year, beating Pablo Cesar Cano for the vacant WBC junior lightweight belt, before two losses to Danny Garcia to close his career in 2012.
In all honestly, and Morales is one of my very favorite fighters ever, and his fiery personality and stubborn pride are two of the big reasons why. Not only was he a great fighter and a true warrior, but he was — and is, as he admits — a little bit of a “son of a bitch,” and that’s one of the things at least some of us have always loved about the man.