A hero in Mexico, WBC 122-pound champ Erik Morales storms the
Erik Morales was born in a gym, or so his personal mythology
goes, and he certainly fights as if he grew up in one. Just 22,
the undefeated WBC super bantamweight champion is being hailed
as the next Mexican fight legend, the heir to Julio Cesar
Chavez. He's a hawk-faced knockout prodigy who's been packing
arenas south of the border and is now poised to capture the
North American audience.
Morales's recent performances in Las Vegas won't hurt him any as
he reaches for a broader constituency. In February he sent Angel
Chacon through the ropes on the undercard of an Oscar De La Hoya
fight. Then, last Saturday, headlining a pay-per-view card for
the first time, he dropped Juan Carlos Ramirez four times in a
one-sided bout. When referee Jay Nady visited Ramirez's corner
after the ninth round to ask if he was O.K. after a furious
beating, Ramirez said, in English, "I'd like to go to lunch."
Nady stopped it on the spot.
It was a typical performance for Morales, who has crammed 33
victories (and 27 KOs) into his six-year career. Promoter Bob
Arum promises we're going to be seeing a lot more just like it
as he sends Morales on a U.S. campaign that may someday cross
the Atlantic if he's successful in baiting WBO featherweight
champion Prince Naseem Hamed (whom Arum calls the "English
fraud") into a bout. "Not only can Erik fire," says Arum, "but
he's a warrior and can take a good punch. He's right up our
Morales has much beside a powerful right hand and an iron chin
to make him salable. He's got a brilliant smile, plenty of
charisma and great intentions. In Tijuana, where he was born and
fought until Arum discovered him, he is as famous for his
charity work as for his KOs. Morales, modest enough that a
visiting boxing official confused him for a luggage handler
(Morales, who has a three-year, $10 million contract with Arum,
carried the bags but refused the tip), has been a steady
contributor to youth causes in his hometown. The $10,000 bonus
he got from Arum went directly toward the purchase of computers
for area schools. He now sponsors about 70 sports teams, paying
for equipment, coaches and fees.
To make it in the United States, Morales will have to do more to
spread his word, and Arum already has him scheduled for English
classes, something that Chavez disdained. Even without English,
Morales tells a pretty good story, one that fans ought to be
lapping up. Beginning with that canvas cradle angle, which even
he laughs at (he was actually born above the gym), Morales spins
quite a yarn. "My father didn't want me to fight," he explains,
"and he did everything to discourage me."
This is strange, considering that the father was a fighter
himself, a flyweight who worked under the name of Jose Morales
Damian. But even with his boxing career, and steady work as an
air conditioning repairman, the father could not get his family
out of a horrifying area of Tijuana that Morales calls No Man's
Land. Like any father, he wanted something better for his son.
"He wanted me to go to college," Morales says.
Stranger still, it was Morales's mother, Isabelle, who
encouraged her son's interest in boxing. Morales had a fine
amateur career, but when it came time to turn professional, only
his mother backed him. His father tried to discourage him, while
insisting he make the matches for his son. He picked the
toughest opponents he could find, hoping to make a college man
out of his son yet. After Morales knocked out his first three
opponents, however, the old man came around and has been,
literally and figuratively, in his corner ever since.
Morales built a steady fan base in Tijuana but remained only a
local legend until 1997, when he knocked out Daniel Zaragoza in
the 11th round to win the title. Arum, though he had signed
Morales, wasn't sold on him until the next year, when his
fighter defended his championship against Junior Jones in
Tijuana's famed bullring. "To my mind, he was just another good
fighter," says Arum. "But when I saw him destroy Jones in a
sold-out bullring, I went crazy in my usual way."
Morales, though, has kept his head. His only extravagances so
far are a home in the best section of Tijuana for himself and
another for his parents, and a splurge on computer equipment.
"I'm an expert in air conditioners," he says, laughing,
acknowledging his technical training, "but also computers. I've
spent about $15,000 on them. I'll have my new Web page up soon."
He's come a long way in his young life--which, no matter where
it really began, seems sure to flourish inside the ropes.
AN ACT THAT PACKS A PUNCH
Sorry to be skeptical about all these calls to clean up boxing,
but we'd be more encouraged if they sprang from a more meaningful
outrage than the recent Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfield draw. That
sort of decision is reform-proof. Face it. Politicians, of all
people, should know that you can't legislate against
We don't need New York governor George Pataki, who has been
making the most noise lately, to remind us that boxing is
destroying its own credibility. We don't need his grandstanding
to point out the corrosive corruption of sanctioning bodies and
promoters. Further, the fact that we can all agree that the
judges responsible for the Lewis-Holyfield decision were wrong
doesn't mean such flimsy reforms as greater financial disclosure
on the part of judges will suddenly restore confidence, much
That said, it is time for some kind of government intervention.
The machinations of the sanctioning bodies, whose self-serving
rankings decide the course of careers, no longer strikes us as
colorful. The profiteering of promoters, who plunder their
fighters' purses, isn't something we can wink at. The rivalries
of broadcasters, which can block obvious matches for years,
isn't part of this rogue sport's charm.
What has encouraged us to think the time has come is the
proposed legislation of Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.),
(cosponsored by Sen. Richard Bryan, a Democrat from Nevada)
whose Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act cuts to boxing's real ills.
McCain seems to understand that the real horror of boxing goes
mostly unseen. The true shame of Mike Tyson's comeback, for
example, was not that it ended with him amok in the ring, biting
ears. The true shame was the systematic juggling of rankings
that produced the fodder for his comeback. The true shame was
that Tyson, fighting for promoter Don King, took home fractions
of his full purses for the whole dreadful scam.
McCain's legislation--which, among other things, would limit
restrictive option contracts, mandate financial disclosure
requirements for promoters and sanctioning organizations, and
ensure that disbursement of a fighter's purse be accounted
for--passed the Senate last October but was never taken up in
the House, and it's a long shot again, even with the endorsement
of Ali. But if McCain, a boxer himself during his days at the
Naval Academy, can direct attention where it belongs, on the
promoters' ridiculous ability to tie up fighters with long-term
contracts and create practical monopolies, on the sanctioning
bodies' ranking system that "defies all reason," then his bill
has our vote.
COLOR PHOTO: HOLLY STEIN By bombing out Ramirez last Saturday night, Morales proved that he can be a hit in Vegas.
Good news-bad news for boxing fans: Oscar De La Hoya and Felix
Trinidad will be throwing punches again this month--but
unfortunately, not at each other. De La Hoya, the undefeated WBC
welterweight champion, evidently between
long-distance-dialing-plan commercials, faces Oba Carr on
Saturday night in Las Vegas; a week later in San Juan,
undefeated IBF 147-pound champ Trinidad defends his title
against Vincent Pettway. Chances for an eventual showdown
between two of boxing's most compelling fighters improved last
week when De La Hoya's promoter, Bob Arum, offered $10 million,
to be divvied up by Trinidad and his promoter, Don King, for a
Trinidad-De La Hoya bout. The fight could happen as early as
David Reid, the only U.S. boxer to win a gold medal at the 1996
Olympics, is now 12-0 as a pro and holds the WBA junior
middleweight belt. He is still bothered, however, by a drooping
left eyelid, a condition caused by a punch during the 1995 Pan
Am Games. Reid had a lid-lift operation after his title-winning
unanimous decision over Laurent Boudouani in March and is back
in the gym preparing for a mandatory defense against Kevin Kelly
of Australia in July....
WBO featherweight champ Prince Naseem Hamed, who split last year
with his longtime trainer Brendan Ingle, is reportedly set to
begin training with ubiquitous guru Emanuel Steward....
Last Saturday night at the Miccosukee Resort & Convention Center
just outside Miami, 20-year-old Hector Camacho Jr. ran his
record to 21-0 (11 KOs) with a first-round knockout of Roberto
Nunez. Camacho Jr. is being trained by his father, flamboyant
former world champ Hector Sr., who likes to go by the name of
Macho and is given to fighting in loincloths and rhinestones.
"He has me looking at old fight films of himself," the younger
Camacho told the New York Daily News last week. Hey, as long as
he's not looking at old costume designs.