Erik Morales was born September 1, 1976 in Zona Norte, Tijuana. This is the de facto red light district of Tijuana, a neighborhood well-known for prostitution and drugs. Taught by his father, Morales learned how to box from the age of 5, racking up an amateur record of 108-6 and taking 11 Mexican amateur titles in the process. He turned pro in March 1993, aged only 16. Top Rank Promotions took an early interest in Morales, spurring his career.
Between 1993 and 1995, Erik “El Terrible” Morales fought mostly out of Tijuana, winning the Mexican super bantamweight (122lbs) title and earning a record of 16-0. In July 1995, he got his first big fight, for the NABF title. The NABF title was the North American title of the WBC, and the bout was something of a typical WBC farce: Morales’s opponent Juan Luis Torres was announced as 12-6, but was really a 0-1 fight, and even so he managed to survive to lose a decision. That did not mean Morales was being protected, however. Far from it: at the end of 1995 he knocked out former champ Kenny Mitchell in 2, and in 1996 he won a lopsided decision over another former champ, Hector Arcero Sanchez.
Morales stood 5”8″ with a 72″ reach, making him a tall, skinny fighter with long arms. Some say Morales was literally born in a boxing gym, and he certainly had the skills to show it. He was a skilled, capable boxer, and had the toolbox and physical gifts to stand on the outside, move side-to-side, and stick the 1-2 all day. His power, particularly in his right hand, was a danger to any opponent between 122 and 135lbs. However, Morales also had a granite chin and the heart of a lion. Despite the fact that often in his career, it would have been better to box and pile up points, Morales chose to jump into the trenches and mix it up. It made for exciting fights and established his legend, even if he sometimes lost fights he could have won. In the final analysis, that makes Morales a very poor ring general, but a terrific warrior.
Dethroning the Mouse
Being the NABF champion usually carries with it the status of being the WBC’s #1 contender. Erik Morales’s first world title challenge came in September 1997 against Daniel “The Mouse” Zaragoza, a 55-7-3 ageless wonder. Zaragoza had won the title from Hector Arcero Sanchez, beaten “The Pocket Rocket” Wayne McCullough, in a division where speed is everything, and all in his late 30s. Now 39, he was making his 5th defense against a roaring 21 year old lion. Morales out-boxed and out-punched Zaragoza, flooring him in the 10th. Zaragoza looked up with a smirk on his face, as if to say “OK kid, you got it? Come take it.” Morales came on and stopped him in the next round, winning his first world title, and becoming the first man to ever stop Zaragoza. “The Mouse” retired shortly thereafter.
Morales campaigned hard between 1997 and 1999, having a good time in the ring, but struggling hard to keep weight off his lanky frame. In September 1998, a year after winning the title, he met the dangerous Junior Jones on HBO and sharpshot him into a 4th Round knockout, finishing him with a double right cross. In October 1999, he cleanly out-pointed Irishman Wayne McCullough. In all, he defended his WBC title 8 times with 7 knockouts.
Morales vs. Barerra I
By February 2000, a serious rivalry had developed between Morales and fellow Mexican super bantamweight Marco Antonio Barrera. Barrera was from Mexico City and the product of a middle class family; Morales was from the slums of Tijuana and had a more “Indian” look to him. They had plenty of reasons to dislike each other. However, both were going into the vacuum created by the decline of Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez. There was a vacancy in the hearts of Mexico’s fight-mad people, and both Barrera and Morales wanted to fill it. A clash was inevitable.
Morales entered the ring as the undefeated WBC 122lbs champion. Barrera was 49-2 (two losses to Junior Jones), and the WBO champion. In a close, hotly contested fight that saw Morales brawl with Barrera more than he should have, Barrera was sent to the canvas in the 12th, clinching a narrow Split Decision (115-112, 114-113 and 113-114) for Morales. “El Terrible” has won his hated rival’s title, but tired of the constant struggle of making 122lbs and eyeing a lucrative bout with the charmed Prince Naseem Hamed, Morales soon vacated both straps and moved up to the featherweights.
Moving up to 126lbs, Morales met aging puncher Kevin Kelly. Kelly had just been in a dramatic shootout with Hamed, widely perceived as the ruler of the 126lbs division. Morales floored Kelly in the 5th and 7th, and catching Kelly again in the 7th, nailed him on the ropes with six consecutive uppercuts, forcing a stoppage. In February 2001, he challenged for his second world championship against Guty Espadas, and won a close decision. He then defended against future champ In-Jin Chi of South Korea, and again won a decision in a bout that saw In-Jin doing a lot of clinching.
Following his defeat at the hands of Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera had become perceived as the less dangerous of the two Mexican champions. That was enough to win him the Naseem Hamed sweepstakes and a big money fight with the flashy Briton. Morales put on a disciplined display of boxing and thoroughly defeated Hamed. The stage was set for a rematch with Morales.
Morales vs. Barerra II took place in June 2002 in Las Vegas. Morales came out the aggressor, pushed forward, and looked to dominate with the big punches. It was enough to win him much of the first half of the fight, but as things wore on the bout turned against him. He was cut over the bridge of his nose in the 2nd, and then cut again over the right eye in the 8th. Barrera boxed cautiously, and came on in the later rounds, winning a clean unanimous decision. For the first time, Erik Morales had been defeated.
Barrera opted not the take the WBC Featherweight title, leaving it vacant and allowing Morales to pick it back up. This he did by out-pointing former champ Paulie Ayala, becoming a two-time featherweight champ. He defended it twice, but ultimately moved up to the super featherweight division (130lbs). Here he met his old rival Guty Espadas in a rematch for the right to challenge for the WBC 130lbs belt, and improving on his performance, knocked Espadas out in the 3rd.
That led to a bout with tough Texas-based Jesus Chavez, the 130lbs champion. Morales thoroughly dominated Chavez, knocking him down twice (something Floyd Mayweather couldn’t do) and winning a big points victory. With this victory, Morales became only the second Mexican to win world championships in three different divisions (the first being JC Chavez). He built on that accomplishment by beating Carlos Hernandez and adding the IBF 130lbs title to his waist.
Morales vs. Barrera III
Since beating his hated rival, Barrera had since been stopped by the rising Filipino sensation, Manny Pacquiao. That he looked to be fading and their record stood at 1-1 demanded an eventual rubber match, which came on November 2004. Barrera was anything but faded, bringing on his best for his fellow Mexican. He came out and swept most of the early rounds, breaking Morales’s nose in the 2nd, and hurt Morales with a left hook to the body in the 6th. However, Morales was coming on in the later rounds, which produced an intense face-off in the championship rounds. The 11th in particular will go down as one of the great rounds of boxing history, with both fighters trading hard shots and not giving an inch. The result was a close Majority Decision win for Barrera (115-113, 115-114, and 114-114). Morales had now lost his second fight, and once again it was too Marco Antonio Barrera.
Now it was being whispered that perhaps the 29 year old Morales was washed up. Not quite: in March 2005 he took on Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao and handed him a clean points loss. For once, Morales put on a boxing clinic, declining to brawl with the Filipino. Pacquiao also suffered a bad cut from an accidental head butt in the 5th. Enjoying a good lead in the 12th and final round, he ignored his corner’s instructions to not “do anything stupid,” and went out to meet the Pacman head on. He out-brawled Pacquiao, even switching to southpaw. When asked by HBO’s Larry Merchant why he did that and took such a huge risk, Morales famously declared “Did you enjoy it? That’s why.” It was arguably Morales’s greatest performance.
Morales then moved up to lightweight (135lbs) and met Zahir Raheem in September 2005. Raheem frustrated Morales with his lateral movement, and rocked him in the 5th. Morales returned the favor in the 11th and almost knocked Raheem down, but it was not enough to win the fight: Morales lost for the 3rd time on points. Given that Raheem never captured a world title, it was an ominous sign.
In January and November 2006, Morales fought a pair of 130lbs bouts with Pacquiao. Pacman dominated Morales through the first bout and stopped him in the 10th; in the 2nd fight, Morales was knocked out in the 3rd. He was clearly washed up, but refusing to give up, Morales gave it one more go. In August 2007 he challenged David Diaz for the WBC Lightweight Championship. Morales showed flashes of his old self, knocking Diaz down in the 1st, and made it a very close fight. However, in a stinky act, two judges scored that first round knockdown a 10-9 instead of the customary 10-8. One of these, Hermino Collazo, scored Round 2 10-8 for Diaz, when there was no knockdown at all and the other two scored it 10-9. In a close fight, these things matter – the bout could have been a draw or narrow win for Morales.
Morales announced he was taking a break from boxing after the loss to Diaz, but at 32 and with 5 losses in his last 6 fights, it is questionable whether he will make a comeback, or if he does, how well he will do. He certainly has nothing left to accomplish: he stands with a record of 48-6 (34KOs) having won world titles at 3 weights, and defended them 15 times in all. He fought one of the classic trilogies of boxing history with Marco Antonio Barrera, is the only man with a win over Manny Pacquiao in the last decade, and stands as one of the greatest champions in Mexican history. He currently spends his time managing a parks beautification fund for his hometown of Tijuana, and raising his three children.
Sources: boxrec.com; HBO; live fight footage; USA Today