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Morales' Remarks Hit Below the Belt

October 12, 2003|STEVE SPRINGER

It would be easy to pass it off as just another example of outrageous boxing hype. It would be simple to shrug and say that in this sport, civility is rare and class is almost unheard of.

But none of that can excuse the racial remarks of Erik Morales, quoted in this newspaper a week ago when he was asked why fight fans, faced with two pay-per-view shows, should purchase the Staples Center event, headlined by his super-featherweight match against Guty Espadas, over the Mandalay Bay event in Las Vegas, headlined by heavyweights Evander Holyfield and James Toney.

"Because you're going to see two Mexicans going strong, fighting hard," Morales said. "Not two black guys ... hugging each other, or two chicken-[hearted] white guys who don't want to fight, doing nothing."

If commentator Rush Limbaugh was held accountable, rightfully so, for bringing race in where it didn't belong as part of a discussion of quarterback Donovan McNabb's ability, then why should Morales get a free pass?

Limbaugh was representing ESPN, whereas Morales was speaking for himself. But as a native-born Mexican with a large fan base on both sides of the border, Morales' words carry weight with a large audience. Spewing ugly racial remarks to that audience should not be tolerated. Using race to sell the fight is unconscionable.

Predicting a dull match between Holyfield and Toney is fair. But why should the color of their skin be a factor in that prediction?

And as it turned out, Morales was wrong. Holyfield and Toney slugged it out, Toney winning on a ninth-round TKO.

Morales was even more off-base on the semi-main event between Joel Casamayor and Diego Corrales. Calling them white guys wasn't only insensitive, but ignorant. Casamayor is Cuban, Corrales Mexican American.

Morales' remarks were not condoned by his promoter, Bob Arum.

"Americans don't make those remarks, but Morales comes from a different culture," Arum said. "If he'd asked me beforehand, I would have said, 'Absolutely not. I don't think you should say it.' "

Then, straying dangerously close to Morales territory, Arum said, "But that's how Mexicans talk."

It's talk that the California State Athletic Commission ought to keep in mind when Morales' license comes up for renewal.

Arum himself was accused of using the race card at a news conference several months ago to announce the Oct. 4 card. He said that putting on Holyfield-Toney the same night as Morales-Espadas showed "disrespect" for Latino fans.

Arum isn't backing down from those remarks.

"That's crazy," he said." I wasn't even thinking about race. [The organizers of the Mandalay Bay show] thought that when they decided on Oct. 4, a date we already had, we would look for another date, which we did. But we couldn't find one.

"But their attitude was, 'Just go away and don't do a show if you can't find another date. We are the Anglos, so you go disappear.' That was wrong. The Hispanic guys have a right, like everybody else, to make a living. I was not going to let them fold their tents, even if it cost me money. There is a perception, among some writers and others, that these Hispanic fights play only to a niche market and don't compare to Anglo fights."

Responded Dan Goossen, Toney's promoter and the promoter of the Mandalay Bay show, "I could fill the newspaper every day, responding to Bob's comments and foolish remarks. But I would rather concentrate on James' great victory and go from there.

"But Bob's right about one thing. He didn't fold his tent and he didn't make money."

The Staples Center show drew a paid attendance of 8,815 and a pay-per-view audience, according to Arum, of 50,000. The Mandalay Bay event drew 7,897 and a pay-per-view audience of, according to Showtime officials, 150,000 to 175,000. Industry insiders put the Showtime audience at closer to 125,000.

"We are delighted with our results," Arum said. "We played to our core audience. We needed about 40,000 [pay-per-view buys] to break even, and we did what we expected to do."

Goossen also said he was satisfied.

"Did I want more? Sure," he said. "But, it is what it is. James has established himself and, in the future, he's only going to get better.

"The problem is, we are depleting our business. People who were buying pay-per-view might have been confused last Saturday. They might have thought it was all just one show. They might have bought the wrong show. They might have thought Morales was on the Toney-Holyfield card. It's not good for boxing."

The starting times of the two pay-per-view telecasts were altered to avoid a conflict. The Holyfield-Toney show began at 5 p.m., earlier than normal, and the Morales-Espadas telecast started at 9 p.m., much later than normal.

"Our show was skewed very heavily to the West Coast and the Pacific time zone," Arum said. "We did virtually no business on the East Coast. But would we have done any business anyway with this show? We're not stupid. We do not want to go the same night as another show, but sometimes you have to do that."

Arum said a key point in his rival's show was being overlooked.

"Don't blame me for the poor numbers at the Mandalay Bay show, and don't blame the fact there were two shows on the same night," he said.

"If you're looking for blame, look at Holyfield. People aren't fooled. They know he is a completely shot fighter, an old man. They don't want to keep watching him fight. They want to remember how great he was."

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