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BILL DWYRE

Boxer Erik Morales wants to beat Marcos Maidana, and beat the odds at least once more

Morales, 34, of Mexico, is a 6-1 underdog in Saturday's 140-pound bout against the ferocious Maidana, 27. He is the last man to beat Manny Pacquiao, in 2005, is likely headed to the Hall of Fame, and hasn't fought since 2007. He knows he doesn't need this fight. But he wants it.

April 04, 2011|Bill Dwyre
  • Erik Morales, giving the thumbs-up before a fight against David Diaz, is returning to the ring to either start a new chapter in his storied career or to bid farewell.
Erik Morales, giving the thumbs-up before a fight against David Diaz, is… (Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated…)

Saturday night will either be the beginning or the end for boxer Erik Morales.

If it is the beginning, it will be a new one. He is 34, has had 57 pro fights, has been champion in three weight classes and is certainly going to end up in the sport's Hall of Fame someday.

The most popular wager is that this is the end for Morales.

Las Vegas odds put him as a 6-1 underdog Saturday against the younger, rising Marcos Maidana of Argentina in their 140-pound fight, which is likely to be designated as a contest for the WBA title.

It is the main event of an HBO pay-per-view card at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Morales' record is 51-6 with 35 knockouts. Maidana, seven years younger, is 29-2 with 27 knockouts. The latter statistic, as well as Morales' disappearance from boxing after his Aug. 4, 2007 loss to David Diaz, feeds both the unusually long betting odds and the general feeling that Maidana will simply be too much for Morales.

"Everybody says Maidana hits too hard," Morales says. "I don't believe that. I can handle him."

Morales understands the doubters. After Diaz beat him in a 12-round decision more than three years ago, Morales retreated from the sport. He says he was "disappointed, tired. I was feeling a lot of things at the same time."

Apparently, one of those things he was feeling was hunger. Morales, who fought Diaz for the lightweight (135-pound) title, ballooned to 190 pounds and settled into a sedentary life as recreation director of sports in his hometown of Tijuana.

"Lots of meetings and eatings," Morales says. "No working out. I just kind of moved from restaurant to restaurant. I ate everything I wanted and drank everything I wanted."

Now — saying it was never really a problem other than the weight it helped bring — Morales says he hasn't had a drink of alcohol in 18 months.

That was all part of a plan that began to hatch about two years after he left the ring as Diaz's victim.

"I didn't deserve to go out like that," he says now.

So Morales, the last fighter to beat Manny Pacquiao, on March 19, 2005, stepped back, took a long look at himself and saw more than a flabby belly.

"I found my motivation one day," he says. "I was thinking about my career, about the happy moments in my life. And I realized that boxing is everything for me. The sport makes me really happy."

His plan was to lose more than 40 pounds, put together three fights against boxers "good, but not the best," which he has done, and then go all in on a fourth fight against noteworthy competition. His first choice was fellow Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez, whom he has never fought. But that didn't work out, and he blames his longtime promoters, Top Rank Boxing, for scuttling it.

So his request of his new promoter, Golden Boy, was Maidana.

"In my plan," Morales says, "my test is this fourth fight."

He says it has little to do with money. He is married, has six children and says he is financially secure.

"This one's for honor," he says.

Morales says he has weighed all the issues, listened to all the criticism, including those who say they genuinely fear for his safety against Maidana. He says he has been thinking about the brain damage danger facing boxers, certainly one about to have his 58th fight. He says he has talked to his wife about it.

"I know, it damages you, little by little," he says. "I know."

He also knows that, although extremely unlikely, it isn't out of the question that he could progress well enough, and quickly enough, to start some talk about a fourth battle against Pacquiao. Pacquiao won the second and third fights of their trilogy.

"If I deserve that shot," Morales says, "I will take it."

He also is realistic about the prospects of anything being left for him, if Maidana does to him what the Vegas bookmakers and a preponderance of boxing experts are expecting the younger fighter to do.

That could bring a full-circle ending to a boxing career that has been one of Mexican legend. Morales was born on Sept. 1, 1976, in the same Tijuana building where his family lived and where his father had a boxing gym. His father and that gym are still there. Morales still trains there when not working at altitude in the mountains around Mexico City.

"If I lose Saturday," Morales says, "I'll sit down and I'll think about things.

"And if I retire, I will do that in Tijuana."

It's not the endgame he wants, but one he knows is lurking, even if he beats Maidana.

"I think two more years in boxing, that's enough," he says.

Or, one more night.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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