Erik Morales lost his WBC world title twice this weekend, once at the weigh-in and once in the ring. The scenes at the former were unusual and unexpected; the scenes in the latter were more predictable.
On Friday, Morales stepped onto the scales ahead of his bout with the energetic young challenger Danny Garcia hoping to meet the super lightweight limit of 140 pounds. The scale read 142.
Morales's next few hours immediately played out in the heads of the watching journalists: he would spend them skipping in a steam room - or hurriedly ingesting laxatives or pursuing whatever else was his preferred method of fast-track dehydration - and then weigh-in again.
Morales was not interested. He sat down and, in an obvious gesture of defiance, began drinking water. In doing so, he surrendered his title - which, suddenly, Garcia would be able to win the next night but which Morales would not be able to defend.
Reporters, fans and commentators were all certain this was a sign. And it was. But no-one outside Morales's camp knew of what.
Perhaps, having achieved his aim of becoming the first Mexican to win world titles at four different weights (thereby surpassing his three-weight world champion compatriot Julio César Chàvez), the idea of retaining that fourth title was immaterial to him.
Perhaps (and this is the explanation I suspect to be true) he knew that, matched against an opponent who had been only nine years old when Morales won his first world title, he could not sacrifice the energy cutting the weight would cost him and still hope to win the fight.
Or perhaps he was simply now so old and out of shape, and so lacking in enthusiasm for the battle ahead, that he was about to take the beating of his life.
He did not take the beating of his life but he was well-beaten. Garcia did not outclass him but he did outlast him, the hunger and urgency driving the challenger's 24-year-old fists putting him clearly ahead on points after 12 rounds.
At 35, having survived some of the most blistering fights of recent years, Morales is - as the television commentators here in the UK pointed out with almost every blow he threw--'a legend of the game'. He's a sure-fire Hall of Famer; one of ESPN's '50 All-Time Greatest Boxers'; the last man to beat Manny Pacquiao; the Mexican Mayweather.
After a loss like Saturday's there are, inevitably, calls for him to retire. Mike Akers of the Bleacher Report ended his article on the fight by arguing:
'Morales would be better off retiring with dignity, instead of fighting on and taking a few brutal beatings along the way, as he is not the fighter he once was.'
But this assumes there is only indignity in defeat. And it assumes, too, that Morales is in only for brutal beatings if he fights on.
Morales is not a punch-drunk imbecile and he is not an embarrassment. He is not Fedor Emelianenko, dirtying his once-perfect record with quick and comprehensive losses to fighters he would once have devastated. He is not in need of money and he is not being badly advised.
He is, still, a skilled and solid fighter. And, what's more, he is a wise and clear-thinking one who is fully aware of the risks threatened by boxing. (After his loss to Garcia, he said, as Dan Rafael of ESPN reported, 'I have a lot of things to think about... To take fights at this level against these types of opponents, it really affects my health.')
There can be as much beauty in a battered old boxer summoning the lessons of experience in the face of diminishing physical reserves as in a young boxer, lean and unmarked, storming to his first success. Autumn can be as beautiful as spring.
Who are we, mere onlookers, to tell a man who has given so much to boxing that his time in its spotlight is over? We should not - yet, at least - be writing articles calling for the end of Morales's career but instead celebrating the glory of it.
If Erik Morales retires, it will be because he has done all he wishes to do in the sport he has illuminated for nearly 20 years. If continues to fight, it will be because there are goals, probably obscure to us, he still wishes to pursue. Whatever his decision, those who support him should support it.
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