Morales-Pacquiao II: Another epic at T&M, with a switch

Jan 17, 2006 4:20 AM

Things do change, but when El Terrible and Pac Man have their rematch Jan. 21 at the Thomas & Mack Arena in Las Vegas, one thing most likely will be the same.

It will be a helluva fight.

That’s a guarantee from the same guy, who practically told you Zab Judah and Jean-Marc Mormeck couldn’t lose.

Now, for the switches.

Manny Pacquiao dropped his promoter Murad Muhammad, who used to take his fighter’s suite. Gary Shaw is in.

Erik Morales changed his trainer, firing his father and hiring Jose Luis Lopez Sr., who helped raise his namesake to be a world welterweight champion and major underachiever.

Pacquiao has altered his training — Freddie Roach doesn’t want him so left-hand happy this time around.

Both have changed gloves from Winning, Morales’s choice the first time, to Reyes, which would have been Pacquiao’s had Muhammad not screwed up.

Morales and Pacquiao go together like, well, Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera, Jose Luis Castillo and Diego Corrales, Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield, Tony Zale and Rocky Graziano.

Don’t go by their last appearances in what was scheduled to be an infomercial double-header to build up the rematch. Silly promoters. All anyone had to do was show the first fight over and over, magnificent mayhem in 12 exciting rounds. Morales won on all three official scorecards, 115-113, and there was even a perception by some that he won "easily."

No, it wasn’t easy and El Terrible would be the first to tell you, especially after he was hurt badly in the final round.

Last September, though, against a diametrically opposed style, in the person of stick-and-mover Zahir Raheem, Morales looked old and slow and was handily outboxed. Meanwhile, Pacquiao attended to his business with a ho-hum knockout over his "opponent."

Thus, the reason for a change of trainers — from the man who raised Morales one story above the family gym in Tijuana, where El Terrible was born.

"We’ve been talking about it for the last couple of years," Morales told "We’re not going to make any drastic changes."

Morales actually fought one of his best bouts against the Filipino southpaw last March. He weathered the early storm from the smaller, but faster man. With the help of an accidental butt that opened a nasty gash on Pacquiao in the fifth round, he began to dominate.

Pacquiao said the blood prevented him from seeing all the right-hand leads Morales was able to get through. He was also uncomfortable in the Winning gloves. "Bleepin’ pillows," said his trainer Roach, though there were some observers believing that if Morales opted for Reyes, the so-called "punchers’ gloves," the Pac Man might have been in deep trouble.

In any case, they will both be in Reyes - Morales switched on his own volition this time. Roach said Pac Man’s camp has gone so much smoother without Muhammad and other members of the entourage. Said new Pacquiao co-manager Shelly Finkel about the peace and focus, "He’s so relaxed. If he can’t win this fight, it’s because Erik Morales is the better fighter."

That may be the case, anyway. El Terrible showed great boxing ability against Pacquiao - who made it easy by moving forward. Of course. Against Rahim, he looked like a novice. Morales had gone up to 135 for the Rahim fight. Bigger and more sluggish because it was not a major fight, he looked rather plebian.

But Roach said he and Manny are not fools. They know this guy beat them last time. "He fought a great fight," said Roach, "best fight I’ve ever seen him. He used his jab a lot more."

Morales was a very, very slight favorite (-125 to Pacquiao’s —105) at this writing. I think the "smart" money, me included, is on the underdog. It is not because Morales is slipping or has had so many wars during his career. When he first fought Pacquiao, Morales was coming off one of his losses to Barrera. He has always risen to the occasion.

I love Pacquiao’s speed in this one, though. I think he will be able to get in his big punches, as he did the first time early and late. Morales may have the edge, though, in chin. I just think there is more room for Pacquiao, especially without Muhammad around, to improve than there is for Morales.

Take note though that promoters, of course, can affect the outcome of fights. Didn’t Zab Judah blame Don King for his loss to Carlos Baldomir?

I think both guys will be giving their all and have a chance to stop the other. But after Judah and Mormeck, maybe I should keep my hands in my pocket and just shut up.

By the way, Martin Castillo - one of the best little fighters in the world - is what I think is a prohibitive favorite (-575) over a live underdog, Alexander Munoz, on the undercard.