Morales may change, but
our mind in Round III

Nov 14, 2006 3:18 AM

Erik Morales made some changes.

He was coming off a loss to Zahir Raheem of all people, though still getting his promised payday against Manny Pacquiao. Yes, the same Pacquiao he had narrowly beaten just before. So he changed camp, bid adios to his father Jose in whose Tijuana gym he was born 30 years ago, and got clobbered by the Pac Man.

It is no wonder that the Filipino film and rock idol, and incidentally one of the best fighters in the world, is a -240 favorite for the rubber match Nov. 18 at the Thomas & Mack. But, you will hear Morales made some more changes.

He hired a conditioning team, some spa-sounding name like Velocity, so he would be able to make the 130-pound limit comfortably. Morales also brought his father back as head trainer. And, he has trained harder than ever.

You will also hear how he was dominating Pacquiao until suddenly fatiguing in the second fight. Do yourself a favor. Shut your hearing aid.

Do not be tempted by the +190 on Morales, who despite three losses in his last four starts, remains among the world’s best and one of the best Mexican fighters of all time.

I say this, even though Morales may be a better boxer than Pacquiao. He certainly is the bigger man. Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, insists that his star could still easily make featherweight, except the money is up at junior lightweight. For example, Saturday’s winner will certainly be looking for another big payday against Marco Antonio Barrera.

Besides, Roach says Pacquiao has filled out to be a true 130-pounder.

There are reasons, good reasons, to like Morales. But velocity is not one of them. Velocity is on the side of Pacquiao, who is too fast for the slowing Mexican idol. Plus, he has real power. It has been my experience that once a steel-chinned fighter, like Morales used to be, gets cracked, no one puts him together again.

No, I’m not advocating Pac Man by knockout. It should happen that way, but I have too much respect for Morales to bet him going out on his shield. He is tough and stubborn and will give everything to survive. I hope he does not get hurt too badly.

On the other hand, I don’t think Pacquiao can lose this fight. He has improved greatly under Roach. The hard-hitting southpaw is again using his right hand to good effect. And, he can hurt Morales with a hook as well as that straight left.

Morales was not dominating Pacquiao in the early rounds of the second fight. He may have been ahead a bit, but the Pac Man was breaking him down. If Floyd Mayweather Jr. fulfills his promise to retire after one more fight (he won’t, but I say if) and Winky Wright loses a bit from age, then Pacquiao would inherit the pound-for-pound title. Roach says Pac Man is already there, improving and "still evolving."

He went two hours the other day, nonstop in training. Roach could only get him to rest by insisting he do some media interviews. He may not be the best boxer in the world, but for my money he’s the most exciting. I’d rather watch the Pac Man, Morales and Barrera than all the heavyweight champions in the ring at once.

By now, you should know I’m not really into playing chalk. I don’t need a "rooting" interest in this fight. Oh, I root for my pick, the pride in saying, "I told you so."

Watching real pros with true skills and real heart combat is as good as it gets in this business.

Then, there’s El Nino!

On the undercard, there’s another title rematch. Omar Nino, who upset Brian Viloria earlier this year to take the WBC junior flyweight (108-pound limit) title when the Hawaiian Punch came up incredibly flat, would be my choice to repeat.

Viloria has every right to turn the tables. He knows that a loss drops him far back on the line for another title shot. He can punch, which means no one will want to fight him unless they must. However, he has come up empty too often for me to risk anything on him. Besides, Nino showed he could really box in their first meeting.