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When best-laid plans...

The buildup for Pacquiao-Morales didn't go quite right

Posted: Monday September 12, 2005 1:24PM; Updated: Tuesday September 13, 2005 3:08PM
Zahir Raheem; Erik Morales
Zahir Raheem (left) thoroughly dominated Erik Morales on Saturday, handing the Mexican lightweight only his third career loss.
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Sometimes there's nothing more satisfying than a good upset.

Last Saturday night's card at the Staples Center in Los Angeles -- billed as "Double Trouble" and broadcast live on HBO -- was intended by promoter Bob Arum to be a showcase for prospective opponents Manny Pacquiao and Erik Morales.

The idea was that Pacquiao and Morales would each dispose of other, lesser, fighters in the same ring on the same night, thereby whetting fans' appetites for a January pay-per-view rematch between the two junior lightweight stars. Morales had won a decision over Pacquiao in a brutal and exciting 12-rounder in March. And there was every reason to expect similar fireworks a second time around.

Well, the Pac-Man held up his end of the double date, knocking out an overmatched but determined Hector Velazquez in 2:59 of the sixth round. But it was Morales -- yes, the same Morales who was just named in SI.com's recent Power Rankings as the fourth-best fighter, pound-for-pound, in boxing -- who found trouble. And in the process made the evening memorable.

At his best, the rangy, hawk-faced Morales (who came into Saturday night with a record of 48-2, with 34 KO's) is a beautiful fighter. He has held world titles at 122, 126 and 130 pounds and, in his trilogy against fellow Mexican superstar Marco Antonio Barrera (Morales won the first and lost the next two, all on close decisions after electrifying bouts), he'd shown immense courage and ring intelligence in addition to great skill. Morales had gone on to take the ceaselessly aggressive Pacquiao apart with hard, accurate shots.

Now, at age 29, Morales moved up to 135 pounds, presumably with the intention of chasing megabouts against the likes of champion Diego Corrales or Jose Luis Castillo -- after, of course, taking care of the Pacquiao rematch. Well, Señor Morales, may we present Zahir Raheem?

The Philadelphia-born Raheem, 28, had been a member of the 1996 U.S. Olympic team, had won a bronze medal in Atlanta. His record coming into the Morales fight was a perfectly respectable 26-1 (with 16 KO's), but he'd looked far from impressive in that one loss, a unanimous decision at 126 pounds to Ricardo Juarez in July of 2004. Raheem insisted he had weakened himself in getting down to the featherweight limit for Juarez and that he would be his true self at lightweight against Morales. Sure. Now when do those tickets go on sale for Morales-Pacquiao II?

Raheem weighed in for Morales at 134½. He carried a few extra pounds into the ring, though all of them were on his head as he entered wearing a full red and gold crown that made him look like that creepy puppet king from the Burger King commercials. Once he took off the gaudy head piece, however, Raheem was a revelation and transformed a perfunctory night into a coming-out party.

Raheem completely dominated a flat-looking Morales, whose nickname of "El Terrible" began by the middle rounds to take on a whole different connotation. With a beautiful jab and fluid footwork that carried him in and out and side to side, Raheem never let Morales get set, beating him to the punch and punishing him with crisp combinations.