By Fiona Manning
When Erik Morales meets Paulie Ayala for the vacant WBC featherweight championship in “Never Surrender” to be held at Mandalay Bay Casino and Hotel tomorrow [Saturday, 11/16] night, the biggest issue on his mind will be weight.
Morales, who met Los Angeles press on Monday at the Rumba Room in Universal City, California, looked relaxed and very happy. He exuded the sort of confidence which intimidates opponents more than any amount of trash-talking can do.
“I feel very good,” Morales told La Prensa before the actual conference took place.
Radiating good health and good cheer, he admitted he is glad to be fighting someone other than arch enemy Marco Antonio Barrera.
Morales visibly brightened when the conversation strayed to his obsession, Mexican soccer. One of the funniest, most animated fighters in the game, Morales said he was thrilled with the progress of his favorite team, Sheba Guadalajara.
His thoughts had to return to the job at hand however: manhandling Paulie Ayala tomorrow night.
“This was the best training camp I ever had in Mexico,” he said. “We were in the mountains where the altitude is very good for conditioning. I will have no trouble making weight this time but after this fight I am thinking of moving up because it’s always a struggle. Besides, there’s money in the 130 pound division.”
Once he hit the podium, Morales said “I see myself beating Ayala very easily, but my first thoughts are going to be how do I feel after it? I will think about whether I should move to 130. I believe the big fights are in that division. The money fights are there for me. I’d like to fight Joel Casamayor, maybe Acelino Freitas or even Jesus Chavez.”
The “Pride of Tijuana” isn’t ruling out Morales-Barrera III but his long-established hatred of Barrera admittedly makes him less than excited about facing him once again.
When La Prensa asked him how he felt about Barrera picking him to beat Ayala, he rolled his eyes.
“He can say whatever he likes. I don’t believe he is telling the truth. He says one thing one day, something else the next. He lies. I don’t care what he says. I know what he has said about me in the past and I still don’t like him.”
Morales said the drawn-out feud between him and Barrera started several years ago over a soccer match. “If I talk about it, I get like this,” he said, miming a volcano exploding.
“Put it this way,” he said. “He and I will probably never agree on anything. If I have to fight him again, I will. I fight for the fans. If they want to see me fight him again, if they really want this fight, I will do it, but I feel I beat him in both our fights and so does my promoter.”
Bob Arum, CEO of Top Rank is not the only one. WBC president Jose Sulaiman sent out a press release last week saying he felt Morales came out ahead after 24 rounds, he acknowledged Sulaiman’s support.
But what about Sulaiman’s statements that Barrera threw up in his corner at the end of the fight?
“That’s why I felt I won,” he said emphatically. “That’s what I am talking about.”
Arum, who was sitting alongside Morales said he was disappointed with the judging in the second Morales-Barrera fight in Las Vegas in June.
“As an independent observer, I felt Erik won and so did the majority of the media,” he said. “I personally think Barrera facing the winner of Morales vs Ayala is an excellent fight. Marco Antonio Barrera has certainly indicated he would be interested.
“The featherweight division is the hottest, best division out there right now. It is so deep, so exciting this division.
“Look at our main undercard fight, Guty Espadas vs Bones Adams, The winner of that fight is back in the mix in a big way. And next year we have a very exciting fight on February 1 with Juan Manuel Marquez facing Manuel Medina. This is the division of the moment.”
Arum scotched ideas of Morales fighting his other big charge Jesus “El Matador” Chavez because he is scheduled to fight the WBC 130 pound champ in February or March. “He’s fighting the Thai guy who is champion right now,” said Arum. “The guy who’s name nobody can pronounce.”
Those in the audience laughed as Arum said this. Morales, who is clearly in two minds about what follows after Saturday night, is definitely single-minded and purposeful about the fight itself.
“This is a different fight for me,” he said. “It’s been a while since I fought somebody I like and I like Paulie Ayala. I think we are two good guys coming to fight each other. He is very tough, very determined and very strong. And he doesn’t talk dirty.”
For his part, Arum is determined to bring quality, all-Mexican cards as much as possible to the fans in the next 12 months. “The Latino fans support boxing like no other fans,” he said. “They are the real boxing fans.
“The Mandalay Bay arena has been set for 8,000. So far we have sold 6,000 tickets which means we still have 2000 left for fans to come and buy at the door. We have seats ranging from $50 to $300, it’s an affordable show. It’s an unbeatable show in terms of quality. This is a fight for the fans.”