Erik “El Terrible” Morales signs boxing gloves at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Gardens during the recent dedication ceremony for The Mexican Museum. Photo Alejandro Galicia Díaz
Erik “El Terrible” Morales signs boxing gloves at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Gardens during the recent dedication ceremony for The Mexican Museum. Photo Alejandro Galicia Díaz

The ring alias, “El Terrible,” that Erik Morales went by during his decade-long boxing career, could have been somewhat misleading, as he was anything but terrible.

He was a child when he first picked up a pair of soccer cleats, but he quickly learned he didn’t have the passion for the sport. He then tried his hand at basketball, but realized he wasn’t cut out for that either.

Then the young Morales followed his father—a retired professional prizefighter—into boxing. Nine years and 61 professional fights later, Morales is the only Mexican fighter in boxing history to win multiple world titles in four different weight divisions.

He is ranked 49th on ESPN’s “50 greatest fighters of all-time” and is recognized for his courageous and bloody pair of trilogy fights with fellow countryman, Marco Antonio Barrera, and Filipino superstar, Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao.

Despite coming up short in both trilogies (1-2), Morales’ gutsy performances won him the admiration of countless boxing fans and cemented his legacy as one of Mexico’s finest fighters of all time.

Erik Morales (right) battles his arch rival and fellow Mexican countryman Marco Antonio Barrera on June 22, 2002. Photo Laura Rauch/AP

“I had the opportunity to have important fights against Barrera, Pacquiao and other great fighters,” said Morales. “My fondest memory is always having the fans excited during my fights.”

Like many up-and-coming Mexican fighters, Morales’ goal was to follow in the footsteps of the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez, who won six world championships in three different weight divisions.

“When I was a child I would always hear that no other fighter like Julio Cesar Chavez would ever exist, who has world titles in three different weight classes,” said Morales. “That motivated me to obtain his record and then to break it.”

Morales’ rise to boxing superstardom all started in the rough confines of La Zona Norte, a Tijuana neighborhood known for its brothels, prostitution rings and drug traffic.

There, his father Jose—who died in June at age 60—operated a boxing gym. Jose served as Morales’ chief trainer during his career.

“Boxing was natural to me,” said Morales. “My father taught me. He taught me with lots of hard work and very detailed work how to fight. That allowed me to be in a boxing ring and do things in there with ease.”

Morales’ tall, long and slender frame was well-suited for boxing at long range. Despite knowing how to use his reach, range and skills, Morales oftentimes reverted to matching opponents’ punch-for-punch, engaging in bloody brawls and exchanges. Though not always wise, it was an exciting fighting style that endeared him to boxing fans.

Morales admits, however, that the hardest fight he faced throughout his career wasn’t against any of the opponents in the ring, but against himself. Morales’ battle with making weight before fights, especially in the lower weight divisions of 122, 126, 130 and 135 pounds, were always an issue for the taller fighter. Before fights, Morales would dehydrate his body so that he would weigh in under the fighting limit, and then rehydrate himself after to be ready to fight.

“It was a lot of effort at 126, and 130 pounds,” Morales said. “At 135 pounds, I could barely manage. At 140 pounds, I didn’t have to kill myself [in the gym trying to make weight]. But I was past my prime.”

Morales’ brightest moment would come in 2005, when he defeated Pacquiao by unanimous decision. His career, however, would falter soon after, losing seven of his last 11 fights.

“I believe that that ‘decompensation’ that I dealt with was what cost me, but at the end of the day, it was all about my hard work and battle against myself to make weight and be in shape,” Morales said. “The wear on myself was a lot in comparison to other fighters.”

After a successful and illustrious career, Morales retired in 2014, with a record that included 52 wins (36 by knockout) and nine losses. Morales’ legacy will certainly be cemented in the International Boxing Hall of Fame some day. It was a legacy built upon a tenacious fighting style driven by an attitude of merciless contempt for his opponents. In addition to battering his opponents, the tough kid from La Zona Norte was never far from launching verbal insults or taunts towards his greatest rivals.

“The satisfaction was really worth it all,” said Morales, reflecting on his career. “It was worth it because before a Juan Manuel Marquez and Marco Antonio Barrera, [it was] Erik Morales [who] came into the scene and razed through everyone.”