By Jackie Kallen
When is it time for a boxer to hang up his gloves and move on to other ventures? That is the age-old question that has faced every fighter since the beginning of the sport. The roar of the crowd and the fun of cashing the big checks have kept many fighters in the ring a few fights too long.
Bantamweight Eric “Little Hands of Steel” Morel does not want to be one of those men. He does not want to stay at the party after the music has stopped playing. He is smart enough to know when it is time to step aside.
Born in Puerto Rico 36 years ago, he had a stellar amateur record before turning pro in 1996. He was part of the US Olympic team that year, losing to Cuban Maikro Romero.
After turning pro, Eric proceeded to win 33 straight fights before losing a decision to Lorenzo Parra in Puerto Rico in 2003. He was the WBA Flyweight champ before that and a year later he beat Jesus Rojas to win the WBO NABO title. In 2005, he challenged Martin Castillo for the WBA Super Flyweight belt. The fight was at the MGM in Vegas and Morel lost on points.
Following the loss, Morel was tried and convicted of sexual assault of a minor. This messy situation landed him in prison. He was fortunate enough to earn an early release and finish out the remaining sentence on probation.
After regrouping, he managed to put together a string of 11 wins to get a shot at Abner Mares in April for the WBC Super Bantamweight title. He fell short and lost badly, winning only one round from one judge. Now, five months later, he is looking at his second loss in a row. This was Morel’s worst defeat so far and his first stoppage. Leo Santa Cruz punched holes in Morel at the MGM on the undercard of Alvarez/Lopez, forcing him to quit at the end of the fifth round.
We happened to be on the same flight heading back from Vegas the next day and although he looked fine physically, it was obvious that Little Hands of Steel was feeling the effects of his grueling fight. He was outwardly cheerful and friendly, but his eyes told the story.
“Hey, I have had a great career,” he told Tommy Hearns, who happened to be on our same flight. “I am 46-4 and have won four belts and had a lot of success. Now I have to really sit back and think about everything.”
Hearns nodded in agreement, as he probably thought back to his last fight against Shannon Landberg back in 2006. He was 48 years old and finally realized that it was TIME. He had been in the ring with a lackluster journeyman with a record of 58-10. It was a long way from the glory days of Leonard, Hagler and Duran.
At least Morel lost to a 19-0 terror who holds the IBF Bantamweight title. Nothing to be ashamed of. He came to fight and gave it his best. But as the early rounds began, it was obvious that this was no contest.
“He totally surprised me. I trained right and felt confident going into the ring, but he pressured me more than I expected. I fought his fight, and that was not my game plan. I have to hand it to him, he is a great fighter.”
This makes two undefeated young warriors in a row who have beaten Morel. He sees that as a sign that his career is winding down.
“I am proud of the career I have had and I don’t want to become a stepping stone for all these young guys coming up the ladder. That is not what I want my legacy to be. I have two children and another one on the way. I want to enjoy my family in good health.”
Stopping short of formally announcing his retirement, Morel sounds like a man who knows what he going to do and has given it a lot of thought. I wish him well and admire the fact that he is not going to stick around to be a punching bag for kids half his age.
Jackie Kallen is a boxing manager who has been in the business for over three decades. Her life inspired the Meg Ryan film “Against the Ropes” and she was a part of the NBC series “The Contender.” www.JackieKallen.com, www.facebook.com/JackieKallen
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