Warriors and Their Shields

There’s a saying, dating from the days of the Spartans, which mothers would whisper to their sons in those haunting moments before a mother sends her son off to war not knowing if she will ever see her child again. The saying is very familiar to many boxing fans, although they may not know exactly where it dates from. It goes: come home with your shield, or on it.

It’s a shocking phrase and idea for most to fathom a mother uttering. But to the Spartans, the value of honor was placed above all else. It was better to have a son who died in the heat of battle and was carried home on his shield then to have a son who returned home alive and shield less. This many times meant your son had abandoned his shield in making a quick get away, running from his opponent rather than standing to face him. It was a brutal, yet honorable, practice.

Boxing shares this brutal ideal. But we live in different times, these men are indeed fighting for their honor. But they’re no longer fighting for their freedom or homeland or anything more noble than themselves. Title belts and paydays are exciting things, but every great boxer in history has fought more for honor and pride than anything else.

One only needs to look at the depressing number of legendary fighters who’ve gone on to fight way past their prime to realize this. For most, money and titles could not possibly still mean anything. They had financial security and a reputation that could never be soiled. But the warriors pride was still within them, still tugging at their heart. Pride has been the downfall of many a man, and boxers are more susceptible than most to it’s temptations. The desire one needs to be the best at any given sport, but especially the sweet science, is a insatiable desire.

Hence we have boxings familiarity with the idea of going out on one’s shield. On Saturday, we as fans once again witnessed this brutal practice when Erik Morales was the victim of a brutal KO in the fifth round of his second fight with up and comer Danny Garcia. If one is a true boxing fan, they cannot claim what they witnessed was not hard to stomach.

Erik Morales is one of the most exciting fighters fight fans have had the pleasure of watching for nearly two decades. His wars with Marco Antonio Barrera and Manny Pacquaio are the thing of legend at this point. He also happened to be one of the best boxers Mexico has ever produced. In 2007, he announced his intial retirement. But like all too many, the lure of the ring and the desire to prove himself brought him back out of it.

He performed rather admirably as well, it must be said. Most had written him off and were scared of a brutal KO when it was announced he’d be fighting the hammer fisted Argentine, Marcos Maidana. He gave it his all. He wasn’t as fast as the Morales of old, but he still possessed the granite chin we’d all come to love. When it was announced he was fighting the relatively unknown Danny Garcia, I think many fans thought he was capable of beating him. And he nearly did, as the two battled it out before Garcia’s youth and hand speed ruled the day. Garcia went on to upset Amir Khan and this set up a second showdown.

There wasn’t many fans who thought Morales would get bludgeoned. Yes Garcia had KO power, youth and hand speed on his side. But this was El Terrible, one of the baddest cats to step in the ring. He’d be OK. But there’s that voice at the back of your mind, you know the one: common sense. The voice that lets you know maybe trying to fight five guys isn’t the best idea. The one that lets you know it’s happened to too many fighters before him, and eventually has to happen to him. Father Time catches up and he doesn’t like the chase. So when he gets you, he makes you pay.

That’s what we witnessed on Saturday night. Erik Morales needs to call it quits. Plain and simple, lack and white. I can’t deal with that nauseous feeling again, seeing one of my favorite fighters of all time get brutalized. I’m not afraid to admit I nearly welled up, seeing a once proud warrior lying confused and beaten on the mat. Morales has already brought up he wants one last fight, in Tijuana, as a goodbye. He should leave it, not only for the important reasons of family and health, but for his legacy and for his fans.

Morales should have no fear of being thought of as the proverbial warrior returning from battle, shield nowhere to be found, left on some battle field while he ran and hid from the conquerors. A step back was sacrilege throughout his career, giving up an option that ranked after death. He left on Saturday on his shield, and he should leave his career at that.

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