Eric Morel Continues New Life Against Gerry Penalosa
In March of 2005, Morel lost his bid for the WBA's super flyweight (115 pounds) title by unanimous decision to Martin Castillo, and was subsequently convicted and imprisoned for three years for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl.
Nicknamed "Little Hands Of Steel," Morel returned to the ring with an eight-round, unanimous decision over Felipe Almanza, one of his six, consecutive victories -- three of them by knockout -- heading into Saturday night's interim WBO bantamweight (118-pound) title clash with 37-year-old, southpaw, former two-time world titlist, Gerry Peñalosa (54-7-2, 36 KOs), of the Philippines at the Las Vegas Hilton.
Morel-Peñalosa is part of Top Rank promotions' pay per view, Latin Fury/Pinoy Power III event also featuring 30-year-old Fernando Montiel (39-3-1, 29 KOs), of Los Mochis, Mex., defending his WBO bantamweight crown against Ciso Morales (14-0, eight KOs) of Bohol, Philippines, and 27-year-old Nonito Donaire (22-1, 14 KOs), of the Philippines, putting his WBA interim super flyweight title on the line against Gerson Guerrero (34-8, 26 KOs) of Mexico.
Once considered among the sport's best fighters, pound-for-pound, Morel spoke to FanHouse about his second shot at redemption and glory in this Q&A.
FanHouse: Has your prison experience changed you?
Eric Morel: Most definitely. That was something that opened my eyes. Just basically made me realize what life is all about, as far as my family. I know the value of freedom, the value of things in general. I wasn't realizing how important life is without my kids and my family and my fiance, Franny.
But I'm an adult, and nobody forced me to do anything. As far as what happened, when I tell you that I've learned who my friends are, I'm very grateful that my eyes were opened. My family and my fiance, that's who had my back. My fiance's parents were backing me up 100 percent. That was a boost.
My fiance was very supportive. She knows what happened. And she was behind me 100 percent. I really don't take anything for granted any more as far as life is concerned. I've learned how to be a role model for my kids. I have two daughters. I have Jalyssa, who is 7, and my oldest one is Janessa, and she's 13.
Everything that I do, they're watching. They want to do everything that you do. They ask a 100-million questions. Like I say, now, they're at the age where they want to go everywhere with me. It's a great feeling, but at the time, I wasn't being who I was supposed to be.
I was just having fun and being selfish. I learned a lesson, and it was a hard lesson.
FH: Is there anything else that you learned from that?
Morel: When you're on top, people want to do things with you. When things came down, certain people can turn their backs on you. I really learned who my true friends are and those who were not my true friends and who cares for me as a person and not for material things.
The situation wasn't how it was written up. Now, really, I understand when somebody's coming around not to be your friend but to potentially take advantage of you. I'm aware of certain warning signs about people who are real and people who are not real.
FH: How do you feel, at this point in your career, being on a card where the smaller fighters are being put into the spotlight?
Morel: Basically, we're finally getting recognized for what we do. We haven't gotten paid what we've deserved to get paid, things like that, but that's always been a part of it. So yes, it's great to finally be placed into the spotlight as sort of the main event fighters.
FH: As two of the elder statesmen on this card -- and in Gerry Peñalosa -- how much is your adrenalin flowing to try to stand out?
Morel: I want to prove a point. I want to let people know that, at the age of 34, things still can be done if you put your mind to it. No matter what, if you want to do it, you can still do it. Age really doesn't matter. I'm going to surprise a lot of people.
I'm going to do a lot of things that boxers haven't done to Gerry. I'm just going to go out there and be the winner. I still have it.
FH: With Gerry Penalosa coming off of April's 10th-round, knockout loss to a larger, younger, unbeaten, 26-year-old Juan Manuel Lopez in a WBO super bantamweight (122) title bout, did you see age, did you see him suffer any potentially career-ending damage that you can exploit, and if so, would you considering retiring if you on the receiving end of a loss like that?
Morel: All of the above -- A, B and C. I saw age affecting him, and I saw the effects of his fighting a bigger, stronger man. And if I see myself fighting like that, I would definitely consider retirement. I'm just going to go in there and do my thing.
How is he going to react to my speed and my movement? That's going to be a different story. Is he going to be ready for the fight? I'm sure that he will be. I'm hoping that he will be. And I'm hoping that he's getting ready for it, because it's going to be a long night.
FH: How different are you now than the Eric Morel who won his first six fights by knockout, and the one who survived three knockdowns to score a February, 1999 seventh-round knockout over Ysaias Zamudo -- when you were down twice in the final round?
Morel: You know, the Eric Morel from before was a young Eric Morel who didn't really pay too much attention and didn't realize how much talent he had. I was still knocking people out and still winning, and doing what I felt I had to do the best way I knew how to do it.
Now, the Eric Morel of today is smarter, a better boxer, more dedicated, more focused, and hungrier. I don't go out no more and party any more. I'm dedicated to my family and my sport. I'm more into my business, which is my family and my boxing.
That's what I eat, sleep, think. Everything reflects on my family.
FH: If you could write the script to the end and the closure of your career, how would it end?
Morel: I'm just going to fight until my body gives up. I'm going to fight until I feel like I don't want to do it any more and until I feel like I don't have it in me any more, and then, I'll know that it's time for me to quit.
But the way that I'm taking care of myself right now, I see myself in boxing for a minute. I'm leaving it open.
FH: Being that this is your 14th year in the sport, is your attitude that it's better late than never concerning the exposure the younger, smaller guys are getting on this card, or or do you find yourself saying, 'Boy, I wish this was around when I was younger?'
Morel: You can only look forward.
FH: How much of that forward-looking approach has come from your troubled past?
Morel: To be honest, I'm feeling, right now, more dedicated to the sport than ever before -- probably because I'm more mature, and wiser and smarter. I've got more focus on what I do best. I could be undefeated. But hey, the past is the past, and now, I'm just focusing on what goes on from here on.
I wasn't dedicated. I wasn't into it like I should have been and I wasn 't training as hard as I should have been, and it cost me. At the time, right around when I lost to Martin Castillo, I wasn't focused on boxing. I was more, like [being irresponsible.]
But then, my second daughter was born, and now, she's seven years old. Right after Martin Castillo, and losing all of that time from the ring, I realized that I had what it took to become a world champion again.
So at the time of my return to the ring, I truly decided to dedicate myself. And that's what you're going to see out of me from now on.