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THE HAUSER CHRONICLES: Ernie Morales

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Will Walters sat on a chair in a backstage corridor at B.B. King’s Blues Club and Grill in New York. Three days earlier, the 34-year-old welterweight had flown to New York from California to serve as an opponent.

Walters had a 2-and-7 record as a professional fighter. In less than an hour, he’d enter the ring to face Peter Dobson, who was undefeated in four professional bouts.

There were eleven fights on the card, which meant that some fighters had been relegated to the corridor rather than sharing one of the small makeshift dressing rooms. It was hot and humid. The corridor had a concrete floor and cinderblock walls. There were no fans and little air circulation. Adding to the discomfort, a door alarm had been blaring for a half hour.

As Walters’ hands were being taped, a well-groomed 47-year-old man wearing a navy blue blazer, gray slacks, white shirt, and black tie (all perfectly pressed) watched intently.

Ernie Morales is an inspector for the New York State Athletic Commission. He’s 5-feet-9-inches tall, weighs 163 pounds, and over the years has completed fourteen New York City marathons with a best time of 3:42:42. “I’m not in boxing shape,” he says. “But I am in shape.”

Morales was born on the lower east side of Manhattan on August 2, 1967. “When I was growing up,” he recalls, “it was just my mother and me. She had me when she was nineteen years old, and I lived with her until I got married in 1992. I knew who my father was. My name is Ernest Morales III. But it wasn’t a strong relationship.”

Morales’s mother was a dental hygienist. “It was important to her that I grow up right,” he says. “And she put that belief in me. But the crack epidemic was in full bloom back then, and she went through several relationships where she got involved with intravenous drugs. She tried to keep it from me, but I knew. I made a promise to myself that I would never get caught in that cycle.”

When Morales was five years old, his mother enrolled him in the Boys Club of New York at 9th Street and Avenue A near Tompkins Square Park.

“I was in the gym a lot,” he says. “Then, when I was eight or nine, they opened a boxing program. I tried it, liked it, and stayed with it. I was an average fighter, nothing great. I had 74 amateur fights; won 50, lost 24, and had one knockout. That tells you I wasn’t much of a puncher. The knockout came at a small show in New Jersey. We got into an exchange, I was scoring pretty well, and the referee stopped it. I had a good jab and I could hit you with a solid straight right. The problem was, I might hurt you with the right but I didn’t have the power to finish.”

Morales reached the semi-finals of the New York City Golden Gloves twice. The first time was in the novice 118-pound division; the second, in the open division at 125 pounds. He was never counted out during his amateur years, but he was stopped three times.

“I didn’t have that much natural ability,” Ernie acknowledges. “But boxing was a great experience for me. It kept me away from the streets at a time in my life when a lot of the kids I was growing up with were getting in trouble. I learned about discipline and how to take care of my physical health. I don’t drink. I never did drugs. Boxing started me out right.”

Morales graduated from Chelsea Vocational High School in 1985. While in school, he ran cross-country and clocked a 4:32 mile.

And he had one professional fight. That came at age twenty-one against Rene Pellot (who was also making his pro debut) at Gleason’s Arena in Brooklyn on May 26, 1989. There’s a back story on that one.

“Pellot was well-conditioned and tough with a body like Adonis,” Ernie remembers. “A year or two before, there had been an amateur show when they wanted to match us and I chickened out. I wouldn’t fight him. When it was time to turn pro, Bruce Silverglade (who was promoting the card) gave my trainer, Juan Rivera, five names and said we could choose the opponent. Juan told me ‘you choose.’ Pellot’s name was on the list. I said to myself, ‘If I don’t face my fear now, I’ll never get past it.’ So I chose Pellot. He came right at me like I knew he would. And I got cut from a head butt in the second round. But I outboxed him and won a unanimous decision.”

Meanwhile, Morales had taken the New York City Police Department qualifying examination. “I’d known from the time I was twelve years old that I wanted to be a police officer,” he says.

In mid-1989, Morales was called for duty. Trainees at the Police Academy and in the period immediately after graduation are on probation. During that time, they cannot have outside employment. Professional boxing was considered outside employment. That marked the end of Ernie’s ring career.

New York State Athletic Commission inspectors work on a per diem basis and have a variety of “day jobs.” Morales has one of the NYSAC’s more interesting resumes.

His first assignment with the NYPD was in the 25th Precinct in Harlem, initially in community policing and then in plainclothes Anticrime. That was followed by a four-year stint as an undercover officer in the Manhattan North Narcotics unit.

“I was buying drugs in Washington Heights, which was the cocaine capital of America,” Ernie recalls. “There were times when I was nervous. But I brought the same mentality to it that I brought to boxing. If you lose that nervous edge, you’re going to get hurt.”

Morales was promoted to sergeant in 1998 and spent much of the next three years in the 47th Precinct in the Bronx on a plainclothes Anticrime detail. Then he was drafted into Internal Affairs (an independent unit that investigates alleged misconduct by police officers).

“I didn’t ask for that assignment,” Ernie says. “I was told that was what I was going to do next.”

After one year with Internal Affairs, Morales was promoted to lieutenant and sent to the 44th Precinct in the Bronx. In 2002, he was selected to attend a three-month advanced training program in law enforcement at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Then he was assigned to the Bronx narcotics unit as a supervising lieutenant, a role he filled for nine years. He was promoted to captain on October 31, 2011, and transferred to the 34th Precinct in Manhattan, where he served as executive officer (#2 in the chain of command behind the precinct’s ranking officer). A similar assignment in the 32nd Precinct in Harlem followed.

Then, on August 18, 2014, Morales was appointed to his present position: Commanding Officer of Transit District 12 in the Bronx. The district covers eight precincts and forty-two subway stations. “Over a half million people pass through those stations each day,” he notes. “We have to make sure they’re safe.”

In twenty-five years with the NYPD, Morales has never fired his gun in the line of duty. Fourteen of his years on the force have been devoted to fighting drugs.

“Every promotion I’ve gotten,” he says “has felt to me like winning a world title fight.”

Morales’s work as an inspector with the New York State Athletic Commission flowed naturally from his love of boxing.

“I used to go to shows from time to time,” Ernie recounts. “Then I met [former NYSAC chief inspector] Felix Figueroa, who told me about the commission and asked if I wanted to get involved. The idea appealed to me. I was at Madison Square Garden as a fan when Billy Collins fought Luis Resto [on June 18, 1983, the night that trainer Panama Lewis removed padding from Resto’s gloves in the dressing room prior to the fight]. That night, a man’s life was ruined because of a cheater.”

Morales was hired as an inspector on August 4, 2008. On fight night, he arrives at the venue two hours before the first bout. As a general rule, he’s assigned to monitor one or two fighters. In the dressing room, he introduces himself to each fighter that he has been assigned to cover and also to the fighter’s seconds. During the next few hours, he supervises the gathering of urine samples, wrapping of hands, and gloving up, in addition to making certain that myriad commission rules are followed.

“I try to keep a calm environment,” Morales says. “I explain the rules to the fighter and his seconds and tell them how they’re expected to conduct themselves. One of the commission’s responsibilities is to make sure that, within the rules, the playing field is as level as possible. My job as an inspector is to help implement that policy. If something doesn’t look right – a gauze pad, a medication, whatever it is – I don’t just say ‘no’ and give it back to them. I hold onto it until after the show and then decide with the chief inspector what to do with it.”

In performing his task, Morales is firm but non-confrontational. He does his best to treat every fighter equally, The fact that he’s bilingual is a plus.

When the fighter leaves for the ring, Morales goes with him. In the corner, he watches to ensure that adherence to the commission rules continues. Also, during the bout, he’s a link in the chain of safety for a fighter. A good inspector knows when to signal to the referee that a fighter might be laboring between rounds or to suggest to the ring doctor that the fighter needs a closer look.

“I find it all very rewarding,” Ernie says. “It’s service-oriented and allows me to remain part of the sport I love. Felix was my first mentor. The other person who taught me a lot was [current NYSAC chief inspector] George Ward. George has a lot of experience and he’s generous in sharing it. I learned a lot by watching how George does his job.”

“Iron Will” Walters vs. “Pistol Pete” Dobson wasn’t much of a fight. Walters holds his left hand low and, to make matters worse, brings it back slowly when he jabs. That made him a sitting duck for chopping right hands that Dobson landed throughout the contest. Referee Harvey Dock mercifully stopped the bout with Walters still on his feet at 1:33 of the third round.

Morales sat with Walters in the corridor afterward.

“It’s embarrassing,” the fighter said.

“Don’t say that,” Morales told him. “To step in the ring like you just did is never embarrassing. Very few people have the courage and skill to do what you did tonight.”

“Thanks for the kind words, man. I appreciate them.”

There were six more fights on the card. Dobson-Walters was now history.

“I’ve lived in a lot of places,” Walters said, ruminating on his life. “Moved around a lot when I was a kid. My last job was as a server in a restaurant. Right now, boxing is all I do, but it’s a dirty gig. I loved boxing when I was an amateur. The whole community of fight people seemed special to me. But the way they match people up in the pros; I understand it from a business point of view. But in a perfect world, I’d be more evenly matched.”

“Probably, I’ll have a few more fights. Then I’d like to do something else. My dream would be to be a fireman. Firemen are the real heroes, but those jobs are hard to get. Maybe I could be a paramedic or something like that where I’m helping people.”

Walters’ purse for fighting Dobson was three thousand dollars. He’d traveled alone to New York and picked up two corner men at the last minute. Richard Schwartz would get a hundred dollars for serving as chief second; cutman George Mitchell, twenty-five.

“I’m bummed out that things happened the way they did tonight,” Walters continued. “But that’s the story of my life. I always seem to come up short, even if it’s just by a little bit. I run marathons sometimes. My goal is to break three hours. My best time so far is three hours and twelve seconds. Think about that. If I’d run each mile a half second faster, I’d have broke three hours.”

“I wanted to go the distance tonight. That way, maybe my next fight would be eight rounds instead of six. They pay more for eight-round fights. But what happened happened. It would be cool if Dobson becomes a great fighter some day. Then I could say I fought him way back when.”

On that note, Walters’ mood brightened a bit.

“I like fighting in New York,” he said. “The pay is pretty good and they pay your medical expenses. If I need another MRI, I’ll try for another fight in New York. And I liked the inspector. He’s a nice guy. He knows what he’s doing and where the fighters are coming from.”

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – Thomas Hauser on Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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Thomas Hauser is the author of 52 books. In 2005, he was honored by the Boxing Writers Association of America, which bestowed the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism upon him. He was the first Internet writer ever to receive that award. In 2019, Hauser was chosen for boxing's highest honor: induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Lennox Lewis has observed, “A hundred years from now, if people want to learn about boxing in this era, they’ll read Thomas Hauser.”

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Anderson Cruises by Vapid Merhy and Ajagba edges Vianello in Texas

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Jared Anderson returned to the ring tonight on a Top Rank card in Corpus Christi, Texas. Touted as the next big thing in the heavyweight division, Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs) hardly broke a sweat while cruising past Ryad Merhy in a bout with very little action, much to the disgruntlement of the crowd which started booing as early as the second round. The fault was all Merhy as he was reluctant to let his hands go. Somehow, he won a round on the scorecard of judge David Sutherland who likely fell asleep for a round for which he could be forgiven.

Merhy, born in the Ivory Coast but a resident of Brussels, Belgium, was 32-2 (26 KOs) heading in after fighting most of his career as a cruiserweight. He gave up six inches in height to Anderson who was content to peck away when it became obvious to him that little would be coming back his way.

Anderson may face a more daunting adversary on Monday when he has a court date in Romulus, Michigan, to answer charges related to an incident in February where he drove his Dodge Challenger at a high rate speed, baiting the police into a merry chase. (Weirdly, Anderson entered the ring tonight wearing the sort of helmet that one associates with a race car driver.)

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a battle between six-foot-six former Olympians, Italy’s Guido Vianello started and finished strong, but Efe Ajagba had the best of it in the middle rounds and prevailed on a split decision. Two of the judges favored Ajagba by 96-94 scores with the dissenter favoring the Italian from Rome by the same margin.

Vianello had the best round of the fight. He staggered Ajagba with a combination in round two. At the end of the round, a befuddled Ajagba returned to the wrong corner and it appeared that an upset was brewing. But the Nigerian, who trains in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma, got back into the fight with a more varied offensive attack and better head movement. In winning, he improved his ledger to 20-1 (14). Vianello, who sparred extensively with Daniel Dubois in London in preparation for this fight, declined to 12-2-1 in what was likely his final outing under the Top Rank banner.

Other Bouts of Note

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, 35-year-old super featherweight Robson Conceicao, a gold medalist for Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down in class after fighting Emanuel Navarrete tooth-and-nail to a draw in his previous bout and scored a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Ivan Guardado who was a cooked goose after slumping to the canvas after taking a wicked shot to the liver. Guardado made it to his feet, but the end was imminent and the referee waived it off at the 2:27 mark.

Conceicao improved to 18-1 (9 KOs). It was the U.S. debut for Guardado (15-2-1), a boxer from Ensenada, Mexico who had done most of his fighting up the road in Tijuana.

Ruben Villa, the pride of Salinas, California, improved to 22-1 (7) and moved one step closer to a match with WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tijuana’s Cristian Cruz (22-7-1). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Cruz, the son of former IBF world featherweight title-holder Cristobal Cruz, was better than his record. He entered the bout on a 21-1-1 run after losing five of his first seven pro fights.

Cleveland southpaw Abdullah Mason, who turned 20 earlier this month, continued his fast ascent up the lightweight ladder with a fourth-round stoppage of Ronal Ron.

Mason (13-0, 11 KOs) put Ron on the canvas in the opening round with a short left hook. He scored a second knockdown with a shot to the liver. A flurry of punches, a diverse array, forced the stoppage at the 1:02 mark of round four. A 25-year-old SoCal-based Venezuelan, the spunky but out-gunned Ron declined to 14-6.

Charly Suarez, a 35-year-old former Olympian from the Philippines, ranked #5 at junior lightweight by the IBF, advanced to 17-0 (9) with a unanimous 8-round decision over SoCal’s Louie Coria (5-7).

This was a tactical fight. In the final round, Coria, subbing for 19-0 Henry Lebron, caught the Filipino off-balance and knocked him into the ropes which held him up. It was scored a knockdown, but came too little, too late for Coria who lost by scores of 76-75 and 77-74 twice.

Suarez, whose signature win was a 12th-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Aussie Paul Fleming in Sydney, may be headed to a rematch with Robson Conceicao. They fought as amateurs in 2016 in Kazakhstan and Suarez lost a narrow 6-round decision.

Photo credit: Mikey Willams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Ellie Scotney and Rhiannon Dixon Win World Title Fights in Manchester

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England’s Ellie Scotney started slowly against the long reach of France’s Segolene Lefebvre but used rough tactics and a full-steam ahead approach to unify the super bantamweight division by unanimous decision on Saturday.

“There’s a lot more I didn’t show,” said an excited Scotney (pictured on the left).

IBF titlist Scotney (9-0) added the WBO title by nullifying Lefebvre’s (18-1) reach and dominating the inside with a two-fisted attack in front of an excited crowd in Manchester, England.

For the first two rounds Lefebvre used her long reach and smooth fluid attack to keep Scotney at the end of her punches. Then the fight turned when the British fighter bulled her way inside with body shots and forced the French fighter into the ropes.

Aggressiveness by Scotney turned the fight in her favor. But Lefebvre remained active and countered with overhand rights throughout the match.

Body shots by Scotney continued to pummel the French champion’s abdomen but she remained steadfast in her counter-attacks. Combinations landed for Lefebvre and a counter overhand right scored to keep her in the contest in the fifth round.

Scotney increased the intensity of her attack in the sixth and seventh rounds. In perhaps her best round Scotney was almost perfect in scoring while not getting hit with anything from the French fighter.

Maybe the success of the previous round caused Scotney to pause. It allowed Lefebvre to rally behind some solid shots in a slow round and gave the French fighter an opening. Maybe.

The British fighter opened up more savagely after taking two Lefevbre rights to open the ninth. Scotney attacked with bruising more emphatic blows despite getting hit. Though both fired blows Scotney’s were more powerful.

Both champions opened-up the 10th and final round with punches flying. Once again Scotney’s blows had more power behind them though the French fighter scored too, and though her face looked less bruised than Scotney’s the pure force of Scotney’s attacks was more impressive.

All three judges saw Scotney the winner 97-93, 96-94 and a ridiculous 99-91. The London-based fighter now has the IBF and WBO super bantamweight titles.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said a possible showdown with WBC titlist Erika Cruz looms large possibly in the summer.

“Great performance. Great punch output,” said Hearn of Scotney’s performance.

Dixon Wins WBO Title

British southpaw Rhiannon Dixon (10-0) out-fought Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-2) over 10 rounds and won a very competitive unanimous decision to win the vacant WBO lightweight title. It was one of the titles vacated by Katie Taylor who is now the undisputed super lightweight world champion.

An aggressive Dixon dominated the first three rounds including a knockdown in the third round with a perfect left-hand counter that dropped Carabajal. The Argentine got up and rallied in the round.

Carabajal, whose only loss was against Katie Taylor, slowly began figuring out Dixon’s attacks and each round got more competitive. The Argentine fighter used counter rights to find a hole in Dixon’s defense to probably win the round in the sixth.

The final three rounds saw both fighters engage evenly with Carabajal scoring on counters and Dixon attacking the body successfully.

After 10 rounds all three judges saw it in Dixon’s favor 98-91, 97-92, 96-93 who now wields the WBO lightweight world title.

“It’s difficult to find words,” said Dixon after winning the title.

Hometown Fighter Wins

Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett (31-2, 17 KOs) battled back and forth with Jordan Gill (28-3-1, 9 KO-s) and finally ended the super featherweight fight with two knockdowns via lefts to the body in the 10th round of a scheduled 12-round match for a regional title.

The smooth moving Barrett found the busier Gill more complex than expected and for the first nine rounds was fighting a 50/50 fight against the fellow British fighter from the small town of Chatteris north of London.

In the 10th round after multiple shots on the body of Gill, a left hook to the ribs collapsed the Chatteris fighter to the floor. He willed himself up and soon after was floored again but this time by a left to the solar plexus. Again he continued but was belted around until the referee stopped the onslaught by Barrett at 2:44 of the 10th.

“A tough, tough fighter,” said Barrett about Gill. “I had to work hard.”

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O.J. Simpson the Boxer: A Heartwarming Tale for the Whole Family

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O.J. Simpson passed away on Wednesday, April 10, at age 76 in Las Vegas where he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. For millions of Americans, news of his passing unloosed a flood of memories.

The O.J. Simpson double murder trial lasted 37 weeks. CNN and two other fledgling cable networks provided gavel-to-gavel coverage. On Oct. 3, 1995, the day that the jury rendered its verdict, CBS, NBC, ABC, and ESPN suspended regular programming to cover the trial. Worldwide, more than 100 million people were reportedly glued to their TV or radio.

O.J.’s life can be neatly compartmentalized into two halves. The dividing line is June 12, 1994. On that date, Simpson’s estranged wife, the former Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood at the home that Nicole shared with their two children.

Before then, O.J. was famous. After then, he was infamous.

Simpson first came to the fore on the gridiron. In 1968, his final season at the University of Southern California, he was so dynamic that he won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide, out-distancing Purdue’s Leroy Keyes by 1,750 votes. This was the widest margin to that point between a Heisman winner and runner-up and a milestone that stood for 51 years until surpassed by LSU quarterback Joe Burrows in 2019.

In the NFL, among his many achievements, he became the first and only NFL running back to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a 14-game season, a record that will never be broken.

But one can’t appreciate the depth of O.J.s celebrityhood by citing statistics. He transcended his sport like few athletes before or since. Owing in large part to his commercials for the Hertz rental car chain, he became one of America’s most recognizable people.

O.J. Simpson was raised by a single mother in a government housing project in the gritty Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. Unlike many of his boyhood peers, he was never quick to raise his fists. Weirdly, he once said that running away from fights proved useful to him when he took up football. It helped his stamina.

Although he never boxed in real life, O.J. portrayed a boxer in a made-for-TV movie. Titled “Goldie and the Boxer,” it aired on NBC on Sunday, Dec. 29, 1979, two weeks after O.J. played in his last NFL game. Co-produced by Simpson’s own production company, it starred O.J. opposite precocious Melissa Michaelson who played the 10-year-old Goldie.

In promos, the movie was tagged as a heartwarming tale for kids and their parents. Associated Press writer John Egan described it as “a cross between the Shirley Temple classic ‘Little Miss Marker’ and a low-budget ‘Rocky.’”

Here’s a synopsis, compliments of New York Times TV critic John J. O’Connor:

“The year is 1946, and Joe Gallagher is returning to Louisiana as an army veteran. He is quickly ripped off by a succession of thugs and finds himself broke and battered in Pennsylvania where he is befriended by a young Goldie. Her father is a boxer and Joe joins the training camp as a sparring partner. When the father dies, Joe takes his place on the fight circuit and Goldie becomes his manager…”

The consensus of the pundits was that O.J. the actor was very much a work in progress, but that he had great potential. And the movie, despite its hokey plot, attracted so many viewers that NBC wanted to turn it into a series.

O.J. had too much on his plate to commit to doing a regular series. Among other things, he had signed on to become part of NBC’s main stable of reporters at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a gig that evaporated when the U.S. under President Jimmy Carter joined 64 other nations in boycotting the Games as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, the movie did spawn a sequel, “Goldie and the Boxer Go To Hollywood,” with Simpson and Michaelson reprising their roles.

I never met O.J. Simpson, but have a vivid memory of finding myself walking behind him into the outdoor boxing arena at Caesars Palace. If memory serves, this was the Hagler-Hearns fight of 1985, in which case the lady on his arm would have been Nicole as they were married earlier that year. She was quite a dish in that tight-fitting pantsuit and I remember thinking to myself, “of all the trophies this dude has won, here is the best trophy of them all.” (Forgive me.)

Simpson had cameo roles in several movies before leaving USC. When he finally turned his back on football, the world was his oyster. O.J., wrote Barry Lorge in the Washington Post, was “bright, affable, charming, articulate and credible, a public relation man’s dream-come true.”

No one would have foreseen the swerve his life would take.

When the jury, after only four hours of deliberation, returned a verdict of “not guilty,” there was cheering in some corners of America. The overwhelming consensus of the white population, however, was that the verdict was an abomination, a gross miscarriage of justice.

We’ll leave it at that.

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