Bethlehem Shoals did me the great honor of leading the farewell to Freedarko piece on Monday. In it, I wrote, as I often do, of finding meaning in sportsmen beyond the final score, “You can touch on the genuine, and even if your impressions may not be Truth, they are honest and meaningful to you, and that is ultimately fulfilling enough to care about losing battles and defiant last stands that are, still, play.”
I was thinking, largely, of Erik Morales’ performance on Saturday night, though to call such a thing play is borderline heresy.
Because did you see him on Saturday night? Did you see the old warrior? My, but wasn’t he something up there? All sinew and pride and meanness and an ancient soldier stripped raw. Wasn’t he a holy terror? For certain men there is the impossible, but for others, the rare and special and profoundly moving, there’s something beyond that, where results are impractical, beside the point.
Could you really define what happened on Saturday by 10s and 9s? If you could, well, you’re no friend of mine. Because what we saw was a Ronin loosing his blade at the last, a defiant prince from the age of heroes, a last-chance gunfighter smiling as he loaded his final rounds.
And goodness, but it was moving. Because I’ve known Erik Morales for so long, and I know what it meant to him. I watched him when he was the master. A man skilled enough to coast to easy victories but incapable of stepping away from a challenge. “Yes,” he might say, “I can whip you my way, but I’ll whip you your way as well. I’ll do it for the sheer joy of being a master and a man and fully in control of my faculties.”
Though I’ve never hidden my love for Pacquiao, Morales’ victory over him in their first fight was one of the most profoundly moving sporting events I’ve ever witnessed. The man just seeps machismo and desire and contempt and superiority.
“I come,” he says, “from a culture of fighters.” And that’s who he is to the last. A fighter. Look at his face here and you can see a man in full. Because it was lunacy to take that fight against Marcos Maidana. Lunacy to face a bigger stronger man. But he did it anyway. And he sang as he slew and hewed and he did it for the simple reason that there wasn’t anything else that he could ever have done, because it was the only thing he could do with a face like that –the stonevisaged pride of the Captain of the Guard from the Age of Bronze.
He did it for love. Yes, love, which is pride, which is love of the self.
I was recently sent spinning by a passage from Faulkner, from the story Tomorrow. It reads, “I knowed he would be honest for the same reason: that there wasn’t nothing in his country a man could want bad enough to learn how to steal it. What I seem to have underestimated was his capacity for love. I reckon I figured that, coming from where he come from, he never had none a-tall, and for that same previous reason – that even the comprehension of love had done been lost out of him back down the generations where the first one of them had had to take his final choice between the pursuit of love and the pursuit of keeping on breathing.”
I, somehow, after all we had been through together, underestimated Morales’ capacity for love. Because on Saturday night I left before the main event. I got into my car and put my foot on the gas and went to see an indie rock band that I mildly like, because I didn’t believe that the warrior king’s heart could still swell.
And I almost made it to the show. I almost made it, but then I thought about him, that stonevisaged king and his pride and I turned around and I came home.
And I saw it, right there in front of me. The capacity of a man at the last throw, the final throw of the dirty diceman. And what a gift it was.
Because it’s not about 10’s, and it’s certainly not about 9’s. Is it?