Living in the shadows of the snow-capped mountains, encased in the set of what could be confused as a family sitcom, Portland didn’t seem like a boxing city. Its pleasant scenery and various parks offered a tranquil alternative to the sweat, blood and tears shed by fighters, unannounced on the world stage.
One of those fighters was twenty-one year old, Victor Morales Jr (9-0, 5KOs), who was preparing to put Oregon back on the map with his tenth win this weekend. I caught up with him whilst his hands were wrapped – the calm before the storm.
“There’s a boxing community here, but it’s obviously not as big as your California, Texas or the East Coast. I always had to push myself twice as hard, knowing that I wasn’t gonna be taken serious at the time. Everyone was working hard and pushing themselves, but at home I was the only one that did twice as much, so that I could compete with the best of the best.
“We also have a professional boxer, he came out of our gym and he was a world champion, he was the IBF champion and fought Oscar De La Hoya. His name was Steve Forbes. He was trained in our gym, so I come out of the gym that he came from, but just in a different era. I’ve always wanted to follow in his footsteps, in a way, but also to pave my own path to be the best Northwest-specific fighter in history.”
However, it wasn’t fourteen years ago that the fighting had started for Victor. Emblazoned with the Mexican flag, he’d overcome significant tests at a far younger age than most would have to consider.
Now praised for his rapid footwork and ferocious work-rate, Morales Jr told me of his childhood, when walking seemed almost impossible as he prepared to enter primary education. Only a few years before nervously creeping into the gym with his father, his friends and family could barely have fathomed a career reliant on peak physical conditioning.
“When I was about four, I had menengitis and what they did, they gave me a spinal tap. What that was gonna do was help, but what actually happened was that I went a little paralyzed from my waist down for the next year-and-a-half. I was just crawling around, dragging myself everywhere. I was kinda scared and my parents didn’t think I was gonna be able to walk.
“As active and young as I was, it really scared them. At the time, I was around four and I was obviously in a lot of pain and I couldn’t be active with my friends for about a year-and-a-half, but I was only four or five years old, so it was just kind of a blur. For me, at the time, I didn’t really know what was going on myself. I didn’t find out what happened until about five years ago when my parents were talking about it. I guess I’ve been a fighter since I’ve been born!”
As remarkable as El Tornado’s journey has been thus far, he wasn’t satisfied with just turning professional. Following an exceptional amateur career, representing the United States and missing out on the Olympics by virtue of a change in age policy, by a painfully tight eleven days, the baby-faced Morales Jr was ready to tangle for titles.
He spoke of his relationship with his father, Victor Sr, who was his head trainer and best friend. The pair had been through it all together, both boxing and family hardship. The undefeated prospect explained that although many father/son boxing relationships turn sour, theirs would remain solid. He explained the decision to sign professional papers, at age eighteen with time firmly in his corner.
“We entered the Golden Gloves tournament, went all the way to the final and proved that we were at the top of the division in one of the hardest tournaments on the body, and mentally. So, that’s why I turned pro after the second year there.”
Morales Jr continued, “I proved to myself and my team that we were ready. I was seventeen and fighting guys that were twenty-five or twenty-six, you know, fighting men and I was a kid at the time. Ultimately, that’s what turned me to the pro game. Being from where I’m from in the Northwest, there’s not a lot of boxing, so that just puts another target on my back but I wanted to go out there and show that I’m not an easy target.”
With two bouts currently scheduled, the Portland native wasn’t looking to kill time. The fire in his belly was reminiscent of various other fighters I’d dealt with, all managed by LA-based boxing family, Sheer Sports. Their young crop of talent were beginning to cause a stir on the West Coast, with names like prodigious Irishman, Aaron McKenna, attracting praise from ring greats Sugar Ray Leonard and Oscar De La Hoya.
For someone so fresh, Victor was keenly aware of boxing’s indiscretions. It was tricky to navigate a career, especially in a money-thirsty America. With Sheer Sports by his side, he explained, he felt comfortable.
“They [Sheer Sports] were the first contract that we signed and for good reason. There’s been a lot of sharks that we have had to avoid, with the help of my Dad. The owner, Ken Sheer, just really won us over because a lot of people are working in the business of boxing for themselves and with this team, I feel like they’ve done nothing but fight for me and all of their fighters. That’s a big thing. They’re not fighting for themselves, they want all of their fighters to get what they deserve!”
As the fighter, the trainer and the company prepare for battle in Morales’ home State this weekend, he’d recently travelled far-and-wide in an attempt to enhance his potential. Sparring frequently with world champions Leo Santa Cruz and Angel ‘Tito’ Acosta, he’d based himself for sessions in Freddie Roach’s Wild Card gym, invaluable experience for a young fighter.
Victor struck me as a genuine kid, focused and ready to make the sacrifices our punishing sport demands. Fighting wasn’t new to him, he’d been doing it for fourteen years, now. But, as with walking, if he’d been forced to learn it all over again, I wouldn’t have bet against him.
“I wanna go out and win world titles pound-for-pound, put my stamp on boxing and just be able to retire successful with nothing to worry about, outside of boxing.
“Boxing has been everything in my life. It’s pushed me, it’s tested my mental [strength]. I did other sports before when I was little, but it just wasn’t the same. After I tried boxing, it’s given me nothing but love and I’ve given it that love back. It’s everything in my life.”
Article by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209