Boxer John Moralde continues to spar with opponent's death
MANILA, Philippines – Boxers know the risks that await them each time they step through the ropes. They’ve felt the pain in their bones and the aches in their head. They’ve poured blood onto the canvas the way other athletes perspire.
Some fighters suffer permanent cognitive damage after they retire. Some fighters never make it home at all.
Few boxers know this reality better than John Vincent Moralde.
“Boxing is a very difficult sport,” bared the 21-year-old featherweight boxer from Davao City, Philippines. “It’s like you've got one foot in the grave. [I] always train and pray so that nothing bad will happen.”
Meeting Moralde for the first time, you’d never guess what he does for a living. The undefeated boxer with a 12-0 (6 knockouts) record hardly has a mark on his face – a testament to his defense-first approach to the sport. His kind demeanor belies the danger he willingly confronts.
“Maybe I am only violent inside the ring. Outside, I am a very peaceful person,” said Moralde.
On March 14 this year, Moralde stepped into the ring against fellow unbeaten boxer Braydon Smith in Toowoomba, Australia. The action was decidedly in Moralde’s favor, which was reflected in the points victory he was handed by all 3 judges.
Afterwards, Moralde and Smith smiled, took photographs together. Then some 90 minutes later, the 23-year-old Smith slumped to the dressing room floor. He was rushed to a local hospital, then airlifted to Brisbane for emergency procedures.
There Smith, who was in his final year of studies for his Bachelor of Law degree, was removed from life support two days later while surrounded by his closest family members.
When Moralde returned home, he was greeted with accusations that made it difficult for him to deal with his own feelings of conflict.
“When I went home to Davao, people said that I was a killer and that they would file a case against me. That's why I had difficulty moving on. I accidentally killed someone,” said Moralde.
"I pray every night for forgiveness, for absolution for what I've done."
But Moralde’s promoter Jim Claude Manangquil comforted him, reminding him that this was never his intention. He had a job to do, and it could’ve just as easily been him lying in the hospital with the sand running out of his hourglass.
“I’ve talked to him and said, ‘You know it’s not your fault. It’s got nothing to do with you because your job is to fight. You have to fight. You have to throw punches. You have to win for your family.’ That kind of thing that happened has nothing to do with him,” recalled Manangquil of the words he gave the fighter who is one year his junior.
“You could say that, but it’s really up to him.”
Moralde took time off to be with his family, which includes a live-in girlfriend and a 4-year-old son. Moralde made $3,000 for his fight with Smith, the largest of his career, and bigger purses would follow that could provide a better future for his family.
Moralde was supposed to fight unbeaten Russian Evgeny Smirnov on June 19 in Spain, but Smirnov withdrew with an injury. Instead he'll face William George (10-22, 3 KOs) on Saturday, July 11 at Robinson's Mall Atrium in General Santos City in his first bout since the Smith fight.
Part of the training camp included sparring in June at the Philippine Army Gym in Taguig City with durable pro Gabriel Royo.
If he had any reservations about the way he puts food on the table, they didn’t show in his gym session with Royo, as he countered the rushes of his opponent with right hands that swelled his face and bloodied his nose.
“I see him with the same intensity as what I’ve seen before the fight with Brayd Smith,” said Manangquil.
Moralde says he wants to run with the ball after Manny Pacquiao’s loss to Floyd Mayweather, and aims to be the next Filipino boxing great. He also fights for the memory of his fallen opponent, who will forever be a part of him.
Regardless of whom Moralde faces in the future, no fight will be tougher than the one he has fought with himself over a tragedy he never intended to happen.
– Video by Naoki Mengua/Rappler.com
Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.