The 122 pound showdown between Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera promised so much that one began to wonder if the fight could even come close to matching expectations. Boxer vs. Brawler, Rising Star vs. Former Star, Tiajuana vs. Mexico City. It was the type of fight that on paper suggested fireworks of the highest order. But unlike so many marquee matchups of the last year, this one delivered. From the opening bell to the final punch, Morales vs. Barrera was about as exciting as it gets. The fight had a little of everything: rapidly shifting momentum, clean punches aplenty, blood, guts and controversy. Seven weeks into 2000 and we may have already seen the Fight of the Year.
The bout began with a bang. Rushing to meet each other at center ring, Barrera and Morales quickly launched their biggest weapons. Barrera swung his debilitating left hook to the body and head, immediately finding his target. Pursuing Morales across the ring, Barrera quickly established the pace of the bout. Morales soon fired back with his trademark right hand, pounding the face of his opponent early and often. Back and forth they fought. The intensity was overwhelming. Mostly taking turns, Morales and Barrera threw and landed gigantic power punches. As each blow landed, the dueling factions in the crowd raised their voices to a fever pitch. Although each man had their moments, it was Barrera who exceeded expectations as he pressed the action and swiveled Morales' head with his hooks.
Barrera continued his attack in the second round, clubbing Morales to the body repeatedly. Morales, whether influenced by machismo or survival instincts, fought back gamely. Needing more room to fire his long shots, Morales found himself crowded by Barrera's bullrush and was drawn into the type of brawl he had trained to avoid. Forgoing the jab in an effort to win some respect, Morales traded with Barrera for much of the round. Looking stronger, landing cleaner, and battering Morales with his hook, Barrera was fighting with confidence as the second round came to an end.
Erik Morales needed to shift the momentum of the fight already. Although Morales was faring well in the trenches, his trouble making 122 and his superior boxing skills dictated that he try something different. Pumping his jab across the distance, Morales found some success in round three by keeping Barrera and extra step back. Shuffling side to side, Morales forced Barrera to lower his output by keeping him out of range. Through this round and the following, Barrera countered by focusing almost exclusively on Morales' thin frame. Although he was unable to put his hands on Morales as often as he had in the first two rounds, Barrera made sure that if he touched Morales at all, it was with strafing shots to the ribs. Committed to slowing Morales down, Barrera invested in punches that would weaken Morales late in the fight.
The fifth round was as exciting as it gets. As both men picked up the pace again, Barrera punched Morales back to the ropes and then unloaded with a left hook that rocked Morales. Shaken by the punch, Morales suddenly came alive, letting his hands go. Adjusting his straight right hand, Morales now hooked the punch around Barrera's tight guard and landed repeated shots to Barrera's right ear. Barrera stopped throwing as Morales walked him down, punching and landing all the way. Referee Mitch Halpern began moving in close to the action, as Morales was teeing off on Barrera while Marco only rarely returned a punch. But Morales could not put Barrera away, and after over a minute of nonstop punching, Morales needed to stop and take a breath. When he did, Barrera took his turn. Firing back some wild left hooks, Barrera caught Morales flush on the face, sending him back to the ropes on stiff legs. Barrera now let his own hands go, savagely beating Morales with perfectly timed power punches. Blood was pouring out of Morales' nose as Barrera punished him. When the bell rang to end the round, the crowd screamed their delight. It was boxing nirvana.
Both fighters spent a lot of themselves in the fifth, and in turn took much of the sixth round off. While Morales had finished the fifth round looking weak, Barrera did not rush to test what he had left. Instead, Morales jabbed through a slow paced round as the fighters reached the bout's halfway point. Morales won the round but looked to be losing the war. His face was beginning to reshape under the force of Barrera's fists, his nose was bleeding badly, and Barrera's body shots had weakened him. He would have to fight twice as hard just to survive.
The seventh round saw Morales dig deep. Breathing through an open mouth, Morales' will power was amazing, as he tried his hardest to simply keep throwing punches. For most of the stanza, Morales threw weakened punches at Barrera. While the snap of his blows was missing, the sheer output he managed to conjure up was enough to hold an also tiring Barrera off. The round closed, however, with Barrera again getting Morales against the ropes and landing the hook. Cracking into Morales' head, Barrera staggered the WBC champion into the ropes at the final bell, even getting in an extra shot just after the bell ended the round.
Barrera came on again in the eighth round, repeatedly battering Morales back to the ropes. Once trapped, Morales would try to bob and weave, but kept getting caught with flush punches. On several occasions, Morales was trapped on the ropes as Barrera fired away, and on several occasions Morales looked to be on the verge of going down. Barrera landed a myriad of punches to the body in between head snapping shots to the head, but still Morales would not fall. After the round had ended, Morales could barely sit up straight in his corner. Looking exhausted, beaten and discouraged, Morales sat in marked contrast to the stoic Barrera.
The ninth round got even worse for Morales, as Barrera unleashed his most consistent and ferocious beating in this round. Staggering Morales again and again, Barrera pounded Morales from one corner to another. Marco's hooks kept landing precisely on target, along with a number of crisp right hands for good measure. Morales nose again began gushing blood, staining Barrera's back. Although Morales managed to cut Barrera on his left cheek with a chopping right hand, he took more than his share of lumps. At the close of the round, Barrera again looked to have his man in position for a devastating finish, and again Morales somehow found the ability to survive.
As Morales came out for the tenth round, he looked bad. Swelling over both eyes was affecting his vision, his breathing was labored from exhaustion and hampered by the bleeding in his nose, and Barrera's body shots repeatedly sent him into mini retreats when they landed. Morales, however, would not give anything away. As Barrera closed in for the kill, Morales simply kept throwing. When he did, Barrera would often stop, looking for a counter. When Morales was able to put enough punches together in succession, Barrera's counter never came. Again, however, Barrera staggered Morales with brutal hooks on the ropes, and again Morales refused to go down. It was one of the most amazing displays of desire in recent memory. Despite Barrera's pounding, Morales was shaken but never dropped.
The eleventh round was closer, but only because the urgency was growing on Morales' part. Coming out of his corner after again being barely able to sit up on his stool, Morales refused to move and box and went to war. Barrera obliged. Trading punch for punch, Morales looked sapped of strength. Barrera walked through his blows to land his own, and when he landed he saw results. Several flush Barrera body shots in the eleventh forced Morales to shuffle away instead of fight, and a Barrera hook upstairs opened a cut over Morales' right eye that trickled blood into his line of vision. As Barrera took another round, he looked stronger and more determined going into the final round.
Still the fight was close. Both corners let their men know that the outcome of the fight would likely be determined by the final round. In a fight that was already too close to call, the final three minutes meant everything. Both men began the final frame toe to toe. Morales fired and Barrera fired. Morales landed and Barrera landed. The crowd was hoarse but cheered anyway. It was pure excitement. Midway through the round, however, more Barrera bodyshots hurt Morales and weakened his stance. As the two men came together, Barrera threw a left hook that missed over a ducking Morales. Getting under the punch worked for Morales, but his weak legs betrayed him. As Barrera's hip followed through from the hook, it bumped a wobbly Morales, who reached out to find balance and touched his glove and knee to the canvas. Although Mitch Halpern was on top of the action, he called the downing a knockdown and began administering the mandatory eight count. Although the call was incorrect, it was not an easy call. It had, in fact, appeared that Barrera had scored a clean knockdown, until replays showed that no punch had landed. But the damage was done. A discouraged Morales knew that he might have blown the fight. After the count of eight, Morales rushed Barrera in an effort to get some payback. It never came. Although both men finished toe to toe, Morales could not land another big punch before the bout ended.
It appeared as though Barrera had won the fight. Although many rounds were difficult to score, and the fight had stretch after stretch of even exchanges, it was Morales who was consistently wobbled by Barrera's blows. Furthermore Marco Antonio had apparently swept most of the second half of the fight, including a final round knockdown that may have been a bad call but was nonetheless ruled an official knockdown.
When Michael Buffer announced a "split decision", however, most boxing fans knew what might be coming next. 114-113 for Barrera, 114-113 for Morales....and an inexplicable 115-112 for Morales. No denying this was a close fight, but a three point victory for Morales seemed completely unreasonable, especially given the two point final round Barrera had earned. The culprit: Las Vegas crony Dalby Shirley. That's right...the same Dalby Shirley who had Antuofermo over Hagler, had a draw in Leonard-Hearns II, gave DelaHoya a six point victory over Whitaker, and the list goes on and on.
After the fight, Morales (36-0/28) looked like he had taken the type of beating that ends careers. His face was bruised, scuffed, swollen, cut, and discolored. Admitting that he was hanging on for dear life at several moments, Morales confirmed that he would no longer fight at 122. Now lined up for a shot at the WBC featherweight title vacated by Naseem Hamed, Morales' move up in weight will come with even more lucrative paydays, possibly including one with The Prince himself. It remains to be seen how Morales will be affected by this war. He may come out stronger and wiser, having shown his willingness to walk through fire to grab victory...but the likelihood is that he may look older, slower and diminished. Very few fighters can sustain the type of beating Morales took and come back unchanged.
In his corner, Barrera (49-3/36) was devastated. His quiet demeanor did not betray his disappointment, but his words did. Claiming the he had won the fight, Barrera dismissed Morales as "not that good". Again losing his WBO junior feather title, Barrera's career may not have been set back as much as first seems. Although no longer a champion, and lacking the political backing to get a quick rematch, Barrera still showed himself as a worthy opponent. Unlike previously thought, Barrera's best days were not behind him, and his exciting style guarantees that we will see him again
Although the final decision left plenty to be desired, the fight itself exceeded even the highest expectations. The bout featured ferocious brawling, magnificent courage, and heart stopping excitement. Barrera-Morales was a fight that will not soon be forgotten.
ROUND 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 TOTAL BARRERA 10 10 9 9 10 9 9 10 10 10 10 10 116 MORALES 10 9 10 10 9 10 10 9 9 9 9 8 112