Paul Wheeler tells the story about the first time Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera punched each other in the face on February 19, 2000
“YOU can’t beat it – two ruthless, cold-eyed, dark-haired punchers, both respected champions who will give and sacrifice all to win. This 12-rounder possesses the key ingredients to produce a match as fiery and full of passion as any past all-Mexican showdown.”
So said BN ahead of the super-bantamweight unification clash between Tijuana’s WBC ruler Erik Morales and Mexico City’s WBO boss Marco Antonio Barrera. And how accurate that description turned out to be, as the two proud warriors went toe-to-toe for 12 brutal, uninhibited and electrifying rounds. Not even a hotly disputed conclusion could take away from the captivating carnage that was on show.
In the build-up, Morales had claimed that he floored Barrera during a sparring session many years previously. The “Baby-Faced Assassin” said it was a slip and he had been knocked down “only in Erik’s dreams”. The hostility between the pair was evident even before the first bell, with no touching of gloves taking place until the final round.
Barrera won a lively opening session and also took the next stanza, his left-right-left hook combination proving particularly effective. Rounds three and four proved the calm before the storm, as from the fifth onwards it was all-out war.
While Morales was always busier throughout, the more explosive punches came from his rival. Barrera responded to a bombardment of overhand rights in the fifth by lashing back spectacularly and shaking Erik, leading to a deafening roar of appreciation from the raucous crowd.
Barrera fought in spurts in rounds six and seven, while a tiring Morales jolted out jabs and stiff rights. “El Terrible” found himself in trouble on the ropes in the eighth, with Barrera cracking left hooks into his foe’s ribs. BN commented, “How Morales, such a thin man, remained upright is testament to his incomprehensible toughness.”
The unbridled ferocity continued into the ninth as two hooks from Marco Antonio crashed against his adversary’s jaw. Incredibly, Morales fired back with a string of crushing rights that opened a gash on Barrera’s swollen left cheek.
The man from the Mexican capital walked through a powerful right-left from Morales in the 10th and had to suck up a lot of punishment until the final minute of the round, when a counter onslaught caused Erik’s legs to quiver. The bloodied and bruised Morales hit back with rights and uppercuts as the rivals exchanged blows.
Barrera’s inside work was hugely impressive in the 11th but Morales refused to give ground. A knockdown was wrongly called in the final session as Erik slipped to one knee while ducking a hook. Keen to redress the balance, Morales threw himself at Barrera and the pair went at it until the last bell.
Although Erik edged the fight on punches landed (319-299), there were constant swings in fortune, with both boxers getting tagged on numerous occasions. The general consensus at ringside was that Barrera had done enough to claim the verdict. But it was Morales who took the controversial split decision.
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