8. Érik Morales Vs Marco Antonio Barrera I
February 19, 2000
Las Vegas, Nevada
Venue: Mandalay Bay
Two of the greatest fighters ever to hail from Mexico, Érik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera, both had intense hatred for each other. Both men were mild mannered and gentleman outside the ring with everyone but each other. Both men held versions of the 122-pound title. Barrera was the WBO champion, while Morales held the WBC version. Both men also had different styles inside the ring. The 23-year-old Morales was very tall for his weight class at 5’8”, and used his height by throwing his excellent jab and signature right cross at a distance against his shorter opposition. The 26-year-old Barrera, at 5’6”, was an aggressive boxer who would use his jab to cut off the ring on his opponents. Once inside, Barrera would work the body with his signature left hook. Add both men’s hatred for each other and their conflicting styles, and you had a recipe for a classic fight.
At the time of this fight, my father was suffering from stage four throat cancer. He could no longer speak, and whenever we watched sports, he would write down on a pad his thoughts and observations. Right before the opening ball, he wrote in big, bold letters “WAR!”
The first four rounds was indicative of each fighter’s hatred for each other and their desire to win. Barrera did as I expected, using his jab to cut the ring off and once inside, landed several ripping left hooks to his rival’s ribcage. Morales countered with several killer left hook, right cross combinations. The action was non-stop in the first third of the fight. It would only get better.
Round five was a tale of two rounds. Early in the round, Morales hurt Barrera with several sharp right hands. Then midway through the round, Barrera hurt Morales with a right hand of his own and took his turn in battering him back. The following round saw both men, seemingly tired from the previous rounds, attempted to gather their bearings. That was a brief respite, as the war was back on the following round. Rounds seven through ten saw both men land several head snapping punches as the frenzied pace was back on. Back and forth, both men gave it their all. When round 10 ended, my father wrote in big bold letters, “INCREDIBLE!”
Morales looked severely fatigued in the 11th and 12th as Barrera walked him down and landed several crushing shots to both the head and body. Late in the 12th, Barrera knocked down Morales after landing three consecutive shots to the chin. Morales got up and made it to the final bell. Morales won a controversial split decision. When the decision was announced, my father wrote in his pad, once again in big bold letters, “BULLSHIT!”
Morales and Barrera would fight each other in two more classic battles, with Barrera winning both. They also would both continue to have legendary careers with monumental upsets. Barrera would give undefeated Naseem Hamed his first and only loss. Morales would be the only man to defeat the iconic Manny Pacquiao in a 13-year run where Pacquiao dominated the sport. Morales would retire at 36 and Barrera at 37. Both men were a credit to the sport and are doing well both financially and physically.
Referee Mitch Halpern did a wonderful job refereeing this fight, as well as many other great fights in this era. Some of the famous fights he refereed were Evander Holyfield vs. Mike Tyson I and Holyfield vs Lennox Lewis II. Six months after refereeing the Morales-Barrera war, he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. Halpern was only 33 years old at the time of his death.
This would be the last classic fight my father and I would see together. On July 30, 2000, my father succumbed after a one year battle with throat cancer at the age of 52. I owe my love of sports, especially boxing, to my father. His dream was for me to one day to be a sportswriter. Thanks to Fight Game Media, that dream of his was somewhat fulfilled.