Robert Silva is back with his greatest super bantamweights in boxing history list.
“El Terrible” Erik Morales was the epitome of a cerebral assassin. At 5’8, Morales dwarfed practically every one of his opponents at 122 pounds. Fighting from the outside with a lethal jab and bone crushing power in both hands, Morales had a style similar to the Nicaraguan legend Alexis Argüello. Until his final fight at 122 pounds in his epic first encounter with his greatest rival, Marco Antonio Barrera, Morales was almost near invincible at 122 pounds. This ultimately resulted in Morales becoming the second greatest super bantamweight of all-time.
After winning his first 26 bouts, 20 of which were by knockout, the 21-year-old Mexican prodigy earned the WBC number one ranking at 122 pounds and a shot at the three-time reigning and fellow countryman Daniel Zaragoza on September 6, 1997. As I wrote in my earlier article on Zaragoza, this was the ultimate crossroads fight between an up-and-coming fighter versus an older, wily great. The fight not only showcased all of Morales’ sublime offensive skills, but it also proved the superior guts, chin and stamina he possessed before finally knocking out the crafty Zaragoza in the 11th round. The 122-pound torch had officially been passed.
After his title victory over Zaragoza, Morales breezed through his first three defenses of his WBC title before defending his title on September 12, 1998 against two-time conqueror of fellow countryman and rival Marco Antonio Barrera, Junior Jones. Jones was the first fighter who Morales didn’t tower over as both stood at 5’8. Jones was one of my personal favorite fighters and I really thought that he had a legit chance of upsetting the red hot “El Terrible.” My father was a huge fan of Jones as well but reminded me that Jones, who reminded us so much of Thomas Hearns in his fighting style, had stamina and chin issues that would work against him against the steely chinned and tireless champion. The first three rounds saw Jones fight Morales to a standstill. On two occasions, Jones landed crushing right crosses that bounced off Morales’ chin and didn’t move or hurt the champion at all. Then in the fourth round, Jones, already visibly exhausted, engaged Morales in a firefight that resulted in Jones being dropped once and after getting up from the knockdown, was battered unmercifully by Morales before referee Larry O’Connell stopped the fight with scant few seconds left in the fight. At 22, Morales had become scary great.
After another relatively easy three defenses, Morales faced the always tough, sturdy and energetic former bantamweight champion Wayne McCullough in October 22, 1999. The Irish challenger was a gritty brawler who also possessed a granite chin and endurance that rivaled the future Mexican icon. Morales fought a brilliant tactical fight by using his superior height and boxing skills to win a decisive unanimous decision.
Morales’ next fight would be the greatest fight ever to occur between two Mexican fighters. On February 19, 2000, Morales faced the aforementioned Barrera in a super bantamweight title unification fight as Barrera was the reigning WBO champion. I wrote extensively about this incredible fight in a previous article as it was, in my opinion, the eighth greatest fight in boxing history. Morales won a highly disputed split decision in which saw him get visibly tired late in the fight before getting knocked down in the 12th round for the first time in his career. After nine successful defenses of his super bantamweight crown, Morales decided it was time to move up in weight to featherweight.
For four years, Erik Morales dominated the 122-pound division in a manner only done once before. That individual will be revealed in my next and final article in this series. Morales showed incredible pose and skill throughout his reign beginning with his title win over Zaragoza. Even in his controversial win over Barrera in his final fight in the division, Morales proved his greatness by overcoming several dire situations in that fight.