Eric Raskin

Morales-Barrera IV makes more sense than mismatches

You can’t talk about Marco Antonio Barrera’s career without talking about Erik Morales, and you can’t talk about Morales’ career without talking about Barrera. Like a less-congenial, less-sexually ambiguous Bert and Ernie, their names are inextricably linked.

In light of that, it seems downright peculiar that, with both future Hall of Famers still boxing in their mid 30s and having bouts scheduled a week apart in December, neither name seems to come up when future plans for the other are discussed.

Barrera is fighting Dec. 11 against an opponent to be named (someone non-threatening on paper, presumably) and the stated plan for 2011 is to move him into an alphabet title fight against either Humberto Soto (if he gets past Urbano Antillon this Saturday) or Miguel Vazquez.

Morales is scheduled to take on capable veteran Jorge Barrios on Dec. 18, and if “El Terrible” wins, there’s chatter about trying to match him with Juan Manuel Marquez in the only pairing among the Barrera-Morales-Marquez-Manny Pacquiao group that we never saw.

Marquez-Morales would have been a fantastic fight five years ago. But now it pits a Top Four pound-for-pounder and the best lightweight in the world against a 34-year-old who was faded enough at age 30 that he couldn’t get past David Diaz. It’s not so different from the WBC forcing Kostya Tszyu to beat up the remains of Julio Cesar Chavez a decade ago.

After the Barrera-Morales trilogy ended with 2004’s Fight of the Year, a fourth chapter didn’t seem necessary. But if the alternative is a sickening mismatch like Marquez vs. Morales, then I say the time has come for Barrera-Morales IV. If the bitter Mexican rivals insist on continuing to fight, then the only option that’s marketable, lucrative and humane is for them to fight each other.

“In terms of making the most money for one fight, that would be the wisest fight to make,” agreed two-division former champ Paulie Ayala, who fought both Morales and Barrera before retiring in 2004. “They’re not the same fighters they used to be, but because of the chemistry and their styles, they’re always going to complement one another. I think it would be entertaining. You have two big-name fighters giving it all they got one last time, and then hopefully that would be their last hurrah.”

On March 14, 2009, we got a sense of what the alternative looks like when Barrera took on the bigger, younger, stronger, faster Amir Khan, bled all over the place and lost a shutout five-round technical decision. Do we really want to see these living legends take poundings from guys who turned pro around the time of Barrera-Morales III? Especially when the paychecks for taking those poundings are smaller than what they’d get for renewing their rivalry?

Recently, things have gone well for Morales because he has kept his opposition at the right level. Following a retirement that lasted 31 months, the Tijuana native defeated journeyman types Jose Alfaro and Willie Limond. Barrios should provide a stiffer test.

But what’s scary are the names Team Morales is talking about fighting after that. There’s Marquez. And for the true sadists there’s Pacquiao, as it appears Morales’ father, Jose, wasn’t satisfied with the way Pacman obliterated his son in three rounds back in ’06.

“If they cannot find Manny Pacquiao an opponent, here is Erik Morales,” the fighter’s dad told the assembled press during the promotion for the Barrios fight. “I see Pacquiao as being exactly the same (as in 2006) and Erik is becoming more mature and versatile as a boxer every day.”

(And the winner for most ludicrous quote of 2010 not uttered by Leonard Ellerbe is … )

The younger Morales’ statements were a little more reasonable, as he discussed the timeline for his comeback.

“I asked for a year to work with good fighters, but not the best,” El Terrible said. “Next year, 2011, we are going to go after the best.”

It’s unfortunate that he means the best fighters, such as Marquez and Pacquiao, rather than the best fights for him, such as Barrera.

“If Morales and Barrera are both fighting, then I would like to see them fight each other,” said veteran boxing publicist John Beyrooty, who worked with Barrera through much of the three-division titlist’s early career. “I’m not going to tell somebody not to fight if they want to fight. You can’t tell fighters to quit. If you tell me not to go down the street because there’s riots and fires going on, I’ll probably go drive down the street just because you told me not to.

“But I don’t believe Barrera and Morales should risk losing to someone else when the big fight is sitting out there. My opinion is that you don’t mess around. Just cut to the chase. These guys are both big names already; you’re not going to build them up any more than they are.”

All that said, there is one reason for fans not to want to see Barrera-Morales IV: Because if the fight isn’t any good, it detracts slightly from the brilliance of their rivalry. We saw that earlier this year with the fourth fight between Rafael Marquez and Israel Vazquez.

However, as best we can tell, Barrera and Morales are still on comparable levels; neither one appears significantly more deteriorated than the other. So a one-sided rout doesn’t seem to be a realistic concern for fans.

If there is in fact someone who could have logical reservations about this fight being made, it’s the 36-year-old Barrera. As it stands now, he owns the edge in the rivalry, two fights to one. In a fourth fight, he risks losing those bragging rights.

But Ayala understands how fighters think and doesn’t believe such reluctance should be passing through Barrera’s mind.

“If you beat him twice, why would you not be able to beat him a third time?” Ayala said. “I don’t see why Barrera would even consider thinking that Morales could beat him. If he thought that, he wouldn’t be fighting at all – or he shouldn’t be, at least.”

Perhaps that’s all the insight that’s needed to explain why Barrera and Morales have their sights set on world-class fighters other than each other. If they’re fighting at all, it’s only because they believe they can still be great.

As objective observers, however, we can see that they aren’t pound-for-pound material anymore. Neither man is what you’d call “shot.” Both have something left. Both can still beat the fringe contenders in and around the lightweight division. But neither can be even remotely competitive against a Marquez or a Pacquiao or a Khan.

Marquez-Morales might be marketable, but it’s a mismatch. Barrera-Morales IV is more marketable and, most likely, would be magnificent. If both men win their December fights, it’s clear what should happen next – for Barrera’s sake, for Morales’ sake and for boxing fans’ sake.

Barrera-Morales IV isn’t necessarily one of those fights that you’d say boxing needs. It’s just that everything else being discussed for these brave warriors is precisely what boxing doesn’t need.

RASKIN’S RANTS

• Ayala fans will be happy to know he’s keeping busy in his post-boxing life. He’s been running a gym in Fort Worth, Texas, since shortly after retiring. He works in real estate. And he has a promotional company, Paulie Ayala Productions, that has put on three fight cards in Texas in the past year, with plans to stage four shows in 2011. And Ayala sounds perfectly on point mentally. With all the sad tales of fighters who go broke and/or don’t know when to quit, Ayala is one name to throw out there to suggest not every ending in the fight game is of the unhappy variety.

• Remember when Juan Manuel Marquez was a cautious boxer/counterpuncher? Now the Fight of the Year just might start with “Juan Manuel Marquez KO 9” for the second consecutive year.

• The number of the week is 9,448.82. That’s how many dollars and cents HBO spent for each second of the Andre Berto-Freddy Hernandez fight.

• That snide little comment out of the way, HBO deserves credit for a strong card overall, a tripleheader that offered a little bit of everything. You had a Fight of the Year candidate, a fun and mercifully quick (for those on the east coast, anyway) knockout and probably the Upset of the Year. Many writers were quick to shred the two undercard bouts, but it turned out we (along with the oddsmakers) were half wrong. If we’re going to criticize the way Berto-Hernandez turned out, we have to give credit for the way Jason Litzau-Celestino Caballero turned out.

• It’s been a good two weekends for those of us who compile year-end awards. We got clear front-runners for Fighter, Knockout and Upset of the Year, plus one additional decent candidate for Fight of the Year. And on top of that, we got to see old pictures of Andre Ward with what appeared to be the Velvet Jones haircut. I’m not sure what award that could be eligible for, but it ought to win something.

• Speaking of Ward, on the plus side, he showed he’s all fighter against Bika. On the minus side, after those filled-out-in-advance scorecards the judges turned in, I think his future Super Six opponents have every right to refuse to fight him in Oakland.

• I know it was cold in Helsinki, Finland on Saturday, but at a certain point, Arthur Abraham really should have taken his earmuffs off.

• In case you haven’t heard, the new Madison Square Garden will include “spectator bridges” that allow fans to look down on the action from directly overhead. Here’s hoping Carl Froch fights there, so fans can be high enough not to hear Rachel Cordingley but perched at the perfect angle for viewing her.

• In all seriousness, the most impressive thing about Froch’s performance against Abraham was how sharp his defensive radar was, as he repeatedly made punches miss by a fraction of an inch. Maybe people overrated Abraham a bit coming into the tournament, but they underrated Froch even more.

• In advertising the Showtime bantamweight tournament during a between-rounds break on Saturday, blow-by-blow man Gus Johnson said “Perez vs. Agbeko” and “Vic Darchinyan vs. Mares.” Anyone else have a sneaking suspicion that Johnson doesn’t know the first names of three of the four fighters in the tournament?

• I’ll make this week’s Ring Theory plug short and sweet: Our second-to-last episode of the year is coming on Thursday morning. Somehow, after more than 13 months of competition, “Quick Picks” is all tied up. Now it’s time for Holmes-Norton, Round 15.

Eric Raskin can be reached at RaskinBoxing@yahoo.com. You can read his articles each month in THE RING magazine and follow him on Twitter @EricRaskin.

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