March 19, 2005, W 12 Manny Pacquiao I – MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Nevada
This fight is at the top of the list because it personified every aspect of Morales’ legend. First, he produced a terrific action-packed scrap against a top-shelf opponent and emerged victorious. Second, he overcame doubts by fans, media and bettors in a crowd-pleasing manner. Third, he used his considerable boxing acumen to execute a specific fight plan against a difficult style. Finally, he stepped up to a challenge even when it appeared to some as too dangerous.
After Juan Manuel Marquez rejected a $750,000 offer for an immediate rematch with Pacquiao following their thrilling draw, Morales sought – and got – the date just four months after his demanding, but losing, third fight with Barrera. Morales was a 9-to-5 underdog based on the “triangle theory” – since Pacquiao destroyed Barrera and Barrera had beaten Morales twice, Pacquiao should be favored. But in Morales’ mind, the “reverse triangle” was true – by beating Pacquiao, who convincingly beat Barrera, Morales would gain bragging rights over Barrera.
Pacquiao attempted to steamroll Morales in the first with his patented rush but the bigger, stronger Morales fought him off with an even more vigorous assault. Morales’ fight plan crystallized in rounds two through four: Slowing the pace, keeping Pacquiao at arm’s length, drilling him with long punches as Pacquiao waded in and answering every attack instantly.
An accidental butt opened a jagged cut over Pacquiao’s right eye midway through the fifth and the flustered Filipino struggled to regain his bearings. Told to back his man up by Freddie Roach, Pacquiao did just that in the seventh through ninth to claw his way back into the fight. In the 10th Morales seized back control as three sizzling rights wobbled the “Pac Man” while his sharp jabs wreaked further havoc on Pacquiao’s eye.
Morales’ trainer/father Jose told his son to “please don’t be overconfident,” and “be careful” before the final round, but “El Terrible” had different ideas. With 1:50 remaining Morales suddenly shifted into a left-handed stance and brawled with the desperate Pacquiao, who gleefully landed several overhand lefts. That didn’t matter to Morales, who surely heard the full-throated cheers his gamble engendered. Despite losing the round he captivated the crowd – and captured the scorecards.
All three judges saw Morales ahead 115-113. Since they all gave Pacquiao the 12th Morales had correctly assumed he had a big enough cushion to attempt his ploy.
In subsequent years, Roach said this fight was the jolt Pacquiao needed to up his game because Morales showed them just how far they had to go to reach the tip of the mountaintop. That he has, for Pacquiao hasn’t lost since.
As for Morales, Saturday’s fight with Garcia represents another summit to climb, for now he’s in the midst of a profound role-reversal. Where once he was the young buck chasing after the great champions, Morales is now the old man fighting off the fresh hungry studs. Through all the years, one aspect has remained constant: Win or lose Morales will always give it everything he has, both for himself and for those who grant him their unconditional love.
Photos / Chris Cozzone-Fightwireimages.com
Lee Groves can be e-mailed at email@example.com. Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, West Virginia. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won five writing awards, and an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc and the author of “Tales from the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics.” To order, please visit Amazon.com or e-mail the author to arrange for autographed copies.