February 19, 2000, W 12 Marco Antonio Barrera I – Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada, WBC/WBO super bantamweight title
Of all the Mexican vs. Mexican fights ever held, Morales-Barrera I ranks near the top in terms of intensity and action. Their rivalry was deep and multi-layered. Sociologically, Barrera experienced an upper middle-class upbringing in the suburbs of Mexico City while Morales survived the tough streets of Tijuana’s Zona Norte. Professionally, Morales had supplanted Barrera as Mexico’s top fighter after “El Terrible” destroyed two-time Barrera conqueror Junior Jones. And personally they detested each other; the two nearly came to blows six months earlier at a soccer match in Mexico.
Morales was as much as a 6-to-1 favorite but late Barrera money drove the odds down to a somewhat more reasonable 3-to-1. Barrera justified that late show of support by forcing a hard pace, tripling up his hooks and connecting on several jarring jab-cross-hooks to Morales’ face. Morales won the next three rounds by slowing the pace, keeping his distance and occasionally driving Barrera back with combinations. The fifth round was perhaps the best of the fight as Morales dominated the first two minutes with blistering combinations while Barrera came on frighteningly strong in the final 60 seconds. Barrera built on his newfound momentum in the sixth and seventh as the action picked up further steam.
The fighters took turns clubbing each other in the eighth, seizing the lead for short bursts while also inflicting ever-increasing punishment. Morales’ nose leaked blood and his face began to swell while a chopping right in the ninth opened a cut under Barrera’s left eye. The 10th and 11th rounds were nothing short of savage as each pushed the other toward previously unseen limits.
Barrera looked to be in the lead entering the final round and he seemed to cement matters when referee Mitch Halpern mistakenly called a knockdown against Morales in the final 30 seconds. But Morales came out a split decision winner, perhaps on the strength of his superior activity and leads in total connects (319-299) and landed power shots (290-272). Barrera, however, was the far more accurate fighter as he landed 48 percent of his overall punches and an impressive 53 percent of his hooks, uppercuts and crosses.
Though many could argue the decision, they agreed on the best solution – a rematch.