Lee Groves

10: Greatest 122-pound title fights

2. Erik Morales W 12 Marco Antonio Barrera I – February 19, 2000, Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada

While all three fights between “The Baby Faced Assassin” and “El Terrible” were fantastic all-action fights, their first encounter took place when both men were closest to their respective primes. In terms of sustained fury, the opening act may have been the greatest of them all.

Morales was as much as a 6-to-1 favorite because of the “triangle theory”: Barrera had lost twice to Junior Jones while Morales destroyed Jones in four rounds. But the foundation for this most uncivil war was built on emotional, geographical and socioeconomic grounds. Morales had grown up dirt-poor in Tijuana’s Zona Norte while Barrera enjoyed an upper middle-class childhood in the Mexico City suburbs. Morales’ victory over Jones allowed him to supplant Barrera as the face of Mexican boxing and their prickliness around one another often resulted in fireworks. In fact, they nearly came to blows six months earlier at a soccer match in Mexico.

Barrera unleashed his pent-up fury by forcing a tremendous pace from the first bell, giving Morales no choice but to go toe-to-toe. Barrera won the first by tripling his hooks and crashing in jarring jab-cross-hook combinations to Morales’ face while “El Terrible” adjusted nicely in the next few rounds by slowing the pace, increasing the space between them and driving back his smaller rival with combinations. The fifth round was a magnificent display of Mexican machismo as they traded blistering combinations for all three minutes. The damage mounted with every succeeding round as Morales’ hawk-like nose bled in the eighth while a chopping right opened a slice under Barrera’s left eye in the ninth. The pace only escalated as they neared the finish line.

Barrera appeared ahead entering the final round, but then two controversies erupted. Referee Mitch Halpern, normally an excellent referee, mistakenly called a knockdown against Morales in the final 30 seconds. Second, Morales was declared the split decision winner in a fight most thought Barrera deserved to win. The sour aftertaste after such a majestic fight was the only reason why this fight doesn’t occupy the top spot. Even so, it was the only fight that could have supplanted the fight atop this list.

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