Photo: Getty Images - Barrera vs Morales RivalryRivals. Enemies. Friends - sometimes fights go beyond boxing.
More important than life or death. That’s how the first fight between Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales was described just moments before the bell sounded, for what ultimately became the opening chapter of one of boxing’s most pulsating trilogies.
A rivalry that went further than the ring, Mexican national pride was at stake in this thrilling fight series that brought the best out of both men. The three intense bouts between Barrera and Morales stemmed from genuine hatred for one another and an unrelenting desire to get one over each other. But the contests also subsequently cemented each fighter’s legacy as Mexican heroes.
Barrera was well-known as the Mexico City fighter; hailing from an upper class away from any poverty and was afforded the opportunity to attend law school. In the squared-circle he was the shorter puncher who enjoyed intelligently mixing it up in close quarters.
Morales grew up on the rough streets of the Tijuana ghettos. ‘El Terrible’ was the taller fighter who adapted a more tactical approach between the ropes, using angles to mix up his aggressive attacks.
This collision was the result of two boxers from distinctly different backgrounds. The backdrop of a built-up class war with regional rivalry proved just how potent this conflict had become. They were never going to get along.
Some fights just mean more than others. These were three such encounters.
Barrera vs. Morales I (February 19th, 2000)
Photo: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images - The Barrera vs Morales rivalry begins
Both men entered their first meeting as super-bantamweight world champions. But belts didn’t matter. This was about more than titles.
Morales was dropped in the 12th round but recovered to reach the end of the fight. It was the working class street kid who had his hand raised somewhat controversially, winning a split decision in Las Vegas in what was later voted Fight of the Year.
Barrera vs. Morales II (June 22nd, 2002)
Photo: Laura Rauch/Associated Press - The Barrera vs Morales rivalry rematch
A press conference brawl between the pair reignited the tensions ahead of the rematch back in Sin City.
Redemption was gained as Barrera prevailed by unanimous decision; inflicting Morales’ first ever career defeat. The result was again brought into question. There had to be a third.
Barrera vs. Morales III (November 27th, 2004)
Photo: The Barrera vs Morales rivalry comes to an end
The score needed settling. Fans craved a rubber match as much as the two fighters desired another chance to trade blows. It was set and fittingly promoted as ‘Once And For All’.
Ring bravado meant neither man would give even an inch in what was another slugfest, even when Morales sustained a broken nose. The 11th stanza was voted Round of the Year after both men gave everything their bodies could physically withstand.
Barrera again triumphed, this time by majority decision. “I did this fight to show all boxing fans that this is what boxing is all about,” declared the winner in the aftermath.
HBO’s Jim Lampley encapsulated the contest’s finale perfectly upon the final bell sounding, stating: “What these two guys have given to the sport cannot be quantified.”
In spite of the savage nature of the three ring battles and lingering distaste that hung over each meeting, their endeavours over 36 rounds of hostilities forged a bond between the pair; ultimately leaving past contempt behind to thankfully become friends later in life.
Photo: Friendship after the Barrera vs Morales rivalry“It was a sporting rivalry that unfortunately got personal, but in the end, what people remember us for are those great fights that we gave to the sport,” outlined Morales, reminiscing on his legendary rivalry during retirement.
Their ring styles and upbringings were completely different; producing a contrasting clash deriving from personal malice. But they shared a single common factor: a strive for success at the expense of the other. Their turn-of-the-century rivalry widened divides in proud national followings. But, today, it brings fans together.
Boxing demands respect, it’s earned through battle; no matter how personal a rivalry gets. Initially fueled by their disdain for each other, Barrera and Morales ultimately gave the boxing world an unforgettable trilogy. Their rivalry went further than the ring, but time has healed the wounds and their connection has lasted beyond boxing.