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Twelve Years…Twelve Fights: Ranking a Boxing Rivalry

by Cliff Rold

It seemed, when signed, an unnecessary epilogue for an era already closed.  As it played out in the ring, the only place of import, Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez III turned out to be another vital chapter in this age’s enduring fistic saga.

It’s been twelve years since Marco Antonio Barrera, largely written off for having committed the grave sin of losing to the very talented Junior Jones, was slotted to make an undefeated Erik Morales look good.  Boxing has been treated to a dozen individual tales as part of a grisly whole.

Three years after the most recent piece of the story (Pacquiao-Marquez II in 2008), action resumed last Saturday.  Suddenly, more chapters appear ready for the authoring. 

They are the Fab Four of the internet age: Pacquiao, Marquez, Morales, and Barrera.  Three of them still hold titles.  One original match remains to be made.  A “Part IV” is being bandied about. 

On the former, the chance for the one original match, there is Morales-Marquez.  It is the only permutation never given form and it appeared to die earlier this year.  Morales-Marquez failed to be made and so Morales chose the younger Marcos Maidana.  Fans got a classic. 

Later in the year, the WBC found a way to make a 140 lb. belt available for Morales to win.  He did, stopping undefeated Pablo Cano and stealing the show on the undercard of Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz.

Marquez, despite a hotly debated loss to Pacquiao, remains the true Lightweight champion.  Morales, with a belt in tow, offers the chance at a crown in fourth weight class.  If “IV” is not the future, then perhaps fans can finally see the missing ingredient added to the recipe.

Call it chapter 13.

Of course, that would only be viable if Pacquiao-Marquez IV doesn’t happen.  It might.  Most would rather it not, having waited long enough for the showdown between Pacquiao and Mayweather.  Mayweather-Pacquiao is the way things should go.  

Time will tell if it occurs.

For now, it is enough to revel in the gift that keeps on giving.  It took the 1980s Fab Four of Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, and Roberto Duran a fabulous fifth, Wilfred Benitez, to get to 12 fights from 1979-89. 

It has taken this foursome from February 2000 to now and they may not be done yet.  Where does the newest entry rate against its eleven blood brothers?  Where do they all rate period?  Because lists and ranking are fun, here now the question at hand:

How should one rate the fights from good to best?  Here goes one humble shot.  

12) Manny Pacquiao UD12 Marco Antonio Barrera – 10/06/2007: The least of the bunch was perceived as coming too late for Barrera to have a chance to win.  Barrera’s camp issues prior to their first bout (a fire, the press brouhaha about Barrera’s previous cranial surgery) had always left some reasonable doubt about whether Pacquiao got his best shot.  By 2007, he didn’t have a best shot any more.  Barrera still had his pride.  He tried early to find a path to victory.  When it didn’t open, he insisted on getting to the final bell.  Pacquiao boxed him with quick combinations and patience to win ten rounds on two judges cards in a non-title affair.

11) Marco Antonio Barrera UD12 Erik Morales – 06/22/2002: The closing rounds had some intense action.  Barrera entered as the reigning lineal Featherweight king after his win over Naseem Hamed the previous year.  Morales had the WBC title.  Morales outboxed the suddenly more scientific Barrera for healthy stretches.  Referee Jay Nady blew a critical knockdown call when Morales appeared to drop Barrera with a body shot and did not get credit.  Debate raged about the rightful winner.  All the pieces were there for a classic; the fight just didn’t quite come together.  It was good but, for these two, merely a stop point between peaks of greatness.

10) Manny Pacquiao KO3 Erik Morales – 11/18/2006: This fight will forever be remembered for its finish.  Unable to hold off the streaking Pacquiao, overwhelmed by a torrent of offense, Morales sat on the floor and waited out the count.  It was reminiscent of the end of Aaron Pryor-Alexis Arguello II, sad nobility present in surrender.  While probably the least competitive of all the dozen contests, there was a breakneck pace to the action that distinguished it.  There were never any significant titles on the line in this trilogy but pride is heavier than any belt.

9) Manny Pacquiao MD12 Juan Manuel Marquez – 11/12/2011: The most recent entrant and, for those who scored the contest for Marquez, the most raw (this scribe did not, scoring 115-113 for Pacquiao.  However, having scored their first two contests for Marquez, sympathies abound).  It didn’t feature any knockdowns, but there was something marvelous in seeing how underrated Marquez’s chances had been, to see Pacquiao truly tested for the first time since the last time the two had shared a ring.  Pacquiao kept his WBO Welterweight belt but Marquez took the crowd.

8) Juan Manuel Marquez UD12 Marco Antonio Barrera – 03/17/2007: It’s funny to recall this fight being dismissed as coming with both men over the hill.  Marquez has proven otherwise.  Barrera made it a swan song among elite competition.  Referee Nady again played a role, denying Barrera a scored knockdown call and penalizing him for striking Marquez while he was down (which, to be fair, he did).  Marquez won by wide scores but the action in the ring was much closer.  Marquez won the WBC belt at 130 lbs. and, finally, bragging rights over his former Forum boxing rival.

7) Manny Pacquiao TKO11 Marco Antonio Barrera – 11/15/2003: This was the fight where these dozen really began.  Prior to Pacquiao-Barrera I, it was really just the Barrera/Morales story.  Pacquiao crashed the party, overcoming an awkward knockdown call in the first to drop Barrera in the third and begin a steady beating.  The speed of Pacquiao overwhelmed a Barrera who started blatantly fouling late, almost appearing to be looking for a disqualification.  His corner finally stopped the assault in the eleventh, Pacquiao the new Featherweight champion.  

6) Manny Pacquiao SD12 Juan Manuel Marquez – 03/15/2008: Marquez had Pacquiao right where he wanted him until a blind left put him on the deck in round three and all hell broke loose.  In a Fight of the Year runner-up, both men gave as good as they got.  The knockdown made the difference in the fight, Pacquiao winning by one point on one of the cards, three point separating them on each of the other two.  Pacquiao won a WBC belt at 130 lbs. and recognition as the lineal king of the class. 

5) Manny Pacquiao TKO10 Erik Morales – 01/21/2006: Morales, who had beaten Pacquiao the previous year, was coming off a loss to Zahir Raheem where he looked less than peak and less than interested.  It was not the case for Pacquiao.  For five rounds, he was doing it again, outboxing his man and building a narrow lead.  In round six, Pacquiao turned the tide with a vicious assault to the body and, from there, it was like watching great fighters primes passing each other simultaneously, one descending while another reached ascended.  The sight of Morales being stopped for the first time in round ten can still leave one awestruck.

4) Manny Pacquiao D12 Juan Manuel Marquez – 05/08/2004:   It’s okay to admit thinking it was over in the first.  The third knockdown, the one where Manny tagged him while he was down, looked like a finisher.  Referee Joe Cortez felt otherwise.  He got it right and this Fight of the Year runner-up took off.  Marquez found his legs by round three and there’s no question he won more rounds than Pacquiao from there.  The question is, always will be, how many?  Six wasn’t enough to win.  Seven wasn’t either, at least not with three knockdowns.  In the end, one judge did not credit Pacquiao with a 10-6 opener and that left it all even-steven at the end with each man favored by one of the other officials.  Pacquio remained the lineal Feather king and Marquez kept his WBA and IBF belts.  All these years later, the titles have changed and matters remain unsettled.

3) Erik Morales UD12 Manny Pacquiao – 03/19/2005: It was the socks…the shoes…the gloves.  After his only loss of the 2000s, Pacquiao fans had a lot of excuses for why their man lost.  There was only one reason: El Terrible.  Morales may have had a renaissance in 2011, but the man we’re watching now is only a shadow.  The real, prime Terrible made his last appearances in this rivalry and had his last peak performance here.  His jab kept Pacquiao off balance and, with the fight in the bag, Morales turned southpaw in the final round and gave up the points just to bang it out at the highest risk possible.  But for the all-time epic that was Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo I, this would have been the 2005 Fight of the Year. 

2) Erik Morales SD12 Marco Antonio Barrera – 02/19/2000: Morales came in with the WBC belt at 122 lbs., Barrera the WBO’s version.  The Ring Magazine and BWAA Fight of the Year ended with a scoring controversy and a betting legend.  Allegedly, a man at ringside who bet on Morales, moved by the performance of Barrera, refused to accept his winnings.  A late, badly ruled knockdown call by the late Mitch Halpern seemed to seal the deal for a Barrera who proved his best was yet to come, Jones be damned.  Round five was a time capsule for savagery.  The fight was fantastic then and, all these years later, its part in a larger tapestry makes it even more so.  It’s the boxing equivalent of opening night at Star Wars.

1) Marco Antonio Barrera MD12 Erik Morales – 11/27/2004: And this is its “Empire,” an almost perfect fight.  No scoring controversy.  No debated knockdown calls.  It was two warriors, no love lost between them, letting it rip for the WBC strap at 130 lbs..  Every bit of knowledge they had gained about each other was on display.  Barrera started fast but Morales closed on him and Barrera looked ready to go late.  Barrera rallied in the final round, the thrillogy ending with each man taking a turn banging the hell out of each other along the ropes.  It was the 2004 Ring Magazine and BWAA Fight of the Year. 

Some will agree with the placements.  Others won’t.  If it gets a good debate going, god bless.  These four have given boxing so much.  They’ll forgive the greed in our asking for more. 

Marquez-Morales or “IV?”  Let's say both.      

Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America.  He can be reached at [email protected]

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User Comments and Feedback (Register For Free To Comment) Comment by freudianslip on 11-17-2011

Best part about being a boxing fan in the 2000's. I remember being 10 when the first Barrera Morales fight happened and everyone talking about it for weeks. All four of them are amazing fighters, wish more fighters (Mayweather) had…

Comment by jjbj2 on 11-17-2011

[QUOTE=BattlingNelson;11438960]Thanks for this trip down memory lane. Some awesome fights these pairings has produced. Big question is if there's another fab four in the horizon? I wonder if Jake has a take?[/QUOTE] Maidana, Rios, Khan, and Berto/Ortiz? Or Maidana, Rios,…

Comment by BattlingNelson on 11-17-2011

Thanks for this trip down memory lane. Some awesome fights these pairings has produced. Big question is if there's another fab four in the horizon? I wonder if Jake has a take?

Comment by jjbj2 on 11-17-2011

Make Morales vs Marquez now. I really want to see it. Marquez can make a run for Morales' belt. And Morales can keep himself in shape. Morales doesn't belong anywhere weighing 180lbs. Also, Mayweather vs Pacquiao can be made. Holy…

Comment by Emon723 on 11-17-2011

For boxing fans sake, make Morales-Marquez and Pacquiao-Mayweather in 2012, get rid of Bob Arum trying to make money putting up match ups we dont wanna see.

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