By: James Blears 

It’ll be more than third time lucky for either Marco Antonio Barrera or Erik Morales when they meet in a Las Vegas ring for the final competitive time this Saturday.

By now the Mexican duo are all too familiar with each other, having swopped hundreds of spite laden punches for 24 rounds. But what will be the decisive factor this time?

In their first encounter on February 19th 2000, Marco had an edge because making the 122 pound super bantamweight limit was a piece of cake for him, while it was sheer physical agony for the taller and more lanky Erik, who never attempted this category limit ever again.

Although it was a veritable slugfest, but many would agree that Marco’s punches carried just that little more zip and pep. Erik’s face, which often tends to swell up quite alarmingly around the eyes during long fights, bore testament to this. Yet the judges awarded the then undefeated Erik the decision.

Their second encounter on June 22nd 2002 did not possess the same raw aggressive, throw all including the kitchen sink intensity. It was more technical and had all the right moves.

Erik had Marco down, but it was ruled a slip.

What is evident is that Erik was a lot more comfortable at the featherweight limit and more than held his own in the strength and stamina department. But it was Marco who this time courted controversy with the decision- the one and only blemish on Erik’s record.

Erik has since won and defended a world title at the even higher super featherweight category. While Marco has never fought this high, and readily admits he’s dipping his knuckles into hitherto unknown depths.

Weight is the first and probably the most important factor. Erik is five feet eight inches tall and has a 72 inch reach. While Marco barely scrapes five feet six inches tall and his reach is two inches shorter. With extra poundage Erik should be able to make these physical advantages count more than ever before.

Now we come to track record.

Erik’s only defeat, and it was hotly disputed…was to Marco. He’s never been stopped or suffered a real one sided mauling. While Marco of course has.

Junior Jones gave him a five round boxing lesson, before Team Barrera intervened to earn a disqualification. Jones then pounded out a unanimous decision against him.

This was Marco’s opportunity and necessity to take time off, re-invent himself and return to new triumphs.

The loss against Morales isn’t anywhere near as significant as the terrible savaging that Manny Pacquiao put him through. Defeating an overblown Paulie Ayala, certainly doesn’t answer many questions. So has Marco recovered from that one sided lacing?

Erik also comes out ahead in the mutual dislike league. He’s made little secret of the fact that he would have much preferred to fight Manny Pacquiao rather than Marco again. And the sting of a press conference right hander which Marco planted on his face, prior to fight two, has never gone away.

Marco has tried to make peace several times, but all attempts at a truce have been spurned by Erik, who’s repeatedly stated for the record that he just never wants to be friends.

Erik continues to use his dislike of his countryman to fuel and re-double his efforts.

He’s spent more than two months of monastic existence at the Otomi High Altitude Center and can often be seen cracking wicked shots to the body belted, well protected ribcage of veteran US trainer Al Stankie. A mention of Marco always tends to increase the bile and venom level during working hours. And Erik has vowed that this final fight won’t go the distance.

But it could be argued that Marco comes out ahead in the motivation stakes. If he looses this one, he’s got nowhere left to go professionally, and purse strings would be tightened against him if he was the looser. He’s already thirty years old, with a fourteen year career behind him. Erik is two years younger.

But fighting Erik, brings the very best out in Marco. Meeting Erik head on, simply inspires him and he draws more deeply into a well of stamina, determination, will to win and pride than against anyone else. It’s more than just another title fight. Remember these guys are both Mexican, and both are determined to hold their heads up high.

Marco is not predicting a KO win, but he’s visibly confident he’ll be able to pull of a hard fought points win against Erik and take any opportunity to go one better, along the way. This self belief is driving him to great things in training at Big Bear high on the roof of California, and Marco’s self belief is a very potent weapon.

The more weighty factual arguments come down on Erik’s side, but Marco who’s more extrovert and demonstrative appears to want it and need it more badly. Boxing is a blend of styles and these two Mexican spitfires are made for each other.

Both will go for broke, but after it’s all over, will they finally be friends and will either ever be as great in the ring again?