By Thomas Gerbasi
Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales were never going to be Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward. Yes, they would engage in three classic battles that sit among the best trilogies ever seen in the squared circle, but there would be no respectful post-fight embraces, no photos in the hospital together, and no lasting friendship built out of war.
And that was fine. Gatti and Ward were the exception to the rule. For most, after 36 rounds in the ring, there is respect, but nothing close to affection. Even as recently as 2007, when I spoke to both (separately) about their rivalry, there were no signs that these Mexican warriors were about to share a beer together.
But as Larry Merchant always said, boxing is the theater of the unexpected, and there they were in Los Angeles last week, Barrera and Morales together again. And while FOX Deportes’ Benjamin Spencer was there to translate, he didn’t have to referee.
“It’s the same as I’ve always said,” said Barrera. “I’ve always told him (Morales), in me you have a friend. Obviously in those years we were young, we made a lot of mistakes, but that’s all in the past.”
“When we were young, we did what we had to do,” added Morales. “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. Now, since then, we’ve been able to come together. We’ve sat down with our wives, we’ve traveled together.”
“You still haven’t said, Yes, we’re gonna sit down and have that beer,’” interrupted Barrera, and the room erupted in laughter. So was it safe to say that when the two sat ringside to call last weekend’s Leo Santa Cruz-Rafael Rivera on FOX Deportes that a chair in between them wouldn’t be necessary?
“Things are gonna be calm, really normal,” said Barrera.
“I’m not guaranteeing anything,” quipped Morales.
The chemistry and timing between them are evident, and maybe that’s why they created such a beautiful ballet of violence from 2000 to 2004. Their bouts weren’t mindless brawls or matches punctuated by knockdowns and short bursts of action between the lulls. This was high-level boxing at its best, where even the exchanges were filled with equal amounts of technique, strategy and fury. And to anyone who saw the trilogy, it’s still so fresh that it’s hard to believe that their first fight was almost two decades ago.
“February 19th is going to be 19 years from the first fight,” said Barrera. “People still can’t believe that they’re seeing us together after those three incredible fights.”
And Barrera and Morales are still looking young at 45 and 42, respectively.
“We are young,” said Morales.
“Well, Erik is young,” interjects Barrera, who retired in 2011 and got his call to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2017. Morales made his last walk to the ring in 2012, and in 2018, he got his plaque in Canastota. For voters, it was two of the easiest calls for induction, but for fighters who get the nod that young, it isn’t always easy to know that they won’t hear that roar of the crowd anymore.
“Nowadays, I’m happy, but I do miss it,” said Tijuana’s Morales. As for Mexico City’s Barrera, he says, “I’m very happy with what I gave to the sport all those years and I’m happy now to analyze the sport for FOX and TV Azteca and still be connected to it.”
Morales enjoys being ringside in the analyst’s seat as well, and with both fighters having moved seamlessly from the ring to the mic, it was a natural for FOX to put them together, first for Santa Cruz-Rivera and next month for the Errol Spence-Mikey Garcia bout.
“I’ve been working with FOX a little bit longer, but it’s great that Marco is here,” said Morales. “We may see boxing a little different, but we hope that we can have it so that people can enjoy it and enjoy the broadcast.”
“It’s a sport of appreciating different opinions, and we may see the fights completely different,” added Barrera.
The two are so like-minded when it comes to the new gig, it’s hard to believe that they were such opposites when they engaged in the first of their three bouts in Las Vegas. At the time, Morales was unbeaten at 35-0, and while Barrera was 49-2 with 1 ND, many wondered if two losses to Junior Jones and a war with Kennedy McKinney had aged him before his time.
But that’s why they fight the fights, and for 12 grueling rounds, Barrera proved that he was far from done, and Morales showed the grit that was a hallmark of his style for years. That night, Morales left the ring with the split decision, but there were no losers in this one or in the next two, which saw Barrera emerge victorious by unanimous and majority decisions.
“We did it out of a love for the sport,” said Barrera. “We wanted to hear that applause at the end of the fight.”
“We also did it for the money,” added Morales.
“But the amount of money paid is very different now than it was back then,” Barrera continued.
It is, and maybe that added to the intensity of the fights, because they were star-making performances for both, not only at home in Mexico, but in the U.S.
“When you left your country, you wanted to pour your heart and soul into becoming a better person,” said Morales. “And the TV exposure you got, especially with HBO, you really wanted to give it more than anything.”
Over the next several years, Morales would engage in a trilogy of fights with Manny Pacquiao, while Barrera’s resume included high-profile meetings with Pacquiao, Naseem Hamed, Johnny Tapia, Juan Manuel Marquez and Amir Khan. But no matter what they achieved throughout their careers, everything always comes back to their trilogy. Together, the names Barrera and Morales are magic. And finally, they know it, and are willing to embrace it, and each other.
“People remember us because of our efforts, because of our careers, and because of our dedication to the sport,” said Morales. “But more importantly because of everything we gave in those three fights. We gave our all.”