Erik Morales vs Marco Antonio Barrera I unfolded on February 19, 2000, with the two Mexican ring warriors summoning a fight for the ages.
The action for this unification bout inside the Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, ring was red hot as WBC super bantamweight champion Erik Morales (35-0, 28 KOs, 23-years-old at the time) faced off against WBO title holder Marco Antonio Barrera (49-2, 36 KOs, 26-years-old).
The event was billed as Campeon vs. Campeon, a fine title.
HBO broadcast the fight in America as part of their Boxing After Dark series.
In the UK, Sky Sports made one of their better decisions in deciding to acquire the rights to the bout. They made things even better by sending commentators Ian Darke and Glenn McCrory to Las Vegas to work at ringside.
For anyone who watched boxing on Sky Sports during that era, Darke and McCrory were an excellent commentary duo who were clearly comfortable working with one another. They complemented one another well while keeping their audience informed and engaged.
Without a UK boxer in the main event, it was fairly rare for Sky to send their commentary team to a venue on foreign shores, although it did happen for the biggest fights. These days it definitely wouldn’t happen.
On the night, Darke and McCrory were joined by Wayne McCullough, who had faced Morales in October of 1999. McCullough provided some additional comments from ringside during the broadcast.
I remember sitting up till after 4am to watch the fight live. It was a solid choice. As well as the fight turning out to be an absolute classic, Darke, McCrory and McCullough did such a good job conveying to the audience thousands of miles away just how privileged they were to be ringside for such a fantastic fight. The positive tone of the commentary enhanced my late night/early morning viewing.
Background To Erik Morales vs. Marco Antonio Barrera 1
Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera at the time had a serious dislike for one another.
Morales hailed from Tijuana, a rough part of Tijuana and was of indigenous heritage.
Barrera was from Mexico City, with Caucasian blood in his veins. Barrera was middle-class and highly educated. He could have practiced law had he chosen to.
It was said by promoter Bob Arum in the introduction to the rerun I watched on Sky Sports that Barrera looked down on Morales for being uneducated and working class. Arum also discussed the heritage and social status of both fighters. It seemed the rivalry had subtle hints of classism and racism to it.
Regardless of background, both boxers were excellent. Morales, who carried the moniker “El Terrible” to the ring, was undefeated and was making the ninth defence of his WBC 122-pound crown. Morales had wins over Daniel Zaragoza, Junior Jones, Angel Chacon, Juan Carlos Ramirez and Wayne McCullough.
Barrera, known as “The Baby-Faced Assassin” was entering his 52nd professional fight despite only being 26. To this point in his career, Barrera had only lost to one man, Junior Jones, twice.
Interestingly, Barrera was seen as being on the slide. There was also the opinion that since the Jones defeats, Barrera’s standard of opposition hadn’t been great.
Perhaps this contributed to Barrera being listed as a 5/1 underdog for Campeon vs. Campeon. Morales was the heavy favourite with the Las Vegas oddsmakers.
Barrera had won back the WBO portion of the title he lost to Jones, regaining it in 1998 by defeating Richie Wenton. The bout against Morales would be his fourth defence of the strap.
Sky Sports recently showed a rerun of the bout, complete with the Darke, McCrory and McCullough commentary soundtrack.
I should state that because I watched this fight live back in 2000, it quickly became my favourite fight. There’s something about experiencing a great event in real time that just elevates everything about it to a different level.
I was very much looking forward to watching the broadcast and hearing the UK commentary again.
Early Stages Of The Fight
Ring announcer Michael Buffer was on duty to announce the protagonists. We’ve met the fighters already. Buffer, well dressed in a classy tuxedo, introduced the referee, Mitch Halpern, and the three ringside judges – Carol Castellano, Duane Ford and Dalby Shirley.
After his customary “Let’s get ready to rumble,” Buffer exited and it was time for the fight to begin.
There was no feeling out session in this one as the bad feeling between the boxers manifested itself in an action-packed opening.
Barrera looked classy as he moved forward, his signature left hook to the body making some early dents in “El Terrible.” Morales, on the back foot, fought hard to stand his ground, resulting in a few furious exchanges between the two.
“Will strategy go out the window amid the Mexican machismo?” asked blow-by-blow commentator Ian Darke.
As the opening round ended Darke remarked, “This just might be something special if it carries on as it started.” He wasn’t wrong.
The second round featured more eye-catching body work from Barrera. He was mixing up his punches into clusters of hurtful combinations. Morales looked a bit shell-shocked and disorganised in this round. Again, Morales tried to fight Barrera off by frantically throwing as many punches as he could, often from on the ropes.
“Well how about this for a fight, Ian! This is how it’s done,” stated McCrory at the end of the round as the experienced fight analyst and former IBF cruiserweight champion realised something exceptional was brewing.
Round three saw Morales trying to work his way into the fight, but Barrera was serving up plenty of stinging body shots to keep the Tijuana man at bay. Morales did have some joy at the end of the round, getting the better of a furious exchange.
“Well, they said this was going to be a Hagler-Hearns. It’s certainly living up to that sort of hype,” McCrory remarked as the boxers returned to their corners at the end of the round.
Round four saw Morales beginning to have some success with his right hand, although a counter flurry of shots from Barrera had him backing up towards the ropes again. Towards the end of the session Morales landed some good-looking uppercuts.
Into The Middle Third Of Erik Morales vs Marco Antonio Barrera I
Round five might have been the best of the fight. It ebbed and flowed with violent intentions. Barrera had Morales on the ropes early after a good right landed. Once again Morales needed to expend plenty of energy to fight back from that disadvantageous position.
Morales got on the front foot in the second minute of the round. His jab came to the fore and he was able to find the target with his right hand on a couple of occasions which had Barrera backing off. In the final minute of the round Barrera fired back with some outstanding offense of his own. Great viewing.
“You just don’t get fights like this very often, they come round once in a lifetime sometimes,” McCrory said as the round concluded.
“It’s our privilege to be sitting at ringside watching it,” added Darke.
The sixth round was a quiet affair as both fighters took a well-earned breather. The tactical and slower-paced nature of the session seemed to suit Morales. He did the better work during the three minutes.
Round seven returned us to the rapid-fire action we had become accustomed to. Barrera started in a hurry, again forcing Morales onto the ropes. Morales needed to scramble some shots together to keep the Mexico City man from doing further damage.
As the round entered its final minute, Barrera was looking to detonate to the body again. Morales was employing survival mode, but throwing dangerous punches back at the hunting Barrera.
“This is a fight of almost frightening intensity and passion,” Darke said as the round closed out with yet another toe-to-toe exchange.
Another classic three-minute mini-fight unfolded in round eight. Barrera again looked to start fast with some tasty looking combinations, but Morales fired back.
His uppercut got him on the front foot but Barrera instantly answered with a right hand which opened up the defence of Morales, allowing “The Baby-Faced Assassin” to shoot a left hook which connected with Morales’ head.
“This is a firestorm of a fight,” exclaimed Darke as the round ended with a lengthy exchange, which saw Morales on the ropes for most of it.
“This is one of the greatest fights I’ve seen in a long time,” Wayne McCullough offered up. “The fifth round was unbelievable. These guys are digging deep. Barrera is winning the fight right now,” concluded the Belfast born boxer.
Bringing It Home
Round nine began in familiar fashion. Another Barrera left hook to the body sent Morales back to the ropes. Once more, Erik had to fight his way back from that position. Barrera then drew blood from the mouth of Morales with an accurate left. Morales fought back in another round full of back-and-forth action, opening a cut on Barrera’s left cheek.
The 7000 fans in attendance roared in approval as both men held the middle of the ring at the beginning of round ten. The pace was a little slower as neither boxer wanted to give an inch.
As it did in round six, the slight drop in intensity seemed to suit Morales. He timed two nice right hands with 1:20 remaining in the session. Instead of retreating, Barrera fired back and shook Morales with a left hook to the chin. Morales steadied his legs and closed the round strongly.
In the penultimate round, Morales was finding the target with his right hand. Barrera was looking tired; his defence vulnerable. Morales continued to hit the target with his right hand but Barrera reminded him that the fight was still on by peppering his body with some left hooks.
The final round began with Barrera exploding out of the blocks. His work was fast and sharp. This was the most aggressive Barrera had been in some time in the fight. Morales had to resort again to flurrying furiously in order to keep the older fighter at bay.
With 34 seconds remaining in the fight, Morales was forced to the canvas.
His knee and right glove touching down. Was it a punch or a shove? Did Morales slip? It didn’t matter as referee Halpern, who had had an easy night up to that point, ruled a knockdown. Morales shook his head in disbelief as Halpern was administering the mandatory eight count.
When the action resumed there were only 19 seconds remaining. Morales rushed forward, eager to correct what he saw as a wrongly judged knockdown. The leather was flying from the Tijuana man. Barrera was able to time the moments between punches to land some shots of his own.
There was time for one final exchange between the two warriors before the hammer hit the bell for the final time. The 36 minutes of action had passed by in a flash.
The crowd cheered wildly as both boxers were hoisted onto the shoulders of their trainers in their respective corners.
“What an absolute barnburner of a contest that was. Wow!” exclaimed Darke as the wait for the judges' scorecards to be totalled began.
“I think everybody that’s in attendance here tonight, me included, will remember this fight for as long as they live,” said McCrory.
The Result And The Reaction
Michael Buffer’s final duty of the evening was to announce the scorecards. He began by informing the arena and everyone watching around the world that we had a split decision.
Duane Ford’s 114-113 card in favour of Barrera was announced first, followed by Carol Castellano’s 114-113 for Morales.
Dalby Shirley’s card would decide the outcome. “Dalby Shirley scores the bout 115-112, for the winner and now unified super bantamweight champion……. From Tijuana, Mexico, El Terrible, Erik Morales,” Buffer roared into his microphone.
The crowd didn’t necessarily agree as booing could be heard from the stands.
“A lot of people are shaking their heads, including Lou DiBella, the boss of HBO, and there are boos around the arena,” Ian Darke informed the UK audience. “I have to say I think they’ve got that wrong,” he concluded.
McCrory mentioned that the close cards either way were ok but his final remark was to say that the 115-112 card in favour of Morales was“scandalous.”
The result may not have been to everyone’s liking but the bout itself had more than delivered. Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera had provided an incredible spectacle for boxing fans.
Before their careers were over, Morales and Barrera fought each other two more times. Both of those encounters were incredible too, but neither was able to match the intensity and skill of their original meeting on February 19, 2000.
Morales vs. Barrera 1 – Campeon vs. Campeon – remains my favourite fight.