Thrice As Nice: Pacquiao-Morales

To mark the third fight in the rivalry between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez on Saturday, every day this week ESPN.com will look back on another memorable boxing trilogy. There have been many in the sport's history, of course, and we don't claim that the five we will review are necessarily the greatest. (If you want one man's version of the best, here is a top-10 list from 2006.) But each of the selected three-bout series has some particular relevance to the Pacquiao-Marquez trilogy that makes it worth celebrating.

Manny Pacquiao versus Erik Morales
March 19, 2005: MGM Grand, Las Vegas
Jan. 21, 2006: Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas
Nov. 18, 2006: Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas

To close the week of trilogies, what better way to finish than to examine Pacquiao's previous defining three-fight set, against Juan Manuel Marquez's countryman Erik Morales? These were the fights that launched Pacquiao on his ever-upward trajectory, and also appeared to take the last remaining strength out of Morales' body and legs -- although incredibly, his recent ring return suggests that there is life yet in "El Terrible."

Their first meeting was Pacquiao's first at 130 pounds after he had campaigned most recently at featherweight; in his three previous fights, he had annihilated Marco Antonio Barrera, engaged in the thrilling draw with Marquez and then defeated Fahsan 3K Battery. Morales had most recently lost the third and deciding encounter with hated rival Barrera, and there was a sense that this might be too much, too soon for the Mexican warrior after such a grueling contest.

But although Pacquiao, as was and is his wont, launched a fierce attack in the early going, Morales -- as was and is his wont -- stood his ground, countering with sharp straight lefts and rights that drove his assailant back. Soon, Morales' straight punches were taking the sting out of the wilder Pacquiao and putting the Mexican in command. When Pacquiao was cut over the eye by a clash of heads (although referee Joe Cortez ruled the cause was a punch), Pacquiao began to panic, and trainer Freddie Roach beseeched him in the corner to calm down and focus. The Filipino stepped up his attack over the next several rounds, but Morales again was able to impose himself on the contest, and with one round to go was leading by three points on all three scorecards.

Confident of victory, his corner instructed him not to do anything foolish in the final frame. So Morales promptly stood in front of his foe, turned southpaw and slugged away. Why? "Did you enjoy it? That's why," he said afterward. The decision lost him the round, but earned him plenty of appreciation on his way to winning the fight.

Pacquiao was devastated by the defeat, and Roach resolved to improve his fighter's arsenal and technique, and to further develop a right hand to complement his fighter's deadly left. But the first few rounds of the rematch unfolded much the same as had those in the first fight until, around the sixth, the pattern suddenly shifted. Pacquiao deployed more lateral movement and different angles, and Morales, who had struggled to make weight, suddenly looked weary. Pacquiao stepped up his assault before knocking down Morales twice at the end of Round 10 and taking the stoppage win.

The final fight was a blowout, with a much more versatile Pacquiao attacking from all angles, dropping Morales once in the second and twice in the third -- the final knockdown prompting a look of resignation from Morales toward his father/trainer, as if to say "Enough is enough."

"It wasn't my night," Morales said afterward. "It just wasn't meant to be."

HBO commentators Jim Lampley and Emanuel Steward articulated perfectly the significance of the changing of the guard that had just taken place.

"Erik Morales was overwhelmed," Lampley declared. "Manny Pacquiao goes to another level."

Pacquiao, said Steward, was "a new superstar."

The rest is history. On Saturday night, Juan Manuel Marquez will look to stop that history in its tracks.

Thursday: Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward
Wednesday: Marco Antonio Barrera-Erik Morales
Tuesday: Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier
Monday: Muhammad Ali-Ken Norton

Kieran Mulvaney covers boxing for ESPN.com and Reuters.