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Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Thrice As Nice: Barrera-Morales

By Kieran Mulvaney
Special to ESPN.com

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.

Marco Antonio Barrera versus Erik Morales
Feb. 19, 2000: Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas
June 22, 2002: MGM Grand, Las Vegas
Nov. 27, 2004: MGM Grand, Las Vegas

Manny Pacquiao has yet to lose to Juan Manuel Marquez, securing a win and a draw -- and would have been 2-for-2 had one judge not incorrectly scored the first round of their first fight. But so close were both contests that ringside observers were divided over the victor, and plenty believe that Marquez deserved to win both. Similar scoring controversies further fueled the already heated rivalry between Mexicans Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales, a combination that produced a trilogy bookended by two classic fights.

Morales was the favorite entering their first contest, having wrested the WBC super bantamweight title from Daniel Zaragoza and defended it eight times, most recently in a barnburner against Wayne McCullough. Barrera, the WBO titlist, was unbeaten in three years, but his career had yet to regain the luster it had enjoyed before he dropped a pair of results to Junior Jones. But if Morales entertained any thoughts that he might be in for a relatively easy night, they would have been swiftly disabused by Barrera's early onslaught, seemingly racing into a lead over the first couple of rounds as he tore into his rival, who stood his ground and countered furiously.

The initiative swung back and forth, and then came a jaw-dropping fifth round in which the two warriors took turns pounding each other with a ferocity that would have felled lesser men. Even as their footwork inevitably slowed, the fighters continued to swap angry punches and force themselves to stay erect. In the 10th, a weary Barrera summoned the energy to nearly drop Morales, who responded by fighting Barrera off; at the very end of the final frame, Barrera did, finally, score a knockdown -- officially, anyway -- in the dying seconds of the final round, although Morales, who had been hurt just 15 seconds earlier, protested he had slipped.

At the conclusion, the two men had given and taken punishment almost equally. Still, although many observers gave the nod to Barrera, the split-decision victory was awarded to Morales, in what was voted the fight of the year.

The rematch, by contrast, was a mostly tactical and disappointing affair, with Barrera choosing to box and move for the first six rounds until Morales was able to drag him into a brawl over the second half of the contest. This time, the crowd judged Morales the victor, but the judges called it for Barrera. The crucial moment was an apparent knockdown of Barrera that referee Jay Nady called a slip, and which prevented a 10-9 Barrera round becoming a 10-8 Morales frame.

The third fight was close to the equal of the first. Barrera seized the initiative and the points lead over the first half of the bout and was seemingly on his way to a dominant win before Morales began to reel him in -- and, in the 11th, even had him in serious trouble. Morales won four of the last six rounds on two judges' scorecards, but it wasn't enough to prevent Barrera from taking the majority decision win on the night, and the 2-1 victory in their trilogy.

Tuesday: Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier
Monday: Muhammad Ali-Ken Norton

Kieran Mulvaney covers boxing for ESPN.com and Reuters.