15th Round: Forgotten Nights is a periodic column that takes a look back at fights that tend to get overlooked by the boxing community.
Long before Manny Pacquiao became a household name among casual boxing fans, he was a 130 lbs champion who was known to boxing fans as an action fighter but not worthy of the pound to pound talk yet. In Erik Morales, fan knew they were getting a true Mexican fighter who would engage with the volume punching Pacquaio. Morales was coming off a tough loss to Marco Antonio Barerra. It was the third installment in a brutal trilogy that saw Morales lose the last two fights. The majority decision loss was the Boxing Writers Association of America and Ring Magazine Fight of the Year.
Pacquaio was heading in the opposite direction. His star was starting to shine brighter in the boxing world’s eyes with an impressive win over Barerra and an action packed draw in his first fight with Juan Manuel Marquez.
Before the fight there would be controversy involving Pacquaio. Apparently his trainer, Murad Muhammad, had negotiated a deal allowing the Morales camp to choose the gloves for both fighters. Much to the chagin of Pacquiao and Freddie Roach, Morales chose a “soft” pair of gloves instead of the punchers glove the Pacquiao camp wanted.
And, in what will sound familiar, there was controversy centered around Pacquaio’s medical information. Controversial because he didn’t submit it. Pacquiao hadn’t had an exam within the 30 day window of the fight. He had last taken a physical in January of that year. Nevada Boxing Commission required Pacquiao to submit to a blood test and eye exam.
With gloves and medical records behind them, the two combatants met on March 19th, 2003 at MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Early on in the fight you could see Morales’ strategy take place. We weren’t seeing Morales the warrior as much as we were seeing Morales the boxer. He used his movement and size to back Pacquiao up in the first three rounds. The straight right hand was a weapon as the Mexican relied on counter punching, a strategy he borrow from Marquez.
That doesn’t mean Pacquiao didn’t have success of his own. Manny was able to land his left despite the fact that Marquez was trying to take it away. Plus, he found a home to Marquez’ body. It was obvious that Marquez was trying to prevent the early onslaught that bedeviled Barrera and Marquez but that opened other opportunities for Pacquiao.
The fifth round would prove to be one of the more important rounds of the fight. With the action turning up, Marquez would open a cut over Pacquiao’s right eye. Referee, Joe Cortez, clearly said the cut was opened by a punch. But, when HBO showed the replays, the cut was caused by an obvious head butt. Ironically enough, it was Morales’ corner who cautioned him about head butts, after the fourth round.
Perhaps sensing that the fight might be stopped, Pacquaio turned up the heat. He started keeping the fight in the middle of the ring where he had the speed advantage. But every time it seemed like Pacquiao was gaining traction, Morales responded wobbling the Pacman twice in the seventh.
Morales seemingly had all the advantages he sought before the fight. Soft gloves, a lead on the scorecard and the fight being drawn out to a decision. He felt like Pacquaio would get tired in the later rounds but that wasn’t the case. Manny hurt Morales in the ninth and even though HBO analyst Roy Jones Jr. had insisted that Pacquiao had looked tired since the fourth round, it was Morales who looked to be tiring.
But, Morales mustered up what proved to be the deciding round in the 11th. He landed power shot after power shot. He countered Pacquaio throughout the round, dominating the Filipino. Despite HBO ringside judge, Harold Lederman having the fight out of Pacquioa’s reach, that proved not be the case as all three judges scored the 115-113 for Morales.
They would go on to fight two more times with Pacquioa winning both stopping Morales in the 10th in the immediate rematch and knocking him out in the third in the final fight. Morales would find himself fading in the last two fights of both of his epic trilogies.
But on this night, Las Vegas was treated to one of the best the strip had seen.
Marcus “Mook” Washington is the host of Making The Cut. Follow Mook on Twitter: @mtcwithmook and IG: MTCWithMook