Last night at Cowboys Stadium, Manny Pacquiao demolished Antonio Margarito, claiming a (pretty damn bogus, admittedly) junior middleweight title, the eighth weight class in which he has claimed either a lineal championship or a major trinket.
During Pacquiao's rise of the last two years, we have seen some incredible things. Though Pacquiao was already highly-regarded as the second-best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport by many (or best, once Floyd Mayweather Jr. retired one of those times), nobody saw this coming. It started with his shocking destruction of Oscar de la Hoya, continued with his two-round slaughter of Ricky Hatton, and wowed us even more in an obliteration of Miguel Cotto. Then in March of this year, the only reason he broke a sweat while shutting out Joshua Clottey is that he worked pretty hard trying to get Clottey to fight.
Pacquiao is beyond a first-ballot Hall of Famer at this point. Hell, he was a Hall of Famer before the fight with Oscar, when he held incredibly impressive wins over Marco Antonio Barrera (twice) and Erik Morales (twice), a tight win and a draw in two great fights with Juan Manuel Marquez, a knockout of Chatchai Sasakul (down at 112 pounds, which is now unimaginable for Manny), and strong wins over the likes of Lehlohonolo Ledwaba, Oscar Larios, Jorge Solis, Nedal Hussein, and others.
But Manny Pacquiao, lest we forget, has lost fights. He has lost fights because when you take risks, sometimes it happens, but also because he just wasn't the fighter he is today in his younger days. Much has been made of Freddie Roach taking a raw, one-handed power puncher and turning him into a great, well-rounded fighter with power in both hands and more ring smarts than he often gets credit for, but in my view, you can't appreciate the difference unless you go back and watch some footage of the younger Pacquiao plying his trade.
Tonight we're going to watch his last loss, which came in 2005 to Erik Morales. It was the first of their three fights, a brutal trilogy that put the Pacquiao of today into motion, and in the end contributed to Morales being the shell of his former self that we've seen since 2006.
Background and Pre-Fight Notes: March 19, 2005. Morales came in at 47-2 (34 KO), while Pacquiao was 39-2-2 (30 KO). Morales was coming in off of a loss to Marco Antonio Barrera, while Pacquiao had drawn Juan Manuel Marquez and defeated Fahsan 3K Battery in his last two.
This was Pacquiao's first fight at 130 pounds, and Morales had to strip naked to make the weight limit. Fight was held on HBO pay-per-view, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Also on the card that night was the great fight between Jorge Arce and Hussein Hussein, plus Martin Castillo-Eric Morel and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., one month after his 19th birthday. Referee was Joe Cortez, judges were Chuck Giampa, Paul Smith and Dave Moretti. Ring announcer was Michael Buffer. HBO commentators were Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant and Roy Jones Jr.
To say the atmosphere was high for the main event would be an understatement.
Round-by-round commentary for this classic fight after the jump.
Round 1: Morales shows respect for Pacquiao's left hand power early on, and Pacquiao is tentative to start too, stalking and jabbing. Morales throws a right hand to the body that misses, but Pacquiao lands a left. Morales with a right to the body, and then Pacquiao unloads with a flurry, but Morales charges back and unloads! Morales takes momentum by backing Pacquiao off with power shots. Stiff left from Pacquiao, but doesn't land clean. Morales fires back as Pacquiao comes at him. Good body work by Pacquiao, Morales hurt and leaning over, protecting his body. Morales turns it around and fires away again! What a first round. What a great round. Pacquiao 10-9
Round 2: Merchant, back when he still cared about the fights he was calling, notices that Morales counter-punched until he could get Pacquiao on the ropes in the first. Right hand from Morales as he takes the initiative. Pacquiao is so jerky, so flighty at this stage of his career. He hadn't developed the skills to stay in and play defenses, so he tended to flee when he would get in trouble. Not in a "dishonorable" way, that was just how he got things reset at this point, and then he'd try to go back on the offensive. Left hand by Pacquiao, both guys get told to watch their heads. The way they charge, it's inevitable that their heads clank a little. Morales drives Pacquiao back, and both throw to end the round. Morales with a couple good rights. Morales 10-9, 19-19
Round 3: Roach wants to see uppercuts behind the jab, and implores Manny to use his feet and not "stay in front of this guy." Roach's respect for Morales is very clear, to say the least. Morales working a jab, Pacquiao tries to fly in on him and has a bit of success. Lefts to the body by Pacquiao, and Morales hits him with a straight right between them. Another straight right drives Pacquiao back, and then there's a right from Pacquiao, and more lefts to the body. Pacquiao really smacking the body with hard blows. Morales moving around the ring, and then throws a nice flurry. Good left hand by Manny! Morales stuck in the corner, Manny throwing but not landing. Both guys land again, and the crowd comes alive. Morales takes a left, but then starts firing away. Very good tactical round from Morales, and he punctuates it with another straight right. Morales 10-9, Morales 29-28
Round 4: Roach wants the hook, which they'd been calling "Manila Ice." Roach: "Manny, don't take this guy lightly." It's been a long time since I've heard Freddie Roach sound concerned. It's almost foreign now. Morales pops him with an almost lazy counter left. Manny has slowed way down since the first two rounds, a feather in the cap of Morales. Morales makes a charge, Pacquiao retreats and doesn't let him connect. Then they re-set, and Pacquiao slams him with a left, and then Morales rips him back with a right, then backs him down again. The momentum of this fight, even when Manny's landing and doing well, is definitely in Morales' favor. Right hand by Morales sends Pacquiao into reset once again. Morales gets him to the ropes, but can't capitalize. Right hook to the body by Pacquiao, then a three-punch combo. Left hand by Manny. Very tight round, and I tip it just slightly to Morales for controlling the pace a bit more than did Manny. Morales 10-9, Morales 39-37
Round 5: Good uppercut by Morales early in the round, and he's got Manny Pacquiao out of his element now. Even Pacquiao's charges don't look like they did early in the fight. Great left hand by Pacquiao, then another charge. Not landing with those, as Morales has them well-scouted. Right hook to the body by Manny, who is now using his legs once again. Right to the body by Morales, then Manny eats a left hook, and another as they slam into each other at center ring! Morales landing harder, better blows. Pacquiao bleeding from over his right eye. Cortez calls time to look at the cut, and rules that it came from a punch. It really looked like it was a clash of heads. The doctor comes all the way into the ring, cleans the blood from Manny's eye, and continues to tend to him. These guys are over there having a conversation. Shootin' the shit, really. Odd scene, and the HBO team makes note of it. Hard right by Morales when they get back to action! Manny tentative with the cut, but just when I say that, he starts firing blows. Pacquiao with a flush right, but Morales takes it and comes right back at him. At this point, it's all Erik Morales. Morales 10-9, Morales 49-46
Between rounds, the HBO replay shows that the cut was indeed caused by a headbutt.
Round 6: Morales with a right to the body, then chops to the head with a right hand, too. Both men throwing wild, and that has favored Pacquiao the entire fight, and continues to favor the Filipino in the first minute of this round. Morales does not want to mix it up with a wild, fearless Manny, and he knows that. This fight may have been the smartest Morales ever fought, which as much as I love Erik Morales, ain't sayin' a lot. Dude didn't fight "smart" often. Pacquiao with a great flurry, landing to the body. Morales trying to time him, and lands three right hands. Now a big charge by Morales. Pacquiao takes it and comes back at him. Fast lead left hand by Manny. Body and head work from Manny. Right and left both miss from Erik. Good round from Manny, though Morales had his moments. Pacquiao 10-9, Morales 58-56
(Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Round 7: Throwing the same amount of jabs (161) through six, the land rate is dramatically different, with Morales outlanding Pacquiao 51-to-8. Pacquiao firing at him again, Morales backing down now. We're at the point where stamina starts to set in, and both guys have fought hard through six. Manny's power starting to set in, but Morales rocks him a bit with a hard right hand. This is now turning into a close war of attrition. Pacquiao with a great left, then a combination, all that following a hard right by Morales. It's now a battle at center ring. Morales with a body shot. BIG right by Morales shakes Pacquiao to the core, and Pacquiao just rips back at him moments later. Another good right by Morales. One to the body, and then a left hook to the body. Pacquiao with a left, but Manny lands one right back. Morales throwing hard, then Pacquiao makes a reckless charge. Right hand Morales, and they end the round warring again. Both guys putting on an offensive show, and a close round. Pacquiao 10-9, Morales 67-66
"Morales is an orchid that grew up in a ghetto. Pacquiao is an orchid that came out of a rice paddy. And they're as tough as weeds."
Round 8: Manny's body work still hard, still on point, and Morales still taking it well. BIG trade of shots, Morales possibly getting the slight better of it. Morales snapping off his left, but mostly waiting on Pacquiao again, looking for a good counter. Big rights by Morales. Good left by Pacquiao stings Morales, who drops his hands and gets on his bike. Right by Morales, left by Morales. Tough round, with everything starting to really take its toll. Morales 10-9, Morales 77-75
Round 9: Jab by Morales, Manny trying to hunt, and Morales giving him more stationary movement to look at. Merchant discusses the use of Winning gloves instead of Pacquiao's preferred Reyes gloves, saying Pacquiao's promoter was "snookered" into signing off on that. Manny starting to make a big charge, but Morales starts coming back. Vintage Morales, as Lampley puts it: "Erik Morales can't stand to be hurt." Morales keeps moving forward, but eating shots even when he's landing. Right and left from Pacquiao, bell sounds, and Morales looks a little shaky. Pacquiao 10-9, Morales 86-85
Round 10: Right to the body by Morales, who's trying to slow it down again. Right to the body by Manny. Left to the body by Pacquiao, and he's the one stalking and pressing again. Jab by Manny, starting to back Morales off, but "backed off" Morales usually starts fighting, and so Morales does! Morales wobbles him with a right and chases him around. Pacquiao with a hard right. Manny right back and they are just trading bombs. Pacquiao's mouthpiece flies out, and they just keep raining down punishment. Hard left by Pacquiao! Now Morales comes back and makes a big charge! Cortez finally finds a moment to replace Manny's mouthpiece. Morales squats down in the corner for a moment. Huge "Mexico" chant. Nasty right by Morales. Morales 10-9, Morales 96-94
At this point in his career, after round 10, Pacquiao was just 0-1-1. Today after 10 rounds, Pacquiao is 6-2-1 (2 KO).
Round 11: Both guys looking clearly fatigued. Hard right by Morales, now Manny pushes him off and lands a good jab, plus he catches Erik coming in a bit. Right hand by Morales, answered with a left from Pacquiao. Pacquiao throwing his hands. Morales now backs him to the ropes, where Manny straightens up and throws careless shots. Morales with a nice combination. Pacquiao landing as Morales comes at him, but he can't back him off. Morales relentless -- just won't stop throwing those long right hands. Pacquiao uncomfortable with Morales' pressure most of this round, but to his credit throwing plenty. Morales 10-9, Morales 106-103
Between rounds, Morales' corner begs him not to get overconfident. "The fight is in the bag," they say. They want Erik Morales to be careful. And I want to be 6'10" and playing in the NBA.
Round 12: Pacquiao trying to zero in with measured, powerful shots. He probably felt as though he needed the knockout, but he's not being reckless about it. And then, miraculously, amazingly, stupidly, bravely, psychotically -- Erik Morales switches southpaw. And they just start UNLOADING on one another! Pacquiao lands a massive left, and Morales lands big shots, and Pacquiao is right there landing huge blows. Like a lion spotting a gazelle, Pacquiao sees dinner with southpaw Morales. Pacquiao keeps unloading, Morales finally goes back to his orthodox stance, and then BACK SOUTHPAW when the 10-second notice sounds. What a fight, what a fight, what a fight. Pacquiao 10-9, Morales 115-113
Roy Jones Jr.: "That may be the best two fights back-to-back (Arce-Hussein, this) that I've ever seen."
Official Judges' Scores: 115-113 for Erik Morales across the board
The Settled Dust
This was a turning point in the Hall of Fame-bound careers of great rivals. When all is said and done, at this point it looks like both Manny Pacquiao and Erik Morales will retire with two amazing rivalries to their credit. They fought each other three times, of course, and Pacquiao also has Juan Manuel Marquez, while Morales had his bitter, hate-filled feud with Marco Antonio Barrera, which in some ways continues to this day, and may never really stop.
There was worry coming into this bout that Morales was fighting again too soon after a close, hard-fought, and brutal loss to Barrera the previous November. Pacquiao had built a reputation as the nastiest puncher in the featherweight division, in part because of his utter destruction of Barrera in November 2003, and the amazing power he showed early against Marquez. But Morales studied the Marquez tape, and in a lot of ways, he did his best JMM impression to face Pacquiao.
Late in the fight, Jim Lampley said that a win for Morales over Pacquiao could be, to Morales, a moral victory over Barrera. Maybe that was the case. Maybe Morales just wanted to prove he wasn't done as a top-level warrior. For one more night, Morales proved his standing as one of the best in boxing.
And it would be the last night for that, too. Six months after beating Pacquiao, Morales would be upset in a 12-round decision by Zahir Raheem. He would then lose his next two bouts, both to Pacquiao, both by stoppage. The first one came after 10 rounds mostly going in Pacquiao's favor. The third fight was a peaking (or so we thought) Manny Pacquiao wiping out a faded, beaten-down Morales in three. Morales again lost, this time to David Diaz at lightweight in a hell of a fight, and retired in August 2007.
It's boxing, though, so if you've been paying close attention this year, you know the retirement didn't last. In 2010, "El Terrible" came back, for better or worse.
As for Manny Pacquiao? Hell, you all know what he's done since losing this fight to Morales. HBO paired Morales and Pacquiao in separate fights on September 10, where Pacquiao waxed Hector Velazquez and Morales was stunned by Raheem. They still went with the rematch on January 21, 2006. Those fights were the beginning of what we have now: a dominant, phenom-like fighter on a 13-fight win streak (8 by stoppage) that includes wins over Morales (twice), Barrera (again), Hatton, de la Hoya, Clottey, Marquez, Cotto and Margarito. He won the lineal championships at 130 and 140, and has added major belts at 135, 147 and now 154.
Neither fighter was the same after this bout. Morales started sliding down the other side of the hill. Pacquiao, now a month shy of his 32nd birthday, might not even be all the way up yet.