11.29.04 – By Matthew Hurley: His defiant, unsportsmanlike reaction should not have been unexpected. Marco Antonio Barrera attempted to shake hands with Erik Morales after defeating him by a majority decision but Morales would have none of it. To the end, “El Terrible” would continue to hate his nemesis and everything he represents until the day he dies. Such is the divisive line that separates their stations in life. Put simply, Morales hates Barrera because he embodies everything Erik has never had.
There they were, their greatness as fighters already established, their rivalry distinguished in the win column by, perhaps, two or three rounds out of thirty-six – and still Erik seethed. It wasn’t a humbling experience for Erik that he lost the third match in their wonderful trilogy, it was a colossal kick in the balls and he simply could not accept it. He was supposed to win. In his heart, he felt he was fighting for the underprivileged of his country.
Barrera represented the elite, the franchised. Erik was the working class hero. Not only did he embody that ethic, he let it dictate his approach to his profession. He was a fighter. He would fight because that’s what street kids with nothing else in their lives do. Even if they have tremendous skills, it doesn’t matter. If you’re Erik Morales you fight with your heart on your sleeve and make easy matches difficult and difficult matches nearly impossible to win. Such was the case with Barrera. So convinced was he that he could knock Marco out that he negated every advantage he possessed and fell so far behind that despite a magnificent rally he came up just short.
Erik is all emotion. He denies his skill in favor of proving his toughness – his machismo. It endears him to his countrymen and boxing fans but it has contributed in holding him back in his development as a fighter.
Marco was all emotion at one point, but he learned to listen to his head instead of his heart after being defeated. He learned from defeat and became a more complete fighter and a purist’s delight. He understood that there were more facets in boxing than just being tough and unrelenting. He altered his game. He allowed for fault and learned from it. Against a hard head like Morales it was his ace in the hole.
Erik just didn’t get it. Had he boxed from the outset instead of allowing arrogance to dictate his style he may have won. Or the outcome may have been the same. It would be foolish to take anything away from Marco’s performance. But therein lies the difference between the two fighters. Barrera has matured both emotionally and professionally while Morales has remained the stubborn, surly punk who refuses to learn or listen. Sadly, not only will he never get another chance at Barrera, he will now forever be in his shadow. It’s a shadow he has been blanketed in and tormented by ever since their first fight.
Roy Jones Jr. encapsulated their personalities perfectly when he said, “After a loss Marco just walks off and says, “bad day”. He accepts it and moves on.” The implication being that Erik absorbs loss as a personal hurt and can’t get by it. Why else would he approach this fight with such flippancy? It was as if he simply felt Barrera was a spent force and he would knock him out easily. When it didn’t happen it was obvious that he was shocked. He truly believed this fight was a no-brainer. After six rounds, at the very least he won only the second round and the bout was almost impossibly out of reach.
It’s to his credit as a great fighter that he altered his style mid-fight and came back. That’s what great fighters do, but he should have done that right from the start. To underestimate a fighter like Marco Antonio Barrera is just tempting fate. Erik allowed ego to consume him and a poised and prepared Barrera was ready for him. It was Marco’s professionalism that won him the fight and the right to be called the better fighter of the two.
So, what now?
Erik is a Hall of Fame fighter but this loss may have destroyed him psychologically. To be revered in Mexico was his all consuming passion. He will never have it now. He will always be number two.
Had he only listened to his head instead of his heart things may have turned out differently. Had he only learned from the lessons his nemesis learned he might be number one. But Barrera was just a little bit smarter and ultimately a little bit better because of it. Erik will have to live with his folly for the rest of his life. He knows it. And that’s why he couldn’t shake hands with Marco after the fight. He couldn’t acknowledge the man who had finally ruined his hopes of being the number one hero in his country. He remains wrapped up tightly in an overwhelming ego and it won’t let him go.
In essence, if Marco Antonio Barrera had lost he could have dealt with it and carried on. Erik, a man consumed by his profession and his pride is now a lost soul. If you think that such postulating is just waxing poetic all you have to do is look into Erik’s bloodshot eyes after the fight. He seems lost, almost uncomprehending. He defines his very existence by winning and when he loses to the one man he despises, he embodies a person breaking apart from the inside out. His bruises on the outside are badges of honor, but it’s what lies beneath that has always left this tough, great fighter more vulnerable than he would ever care to admit.
Perhaps, just perhaps, he will learn from this defeat and carry on much like Marco did after he lost. But don’t ever expect him to admit to anything, it’s just not in him.