Coming up on the Top 5, here's #5 and #6...
*All record information comes courtesy of Boxing Records Archive.
5. Erik Morales
Overall Record (as of 2007): 48-6 (by KO: 34-2)
Decade Record (as of 2007): 12-6 (by KO: 6-2)
Notable Wins: Marco Antonio Barrera (2000 – SD), Kevin Kelley (2000 – TKO7), In-Jin Chi (2000 – UD), Paulie Ayala (2002 – UD), Jesus Chavez (2004 – UD), Carlos Hernandez (2004 – UD), Manny Pacquiao (2005 – UD)
Notable Losses: Marco Antonio Barrera (2002, 2004 – UD, MD), Zahir Raheem (2005 – UD), Manny Pacquiao (2006 (twice) – TKO10, KO3), David Diaz (2007 – UD)
Championships: Super Bantamweight (WBC, WBO), Featherweight (WBC), Super Featherweight (WBC, WBC International, IBF, IBA)
Erik Morales was one of the best, most well-rounded pugilists in boxing to hail from the storied breeding ground of great fighters, Mexico. Like many from the country, he was tenacious and more than ready for a brawl if any one was dare up for it. However, he was also a smart technician with substantial fighting experience and fought whichever style best suited the situation. This was perhaps best seen in 2000, when he first fought Marco Antonio Barrera. A brash fighter in his own right, the two squared off in a memorable all-out war that had Morales giving as good as he was got, with him winning the match in a controversial split decision. After successful outings against competitors of the likes of Kevin Kelley and In-Jin Chi, he would meet with Barrera again in a second vicious war. Barrera fought a better fight that time around and claimed the unanimous decision (also controversial), infuriating Morales and further solidifying their rivalry and his dislike of the “other” Mexican star.
After winning against solid opponents in Jesus Chavez and Carlos Hernandez, he went up against his nemesis once more in 2004. Like the other two fights, it was an back-and-forth conflict, but like the last time they met, Barrera got the best of him later in the fight and won via majority decision (not disputed this time around), closing out the most storied trilogy and rivalry of the decade and one of the best in boxing history. The end result did not sit well with Morales, who bitterly decided to get even by trying to defeat the man that had made short-work of his enemy the year before—Manny Pacquiao. The fighter was a young and very dangerous one, but he also possessed exploitable flaws, and it was through this that Morales had etched his victory on, beating the brawler in the subsequent year with skill and experience in a toughly fought match. As satisfying and commendable the win was, it would become his last to date.
A surprisingly listless showing against a game and tricky Zahir Raheem later that year preceded two consecutive rematches against Pacquiao in 2006. The first, at the beginning of the year, saw Morales against a more improved, more skillful opponent than previously, one who began to break way from a close first half and steadily beat the tired fighter to two knockdowns in the 10th and into a stoppage —the first time in his long career he that suffered such a loss. The second fight, at the end of the year, concluded far more quickly, as a trip to the canvas in the second and twice in the third delivered Morales yet another crushing loss. The image of him sitting out the ten count part in a daze of bewilderment and part in knowing acknowledgment led to him announcing his retirement after the fight, though it, however brief, and the moment itself were perhaps telling of something more concrete to come.
In August 2007, he returned to fight WBC Lightweight Champion David Diaz in an attempt to become the first Mexican to win titles in four different weight classes. This time around, he fought more like the Morales of old rather than an old Morales, as he took the fight to him and was ahead through the first half, before Diaz came back and won much of the rest. Though he lost by a slim unanimous decision, Morales appeared to have finally closed the book on his stellar career and retired for good after the bout. Even if he never steps in the ring again, his place here on this list is both guaranteed and deserved.
6. Manny Pacquiao
Overall Record (as of 2007): 45-3-2 (by KO: 35-2)
Decade Record (as of 2007): 18-1-2 (by KO: 16-0)
Notable Wins: Marco Antonio Barrera (2003, 2007 – TKO11, UD), Erik Morales (2006 (twice) – TKO10, KO3), Oscar Larios (2006 – UD), Jorge Solis (2007 - KO8)
Notable Losses: Erik Morales (2005 – UD)
Notable Draws: Juan Manuel Marquez (2004 – On points) (other draw, in 2001 against Agapito Sanchez, was a technical draw due to bad eye cut on Pacquiao after sixth round)
Championships: Super Bantamweight (WBC International, IBF, WBO), Featherweight (WBA, IBF), Super Featherweight (WBC International)
Not too many people knew of a young man by the name of “Manny Pacquiao” when he stepped into the ring with legend Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003. That certainly changed that November night, as he blasted and completely dominated the fighter with a sort of unrelenting frenzy that few have rarely seen (all this despite going down in the first moments of the fight), culminating in Barrera’s corner throwing in the towel in the penultimate round. Blinding speed, exceptional power and conditioning, and an insane level of endurance almost made Pacquiao seem like a perfect specimen of a boxer.
His brawling style, which ruled over his lacking, unpolished boxing skills, proved to be his Achille’s Heel when he fought featherweight titleholder Juan Manuel Marquez the year after. Despite Marquez going down three times in the first round, he would later control much of the rest of the match with effective counterpunching and superior skills, making him pay for his wild aggressiveness. The match, though, would end in a draw (arguably thanks to the first round, for Pacquiao). Though he made some improvements along the way, his next big fight would be against Barrera’s archrival and fellow Mexican legend, Erik Morales, in 2005. Though he fought slightly better than in the Marquez bout, he was still not very polished yet, with Morales commanding the fight and winning the unanimous decision.
Afterwards, his trainer, Freddie Roach, rebuilt Pacquiao with a better skill set, counterpunching, and more effective fighting tactics. This proved to be a pivotal move, as it truly brought him closer to becoming a more complete fighter (as opposed to just another one-dimensional brawler with potential). The rematch in January 2006 saw the two fighters go at it once more. Both alternated control in the first half of the bout, but Pacquiao began to dictate it from then on and commenced in picking him apart. After going down in the tenth round twice, the fight was called off as Morales could barely continue. A third bout would take place towards the end of the year with more disastrous results for the latter, as he was floored hard in the second and twice in the third, sitting out the ten-count after Pacquiao’s smothering, superior attack plan took too much of a toll on him, leading to a brief retirement soon after. A long-awaited rematch against Barrera would take place in 2007, one that proved to be a more difficult outing, as the veteran appeared fresher, better prepared, and more calculating, giving his past conqueror a much closer battle than 2003. Still, Pacquiao, too, was a different fighter, and managed to best him with a unanimous decision.
Pacquiao’s place on this list and many others was guaranteed after his dominating performances against Barrera and Morales (and his sole ability to claim that he knocked both out), as well as other top contenders. His weaving together of physicality and skills also contribute to his standing here. Yet, he ranks below the two men he defeated due to three factors: they fought more “name” opponents than he had this decade; both were approaching near the ends of their careers when they fought him (notably, Morales); and most importantly, he had yet to fight Juan Manuel Marquez again as of December 31, 2007. If it happened before then and he was victorious, he would perhaps be much higher…