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Rivals Wage South-of-the-Border War

Boxing: Morales, Barrera bring traditional animosities into their featherweight championship bout.

June 22, 2002|PAUL GUTIERREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAS VEGAS — To fully comprehend the cultural implications of tonight's Marco Antonio Barrera-Erik Morales featherweight championship fight and to understand the severity of the insults hurled between the two Mexican fighters, you need more than a weekend crash course at your neighborhood Berlitz.

Living south of the border for an extended period may broaden your horizons enough to get a handle on the goings-on. So too might studying up in pre-conquest history.

The crib notes version: The fighters come from different, often rivalrous, regions of Mexico, spawning racial tensions. There is also a perceived class distinction, with Barrera coming from a middle-class upbringing in Mexico City and Morales coming from a poor area in Tijuana.

The enmity between the two goes back before they met in their first fight on Feb. 19, 2000, a hotly contested 122-pound bout in which Morales (41-0, 31 knockouts) was awarded a split decision.

Many have heard the story about Morales and Barrera getting into a shouting match while playing a pick-up soccer game many years ago at the Otomi training complex in the mountains above Mexico City.

But Morales' father, Jose, told a little-known tale of the two fighters getting into a heated exchange while they were sparring.

Barrera (54-3, 39 KO's), still angry about losing to Morales in their first meeting, will not take the belt should he win tonight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Morales is the reigning World Boxing Council 126-pound champion.

If Barrera does win, the WBC's two top-ranked contenders--currently Injin Chi and Juan Manuel Marquez--would meet for that organization's title.

Should Morales successfully defend his belt, Arum is looking to set up a bout for him with Paulie Ayala in the fall.

Barrera intimated he has to knock out Morales to get the win and gain undisputed respect.

"Fighting here in Las Vegas, this is Top Rank's house," Barrera said of the competing promotion's home base. "I've trained to box more but be more powerful because it's very hard for me to fight with my mouth. For me, it's easier to speak with my hands."

To take the fight, in which each will earn a guaranteed $1.5 million, Barrera insisted upon his name being listed first in the promotion and to choose the gloves used, luxuries usually afforded the champ.

"That's fine; he can have all of that. I have him in the ring," Morales said. "He couldn't take the fact that I was starting to get more famous than him, more well known.

"He couldn't believe that someone who wasn't from Mexico City was getting the attention that he was getting."

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With the controversy that arose after the last fight's split decision, a list of potential judges was presented to both camps for approval. Having crossed off names that neither side wanted, Mike Glienna of Illinois and Duane Ford and Chuck Giampa of Nevada were appointed. Morales' camp signed off on Ford despite him scoring the first fight, 114-113, in favor of Barrera.... Fighting on the televised undercard will be top prospect Miguel Cotto (9-0, seven KO's) of Caguas, Puerto Rico, and Justin Juuko (36-9-1, 26 KO's) of Las Vegas, who are meeting in a scheduled 10-round lightweight bout. Pedro Alcazar (25-0-1, 14 KO's) of Panama City, Panama, is facing Fernando Montiel (23-0-1, 17 KO's) for Alcazar's World Boxing Organization super flyweight title in a scheduled 12-rounder.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

*--* Tale of the Tape Facts and figures on tonight's featherweight championship bout in Las Vegas between Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera: Morales Barrera Tijuana Hometown Mexico City 25 Age 27 126 Weight 126 5-8 Height 5-7 72" Reach 70" 35" Chest (normal) 37" 37" Chest (expanded) 39" 12" Biceps 13" 10" Forearm 11" 29" Waist 28" 19 1/2" Thigh 18" 14" Calf 12 1/2" 15" Neck 15" 6 1/2" Wrist 6" 10" Fist 11"

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