Sunday, March 26, 2023  |


Who’s best: Barrera, Morales or Marquez?


Juan Manuel Marquez faces Juan Diaz on Saturday night in a rematch of their 2009 Fight of Year. The fight, as well as a stacked undercard, is on HBO pay-per-view.

LAS VEGAS — The original purpose of this blog post was to try to determine who accomplished the most among the great Mexican trio of Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez and Erik Morales.

After speaking to several experts who have followed the fighters’ careers, though, I arrived at a conclusion: Impossible task. In other words, it all depends on what criteria you use to make a determination.

“Ask 10 people about this and all 10 will have a different take on it,” said Eric Gomez, matchmaker at Golden Boy Promotions. Or, in the words of historian and writer Cliff Rold, who did rank the three, “Ask me in five minutes and I’ll give you a different order.”

The fighters’ resumes are quite similar. Consider:

  • Their careers are roughly parallel: Barrera turned pro in 1989, Morales in 1993 and Marquez in 1993.
  • Remarkably, all three of them have won six major titles in three weight classes.
  • They have won between 64 and 75 percent of fights against titleholders (Morales 15-5, 75 percent; Barrera 18-7, 72 percent; Marquez 9-4-1, 64 percent).
  • Barrera and Morales are both 2-4 against their counterparts among the trio plus Manny Pacquiao. Marquez is 1-1-1.
  • Barrera is 2-2 solely within the trio (not including Pacquiao), Morales 1-2 and Marquez 1-0. Morales and Marquez have never fought.
  • All three fell short against Pacquiao, going a collective 1-5-1 against the “Mexicutioner.” Barrera was 0-2, Morales 1-2 and Marquez 0-1-1.

There are also differences that set each apart. Here’s a look at their careers.


Barrera’s career was the most up-and-down of the three.

The Mexico City native, who turned pro at 15, was a 43-0 brawler with nine successful defenses of his junior featherweight title — including a classic victory over Kennedy McKinney — when he lost back-to-back fights to Junior Jones and then retired. That allowed him time to have a metal plate installed in his head to correct a vascular malformation.

Barrera (66-7, 43 knockouts) returned less than a year later and, reinventing himself as more of a boxer than a reckless warrior, re-emerged as a star by whipping then-unbeaten Naseem Hamed. He also initiated one of the greatest trilogies of all time, losing a split decision to Morales in 2000 but beating him in 2002 and 2004.

Barrera, apparently feeling the wear and tear of so many wars, seemed to be in decline when Pacquiao stopped him in 11 rounds in 2003. However, he rebounded again to outpoint Morales and win a title in the rubber match and make four successful defenses against solid opponents.

Barrera is 3-3 in his last six fights, the three losses — all convincing — coming against Marquez, Pacquiao and Amir Khan.

In the end, although he’s not quite finished, “The Baby-Faced Assassin” has had 73 fights — including the 25 against titleholders, one third of his total — over a thrilling 21-year career that will make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

So how does he compare to Morales and Marquez? Rold rates him the best of the three for a simple reason.

“Barrera faced as good a level of opposition as Morales but won two of their three fights, so he gets the nod,” said Rold, who believes Marquez’s accomplishments fall just short of his rivals.


Morales (49-6, 34 KOs) might have been the most reckless of three, which probably explains why he declined at a somewhat younger age than his counterparts. He was incredible for a solid 12 years, though.

The Tijuana star was 35-0, with victories over the likes of Daniel Zaragoza, Jones, Barrera and Kevin Kelley before Barrera handed him is first loss, a unanimous decision in their second fight.

Morales was hardly finished, though. He rebounded to win six consecutive fights before losing again to Barrera by yet another razor-thin decision.

Morales then recorded arguably his greatest victory, a close, but unanimous decision over a surging Pacquiao in 2005. The Filipino hasn’t lost since.

“He’s the only Mexican to beat Pacquiao. That’s big,” said publicist Ramiro Gonzalez of Golden Boy, who covered all three fighters as a sports writer.

Morales is 1-4 since he beat Pacquiao — including a brutal beating in his final fight against the Filipino — and is barely hanging on. However, his legacy is secure: He was one of the most-successful and exciting fighters of his era and will join Barrera in the Hall of Fame.

“I can see an argument for Morales,” Rold said. “He beat Pacquiao while Barrera was never competitive with (Pacquiao). And Morales beat Jones, although Jones had been stopped immediately before that (by McKinney).”

Ricardo Jimenez, a Top Rank publicist who also covered all three fighters for a newspaper, couldn’t chose between Morales and Barrera when asked who is No. 1 among the three.

He was fairly certain about one thing, though.

“Morales was the most-popular of all them because of the way he fought, hands down,” he said.


The figures mentioned in the bullet points above seem to demonstrate that Marquez’s accomplishments fall just short of his rivals. To reiterate, he has fought fewer titleholders and has a lower winning percentage against them.

The fact he has had fewer big fights isn’t really his fault, though. For whatever reason, he couldn’t get Barrera and Morales — or any other major star — to fight him until Barrera finally did in 2007.

Even Pacquiao had yet to become a true star when he and Marquez first met in 2004.

Marquez had further bad luck against Pacquiao, whose draw in their first fight and close decision in their second caused some observers to cry foul. Many believe that Marquez should’ve been awarded both decisions, which would’ve changed his legacy radically.

Finally, while he is probably the best technical boxer of the three, he also has the least-pleasing style for those who crave action. He’s a master counterpuncher.

Still, Marquez found stardom late in his career. Dominating and exciting victories over Barrera, Rocky Juarez, Joel Casamayor and Juan Diaz in the 2009 Fight of the Year have lifted him to the status of his rivals and made him a certain Hall of Famer.

Not even a one-sided loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in an ill-conceived, but lucrative fight will change that.

And Marquez, 36, does have at least one thing over Barrera and Morales: He remained a top-level fighter after they faded and can still enhance his legacy while they probably can’t.

Another victory over Diaz on Saturday would add to his resume. He talks of challenging the top fighters in the deep 140-pound division, which raises the possibility of Marquez becoming the first Mexican to win a title in a fourth weight division.

And his dream would be to get a third fight with Pacquiao. Imagine if that happens and he wins?

Marquez might yet pass his rivals.


The result of this project, more than anything else, was a reminder of how great all three of these fighters have been.

We can talk about who was better and why but it’s really just talk, “an interesting conversation,” as Gomez put it. The bottom line is this: Barrera, Morales and Marquez were precious gifts to fight fans who admire an unusual combination of skill and courage.

“I’m thankful that I grew up as a kid with the (Ray) Leonard foursome,” said Rold, referring to Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran. “Then, when I was older, I lived through a magnificent heavyweight era with (Evander) Holyfield, (Mike) Tyson and (Lennox) Lewis.

“And, when I was in college, I got to see a featherweight foursome,” he added, referring to Pacquiao, Barrera, Morales and Marquez. “I think they stack up with any group of the past.”

Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]