Monday, March 21, 2005 | 9:02 a.m.
Time and again, Erik Morales and Manny Pacquiao elicited deafening roars from the crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena with furious exchanges of cleanly landed punches.
In between those bursts of firepower, though, Morales put on a boxing clinic, exhibiting the tricky moves and polished craftsmanship that have carried him to multiple world championships in three weight classes.
That was the difference Saturday night as Morales scored a unanimous-decision victory against Pacquiao before 14,623 fans at the MGM, many of them left emotionally wrung-out by the end of the riveting 12-round super featherweight battle.
"I knew boxing (as opposed to brawling) would be the key because he was so fast," Morales (48-2) said afterward. "I was able to hit him with everything. He took a lot of punishment."
Judges Paul Smith, Dave Moretti and Chuck Giampa all scored the bout 115-113 for Morales, a Tijuana native who commands a rabid following, particularly among Mexican fight fans.
The Sun scored it 116-112 in favor of Morales.
"I thought I was controlling the fight pretty good," Morales said. "But sometimes I need to put a little flavor in my fights; that's why I started exchanging with him. I did it to make the people happy."
The victory gave Morales an extra degree of satisfaction as it came after a loss in his previous fight last November to Marco Antonio Barrera, the man with whom Morales will forever be inextricably linked. Morales and Barrera have fought a trilogy of nearly mythical status, with Barrera getting the better of it twice.
"Absolutely, I feel vindicated with the fans," Morales said. "I'll let the fans speak. If the fans say they want a fourth fight with Barrera, I'll do it."
Pacquiao (39-3-2), a wiry Filipino southpaw, acquitted himself well in the biggest fight of his life and provided plenty of thrills to the large contingent of fans who made the trip to Las Vegas from his homeland.
But he could not contend with the superior skills or size of Morales, who had an advantage in height (5-foot-8 to 5-6) and reach (72 inches to 67 inches).
"It was a close fight with a lot of close rounds," said Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer. "Morales landed the bigger punches and Pacquiao landed more combinations. Manny did not go to the body enough."
Blood was streaming down Pacquiao's face throughout the second half of the fight after he sustained a deep cut by his right eye in the fifth round. Right after the cut appeared, for an anxious moment, it looked as if the fight might be halted because of the injury.
"It was a head butt," Pacquiao said. "The doctor asked me if I wanted to continue. I couldn't see out of the eye, but I told the doctor I wanted to continue."
Morales firmly dictated the pace in the 10th and 11th rounds, staggering Pacquiao with his overhand right. One punch dislodged Pacquiao's mouthpiece. It was decorated with the colors of the Philippine flag.
Pacquiao had enough left in the 12th round to put together a big rally, landing repeated shots that appeared to make Morales woozy for at least a split-second.
"I was really surprised the way he took my best shots," Pacquiao said.
So were boxing bettors, who had "Pac Man" fever Saturday, driving the line on Pacquiao as high as minus-200 in the hours leading to the fight before it closed at minus-175. The opening odds in January were close to even money at the MGM Grand sports book.
"That's because a lot of people had lost faith in me following the Barrera fight," Morales said.
Several times last week -- including in an interview after the final prefight news conference -- Roach said Pacquiao would have preferred to wear Reyes gloves in the fight rather than Winning gloves.
Because of the way the padding is distributed, Reyes gloves are known as "puncher's gloves."
Roach was critical of Murad Muhammad, Pacquiao's promoter, for agreeing in the fight contract to use Winning gloves.
"Those Winning gloves are like pillows," Roach said after the bout. "If we do a rematch, we'll use Reyes gloves, and it'll be a different result."
Pacquiao said, "I would have liked to use my (Reyes) gloves, but it was in the contract."
Bob Arum, the lead promoter of the fight, dismissed the claims out of hand.
"The issue with the gloves is a non-issue," Arum said. "The only reason we wanted Winning gloves is that they protect the boxers' hands. ...
"If Pacquiao wants to continue using Reyes gloves and breaking his hands in the first three rounds, well, I don't think that puts him at an advantage. I think it would put him at a disadvantage."
Arum said he would like to arrange a rematch, and Pacquiao called for one as well.
"Any time, anywhere," Pacquiao said.