Erik Morales' philosophy during a 14½-year boxing career was to fight anyone at any time.
But when it came to fighting the same person a second and then a third time, Morales always had his reservations.
The three-division ex-champion can relate better than most people on the planet to the troubles Rafael Marquez and Israel Vazquez are facing as they prepare to meet on Saturday at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., for the third time in a year.
After facing each other two times, there are no secrets, Morales said, and boxing becomes a lot more work.
Each fighter has to make changes, he said, because after two times inside the ring together, the fighters frequently can anticipate their opponent's moves. But what to change becomes an issue.
"You know you need to adapt and make changes, but what to change is hard because he's seeing the same things you are," said Morales, who went 1-2 in a memorable trilogy against Marco Antonio Barrera and 1-2 in another trilogy with Manny Pacquiao.
"When you face a guy the first time, no matter how much you have prepared, there are always surprises. You never know for sure until you're in there how fast a guy is or how strong he is and how he's going to throw his punches. The second fight is a lot harder and by the third time, it's almost impossible. You know each other like you know yourself."
Nacho Beristain, Marquez' trainer, has trained fighters in trilogies before, so he knows what to expect. He worked for Hall of Famer Humberto "Chiquita" Gonzalez in his memorable threesome with Michael Carbajal in 1993 and 1994.
His philosophy is simple: He makes adjustments in the strategy as needed for a given fight, but always emphasizes his fighter's strengths.
"When you're fighting the same guy, you have to tweak some things, but the important thing is that you still try to stick to your fighter's original strengths," Beristain said. "You could get in trouble if you ask the fighter to do something he's not used to do or is not comfortable doing. You learn from what has happened, but you still have a basic style you need to stick with."
Saturday's fight, which will be televised nationally by Showtime, will be the second in the series for Vazquez trainer Rudy Perez. Freddie Roach trained Vazquez for the first bout, which Marquez won by seventh-round TKO.
Perez took over for the Aug. 5 rematch and guided Vazquez to a sixth-round stoppage, a win that vaulted Vazquez to No. 7 in the Yahoo! Sports Top 10 pound-for-pound poll. Perez said he studied the tape of Marquez-Vazquez I and said he noticed fundamental flaws that Vazquez would repeat. The key to winning the rematch, he concluded, was to fix those.
Though Beristain said he didn't see a difference in way Vazquez fought from the first fight to the second, Perez is convinced the changes he enacted helped reverse the outcome.
"He was making some fundamental errors and all it really took to fix were a few minor adjustments to his style," Perez said. "He picked up on it and then we worked very hard to polish it. You saw the result."
Morales, though, said the winner will be the fighter who is able to do the unexpected. After 24 hard rounds through two fights with Barrera, Morales said he knew what every body movement Barrera made would lead to. He lost that rousing third fight, but not because he didn't adjust properly.
He came up with a plan he says worked, but he took a while to get untracked.
"I just got going late on my plan," Morales said. "Once I started doing what I thought I could do, I was doing real well. I knew I had to make some adjustments, just like he knew that. You have to look at the fight from both sides.
"You look at it from his perspective and say, 'OK, what did he see in these two fights?' And then you have to try to anticipate how he'll react to that. But you also have to view it like you normally would, from your own perspective, and try to focus on what he's doing you can take advantage of."
Marquez, though, insists Saturday's fight will come down to execution. He got out of his plan a bit in the second fight, though he swears the fight was stopped too early.
But he says Vazquez does nothing that he can't handle.
"We have a good plan and it's all about going out and executing the plan," Marquez said. "I believe if I had done that, I would have (won the second fight). I know what it takes to beat him. I just have to go do it."
- Israel Vazquez
- Rafael Marquez
- Erik Morales
- Marco Antonio Barrera