The third fight between Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera promised to break a tie and determine the best little fighter of the era. In two previous fights, it was impossible to say.

The rubber match delivered. That fighter is Barrera.

It was obvious in the way the “Baby Faced Assassin” – who, at 30, isn't such a baby anymore – consistently beat Morales to the punch, in the way he fired his combinations and dictated the tempo of a scorching fight. In three fights, it has been Barrera's style that has proven most effective, whether it be moving and jabbing – as he did in the rematch – or being aggressive and stalking his man, as he did in the first and third fights.

Perhaps Barrera's superiority lies in his versatility. Truth be known, Morales didn't have a clue as to which Barrera would greet him Saturday. If he had taken a guess, it probably would have been Barrera the stylist. That's the guy Morales saw last time, on June 22, 2002, and that's the guy that took apart Paulie Ayala in June. It's the Barrera boxing fans have become accustomed to seeing. But Barrera the brawler reappeared Saturday. It's appropriate that this native of middle-class Mexico City showed up wearing classic velvet blue trunks. He fought in classic style.

He was in Morales's chest from the first punch, forcing the action and refusing to concede an inch. As effective as Barrera the boxer can be, it is this fearless, aggressive Barrera that stirs the passions. It is this Barrera who make all of Mexico proud – even Morales's native Tijuana. It is this Barrera who makes cash registers hum and pay-per-view numbers skyrocket.

Barrera is born again for the second time in a career that started at age 15. And that is every bit as important to this reeling sport as Felix Trinidad's return last month.

He has certainly taken the winding road to Canastota. In the beginning, Barrera appeared to be a striking reincarnation of Julio Cesar Chavez. But he was knocked out in his prime by Junior Jones, and the comparisons to “JC Superstar” – the greatest Mexican fighter of them all – came to a screeching halt.

But, since then, Barrera has whipped up his own recipe for greatness. The three wars with Morales are just a portion of the Barrera legend that has been 15 years in the making. There was the equally-scintillating 1996 slugfest with Kennedy McKinney, the second great effort against Jones in '97, and the career-reviving upset of “Prince” Naseem Hamed in '01.

It is that Hamed victory that will forever provide Barrera a permanent residence in the hearts of boxing purists.

But the great warrior was thought to be finished after his upset loss to Manny Pacquiao last year. It was as definitive a defeat as a boxer can suffer. But the great ones come back strong. And Barrera has stormed back like a Mack truck through a rose garden.

Now with Morales likely in his rearview mirror – though nobody would argue against a fourth showdown – Barrera's attention will likely turn toward former conqueror Pacquiao. There are those who feel Barrera will never improve upon their Nov. 15, 2003 original, when the younger, faster, stronger southpaw Pacquaio made Barrera look like a shell of himself.

Then there are those who insist that Barrera went into that fight distracted – the California fires that forced him to retreat from his Big Bear training camp, the controversy over his alleged “brain surgery.”

If the latter is the case, Pacquiao-Barrera 2 could be a fight for the ages.

As for Morales, somehow, somewhere “El Terrible” got the impression he was vastly superior to Barrera. And his poor sportsmanship following Saturday's loss seemed uncharacteristic of his usually-classy disposition. Something about Barrera irks Morales.

Probably the fact that he's better.