LAS VEGAS -- Marco Antonio Barrera and Johnny Tapia didn't need a title to put on a championship fight.
The two featherweights put on a highly entertaining fight Saturday night, going after each other for 12 rounds before Barrera emerged with a unanimous decision win.
Barrera further established his credentials as the best 126-pounder in the world by controlling the fight with his jab and keeping an aggressive but ineffective Tapia from landing many damaging punches.
''My corner told me to go out and jab and control the fight so no accidents would happen,'' Barrera said.
Barrera, showing the calm demeanor of a fighter who has learned to box against the best, was in marked contrast to the hyperactive Tapia, who rallied the crowd but had more trouble convincing the judges he was doing well.
Two judges scored it 118-110, while a third had it 116-112. The Associated Press had Barrera winning 119-109.
''I give him a lot of respect,'' Tapia said. ''I thought I fought my fight.''
Tapia, in perhaps his biggest fight at the age of 35, was more than willing to mix it up with Barrera but came out on the losing end to a more complete fighter who dominated with a punishing jab.
There was no title at stake, but Barrera followed his win over Erik Morales in June with a performance that solidified his standing as the best featherweight around.
''It was very difficult because Johnny is my friend,'' Barrera said. ''But this is boxing and this is the business we're in.''
Though the final margins were large, Tapia gave his fans just what they wanted with a frenetic performance that was also comical at times. He mugged, grinned, shook his head in frustration and raised his hand to urge the crowd on, but it was not enough to beat Barrera.
''I feel sorry for the fans of Albuqerque,'' Tapia said. ''I gave my best.''
Barrera had no problem finding the target in front of him, pummeling Tapia with lefts and rights to the head from the first round on. In the first round alone, Compubox statistics showed Barrera landing 35 punches to just nine for Tapia.
Barrera (56-3) used his dominating jab and 8-inch reach advantage to keep Tapia away from him. When Tapia (52-3-2) did get inside, he usually paid for it by taking an uppercut or left hook.
Only in the sixth round did Tapia get inside and cause some damage, trapping Barrera on the ropes and landing a series of head punches.
Tapia fought at his usual frenetic pace, but much of it was wasted motion as Barrera continually beat him to the punch. When he did manage to get the better of an exchange, Barrera always came out unhurt.
Though no titles were involved, the fight had all the trappings of a championship bout, from the scheduled 12 rounds to the crowd of 7,707 that stood and cheered wildly from the time Tapia entered the arena at the MGM Grand hotel-casino.
Barrera, who refused the WBC featherweight title after beating Morales, was a 4-1 favorite by oddsmakers but Tapia was clearly the crowd favorite.
Tapia gave up the IBF 126-title he won earlier this year for the chance to fight Barrera, who is generally regarded as the top featherweight in the world.
He was paid $755,000 to do it, money he earned by giving a game effort but one that was destined from the opening exchanges to fall short.
Barrera, who earned $1 million, was not only the better boxer, but he was the bigger fighter. Though both weighed 126 pounds at Friday's weigh-in, Barrera was 137 to Tapia's 131 by the time they entered the ring.
On the undercard, Olympic silver medalist Ricardo Williams came back from an eight-month layoff to take a lopsided 10-round decision over former junior welterweight champion Terronn Millett.
Williams, inactive because of surgery to repair a damaged left hand, dominated Millett from the opening bell but was never able to put him down.
Williams (8-0, five knockouts) won all 10 rounds on one scorecard, nine on a second and eight on a third.
Williams came in at 145 1/2 pounds, above the 144-pound bout limit, but showed little signs of being rusty against Millet (27-4-1), who held the IBF title before being knocked out by Zab Judah two years ago.
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