'Fearless'? Barrera-Marquez should be entitled peerless

By Michael Katz


'Fearless'? Barrera-Marquez should be entitled peerless

The stereotypes are packed away somewhere as Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez prepare further evidence that Mexican boxers do more than throw left hooks, attack recklessly and bleed. You could sense it at the ritual final press conference in the middle of some night club in the middle of some Vegas casino, a couple of fighters from Mexico City each beginning their talks in very serviceable English, each speaking politely about the skills of the other, each promising a war.

"War," at least in boxing terms, it may be Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay, but it will be fought with "smart bombs" by two of the fiercest gentlemen in the game.

This is a big brainer. Barrera and Marquez are two of the best boxers in the world and though either one can turn a fight into a less-than-mesmerizing clinic, this figures to be a highly sophisticated brawl.

The wonder is that it hasn't happened sooner. Each champion is now 33 years old, maybe on the other side of the hill. In Barrera's case, it was a mountain. He was unquestionably one of the greatest Mexican boxers in history, even if he didn't always fight like a Mexican, and now he is looking at two more fights, Marquez and revenge against Manny Pacquiao. He did not take short cuts to the top; he is not taking the easy way out.

For Marquez, this is a long-awaited opportunity to show that he belonged up there all along. It can be argued that this fight thus means more to him; if he wins, it will elevate Marquis but hardly detract from Barrera's legacy.

They've been aware of each other since their salad days fighting at the Forum made them Southern California . Barrera then was the Baby-Faced Assassin, tossing his still jet-black hair in combination with those stereotypical left hooks to the body. Marquez, "Dinamita," the bigger of the two, was honing his counter-punching skills, throwing darts while avoiding retaliation.

It was not exactly new, what Marquez was doing. Salvador Sanchez, one of the greatest of all Mexican fighters, was primarily a counter-puncher. Even the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez could set up shop on the ropes and pick off an opponent's best shots before firing back with bone-shattering accuracy.

But Marquez, and his little brother Rafael, who two weeks ago moved up from his bantamweight fiefdom to take over the 122-pound realm, are both prize pupils of one of the great trainers in history, Nacho Beristain. It began maybe with Jesus Rivero, the Old Professor who fine-tuned Miguel Canto, perhaps the best and purest of all Mexican boxers. Yes, Marquez can throw a classic Mexican left hook. But there's nothing wrong with his right hand, either. And his defense can be superb.

Barrera, meanwhile, has evolved. He credits his longtime trainer, Rudy Perez, whom he loyally brags is better than Beristain. He says Perez took him from childhood, but "Nacho, many of his fighters came to him ready-made." Well, not quite. Marquez has been with Beristain since the age of 15, and while it is true he began boxing a few years before that, he did not turn pro until the age of 19.

By that time, Barrera has been fighting for money for three and a half years. That, partly, explains why this fight hasn't happened sooner and why some connoisseurs fret that it might be too late and certainly is not worth the $45 pay-per-view fee being charged by Golden Boy Promotions.

To which I reply, it's a bargain and the shame is that maybe it will do only 200,000 or so sales with two other nice matchups - Daniel Ponce De Leon of Mexico defending his WBO 122-pound title against 35-year-old Gerry Penalosa of the Philippines, a former 115-pound champion, and a 140-pound matchup of undefeated Demetrius Hopkins with former 130-pound title-holder Steve Forbes. It certainly is a better buy than the $25 green shit George Kimball keeps flogging that gets my Irish up. ("Erin Go Brawl" doesn't have the decency of waiting until St. Patrick's Day, obviously because it can't compete not only with the Barrera-Marquez donnybrook, but with the curio value of Evander Holyfield-Vinny Maddalone or, from across the seas, the rematch between O'Neil Bell and Jean-Marc Mormeck; hell, on Friday night, you can save the $25 and watch for nothing on Telefutura one of the true "freaks" - in a nice way, like Dandy Dan Rafael - Celestino Caballero defend a 122-pound title against Jose Luis Castillo's brother, Ricardo.)

The weak projections of Barrera-Marquez ppv sales, and the fact that half the seats at the Mandalay Bay arena were unsold midweek are indications of the poor health of the game. But that's because for years, the promoters and networks have given short shrift to the lighter weight classes where the sport has been flourishing for years. Only Bob Arum, who seems permanently banished from playing with heavyweights, has paid attention to the burgeoning Mexican market. Two weeks ago, Rafael Marquez and Israel Marquez gave us seven scintillating rounds why the rest of the world should catch up.

Barrera and Marquez - either brother, but in this case, obviously Juan Manuel - could be transplanted to Peoria and still be recognized as masters of the game. They are hardly the one-dimensional Mexicans of yore. Barrera, in particular, is one of the most versatile fighters since Marvelous Marvin Hagler. He can fight inside or inside, can box or brawl, and can even turn around and fight southpaw because he's a natural left-hander.

He wasn't always that way. When he fought Kennedy McKinney, in the fight that made Boxing After Dark an immediate success (mea culpa, mea culpa - I had to talk Lou DiBella into making that match), he was much more vulnerable to straight right hands. Junior Jones exploited that weakness, but I'm not sure if this version of Barrera will be as open to Marquez's arrows. He is much improved since his early career.

He said naturally the game has evolved in the more than 15 years he has been a pro. But he reminded me that "beneath all the (technical) improvements, we are always going to have that warriors' blood."

Barrera showed his all-round abilities in 2001 by undressing the previously undefeated Naseem Hamed, chasing the self-proclaimed greatest featherweight in history completely out of the game. Two years later, though, in 2003, it appeared the Baby Faced Assassin had grown wrinkles when he was trounced by Manny Pacquiao.

Yes, he had excuses. Losers always do. A split with his manager, who squealed that Barrera had a longtime metal plate in his head. A fire interrupted training camp. But Barrera rebounded by winning the rubber match in his spectacular trilogy with Erik Morales. Again, though, there are the doubters who believe that he has been in too many wars to survive the hungry Marquez.

He showed age, perhaps, in a fight with Rocky Juarez last year. But in the rematch, he opted to box instead of to fight and won basically with one hand. He knows he'll need both with Marquez, but he has an aura of calm assuredness. He said he knows Marquez has been dreaming of this fight for years, "but he'd better be careful when he wakes up."

Marquez does not believe, at least out loud, that Barrera was ducking him. Hamed was, of course. For two years, Marquez was Hamed's mandatory challenger for a fight that never happened. But then, Barrera and Morales didn't rush to be first to fight Beristain's prize pupil.

He agreed that it must have been Ricardo Maldonado, Barrera's former manager, who squashed this fight in the past. "I think Barrera was always willing to fight me," said Marquez. But now, when Barrera may have slipped some? "He knows this is not going to be easy, but he wants to fight the best."

That's been Marquez's complaint for years. He blamed his former promoter, though not by name (Arum), for not pushing him. Beristain may be a genius as a trainer, but as a manager he doesn't make MENSA. Beristain, with Marquez's duplicity, turned down $750,000 for a rematch with Manny Pacquiao and instead took $30,000 to go to Indonesia to challenge Chris John for one of the featherweight titles. Word is that while Marquez may have won eight of the twelve rounds in the jungle, the law of the jungle was clear.

The Pacquiao fight, though, gives Marquez fans much hope. Comparative scores are just as invalid in boxing as they are in water polo, but where Pacquiao clobbered Barrera into an 11th-round submission, Marquez got up off the floor three times in the opening round against the Filipino star and fought back to secure a draw (okay, I thought Pacquiao won clearly, but what do I know?).

I asked him what Beristain told him after the first round. Marquez said it was just a reminder to box, but Ramiro Gonzalez, then the boxing writer for La Opinion and now doing publicity for Golden Boy, said he remembered Marquez becoming bitter that Pacquaio hit him while he was down from the third knockdown.

"That got him pissed," said the flack.

Thing is, Marquez has not been all that brilliant since the Pacquiao fight. Pacquiao, who will almost certainly fight the Mandalay Bay winner, said that kind of battle probably took a lot out of Marquez. He is predicting Barrera will win.

So am I. I can't imagine Barrera going out a loser - except maybe to Pacquiao. "I've had a beautiful career," he said, "and I want to leave on a high note.' He has been too great for so long. The best in Mexican history? My buddy, Rafael Mendoza, who is one of the wisest Mexican fight agents in the world, says for him, the best Mexican fighter "will always be Ruben Olivares." But he said Barrera certainly would rank in the top five.

I asked Barrera to rank the top five. He said, in order, it would be Salvador Sanchez, Julio Cesar Chavez, Olivares, Erik Morales and himself.

I'd put him ahead of Morales, whom he beat two out of three (officially, the second and third matches, though I thought he won the first and third).

He could even move up a place or two with his two-for-the-road schedule of Marquez and Pacquiao.

PENTHOUSE: The city of Memphis and not simply because of the great blues and barbecue. For some reason, Beale Street has chased Sergio Mora out of a fight with Jermain Taylor and given Cory Spinks the assignment. Mora wouldn't fight in Memphis for a million dollars. In Timbuktu, he would have the same chance against Taylor - none.

OUTHOUSE: Bob Arum, my old buddy, for reacting to the news that Spinks, the junior middleweight champion, was moving up to face Taylor by squealing, "Real middleweight champions fight real middleweights." I hate to be the one to remind Bob, but when you had a real middleweight champion named Hagler, he made a nice living against old welterweights (Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard) and junior middles (John Mugabi)?..Extra space, of course, for that entire wasted crap between Wladimir Klitschko and Ray Austin. The real culprits were the IBFelons for mandating the atrocity, HBO for showing it, and Don King and Austin - who took their ill-begotten money and ran, not even stopping for the post-fight press conference?.It is clear that Wladimir Klitschko is the No. 1 heavyweight in the world. Samuel Peter must be No. 2. And for No. 3, I have "none of the below."

BETTOR BEWARE: Okay, I always like Barrera. But I think the underdogs on the card - Gerry Penalosa against Daniel Ponce De Leon and Steve Forbes against Demetrius Hopkins represent some value. A few years back, I thought Penalosa was one of the top ten fighters in the world pound for pound. He has never been stopped and though he has been moving up in weight and is now 35, the crafty southpaw should be able to outbox De Leon. Of course, it only takes one punch?..Forbes should be around for a while since Bernard Hopkins's nephew is not exactly a banger?.B-Hop, by the way, said Sugar Shane Mosley was really giving Oscar de la Hoya some wild work when he saw them spar together in Puerto Rico.

SPECIAL OUTHOUSE: The Boxing Writers Association of America for moronically giving the James A. Farley Award for "honesty and integrity" to New York State Athletic Commission chairman Ron Scott Stevens. First, what would those idiots know about honesty and integrity? Second, certainly Stevens doesn't. He's the guy who banned Paul Spadafora from fighting in his state BEFORE Spaddy was even indicted for shooting his ex-girl friend, then turned around and acquiesced to Don King's request to license Foul Pole Golata, who had been indicted for various infractions of the law PLUS had been sordid practioneer of the game INSIDE the ring.


Send questions and comments to: mkatz@boxingtalk.com