Saturday, March 17, 2007

Barrera vs Marquez Tonight

By Graham Houston

After a wonderful career and some truly great victories, Marco Antonio Barrera finds himself facing what many believe will be the final curtain when he meets fellow-Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez in the “Fearless” PPV main event on Saturday.

Money has shown steadily for Marquez since betting lines were posted, with Barrera likely to enter the ring on Saturday only the narrowest of favourites for this defence of his 130-pound championship.

It is easy to see why there is a groundswell of opinion that Barrera is ready to be beaten. He only just eked out a win over Rocky Juarez last May, and although he won the rematch with considerably less difficulty he was not impressive.

Barrera is 33 and he has been boxing professionally for 17 years. He has had many title fights in winning championships in three weight divisions. The signs seem to be there that the end is approaching.

Fighters such as Barrera, however, sometimes have great performances left in them even late in their careers. Golden Boy Promotions matchmaker Eric Gomez says that Barrera asked for the toughest opponent available: Barrera knows he will not be around a lot longer and he wants his final fights to be meaningful ones.

Marquez is certainly a tough opponent — a two-time featherweight champion whose technical excellence has long been admired by aficionados.

I don’t think it is unfair to say that Marquez has always been a bit overshadowed by the higher-profile Mexican superstars Barrera and Erik Morales. If Marquez wins on Saturday it will be his first truly big-time victory although he did fight the memorable draw with Manny Pacquiao.

That performance might have had a lot to do with the players’ preference for Marquez on Saturday. Down three times in the first round, he rallied and often seemed to be dominating Pacquiao in the 11 tough rounds that followed.

Then you look at Barrera’s performance against Pacquiao — a one-sided pasting before he was pulled out in the 11th round.

Barrera went into that fight with well-documented distractions and he just did not look his normal self, seemingly unable to get anything going although Pacquiao, of course, would not let him into the fight.

I believe Barrera when he says he would like a rematch with Pacquiao. In the meantime, what could be better than beating the man who fought Pacquiao to a standstill?

To beat Marquez, though, Barrera will have to be at his absolute best. The Barrera of the Rocky Juarez fights will not get the job done. If Barrera can produce the mixture of boxing skill and precise punching that were so impressive against Morales in their rubber match and proved far too much for Naseem Hamed — vintage performances both — he can do it. The question to be answered is whether Barrera can once again reach those heights.

Marquez seems to be the hungrier fighter but Barrera has great pride. Make no mistake, it is very important for Barrera to win this fight against a rival from his own home ground in Mexico City.

Yes, Barrera has been around a long time but Marquez also is a veteran fighter (50 bouts in a 14-year career).

Marquez is a very fine boxer, but Barrera can box, too. Both can punch with jarring authority: stiff jabs, heavy hooks and right hands. The fighters are each well-accustomed to boxing the 12-round championship distance. In many ways they seem evenly matched. Barrera has been fighting at 130 pounds for more than two years whereas Marquez is moving up from featherweight: this might give Barrera a slight advantage. I think the general perception, though, is that Barrera is heading for the exit and that this is Marquez’s time.

I am not so sure. Marquez scored dramatic stoppage wins in his last two fights but I thought he was getting hit quite a lot by his opponents, Terdsak Jandaeng and Jimrex Jaca.

Most people believe that Marquez probably beat Chris John although the decision went against him in his opponent’s Indonesian homeland, but when I reviewed the video I thought this was a close fight. With two points taken from Marquez for low blows, on the instruction of the Panamanian referee, I could see how John could have got the decision although I thought the Mexican fighter was no worse than dead-level with the Indonesian. But if Chris John — a talented fighter but not an extraordinary one — could box basically on even terms with Marquez, surely Barrera can do at least the same?

I thought Barrera showed signs of becoming an old fighter in the first bout with Rocky Juarez but he looked sharp enough in the rematch although his jab-and-move style did not find favour with the judges, who made him a relatively close — though unanimous — winner. Barrera has told the media that when he stood back and jabbed against Juarez in their rematch it was because he wanted to prove he could beat his challenger with one hand. He has promised more of the two-fisted, fighting-machine Barrera of yore in Saturday’s contest. Fighters do not always deliver what they promise, but in Barrera’s case I think he knows full well that he cannot beat Marquez by jabbing and moving. He is going to have to let some heavy shots go and try to stop his rival from building up momentum. Essentially, though, I expect Marquez to be the aggressor, the “fighter” if you like, with Barrera more in the “boxer” role.

A fight such as this can come down to who can make the little adjustments and produce the punches and counter-attacks that surprise the other man. I think Barrera might be a little better at this than Marquez. It seems to me there is little to choose between these outstanding fighters, but, compelled as I am to make a choice, I give the slightest of edges to Barrera and, while realising I am swimming against the tide here, I pick him to edge out a close, probably disputed, decision.


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