Photos by Sumio Yamada
MANNY PACQUIAO vs MARCO ANTONIO BARRERA
The long wait is over for Marco Antonio Barrera, who meets Manny Pacquiao in a rematch on Saturday on HBO PPV, four years after the original meeting in San Antonio when the great Mexican fighter was surprisingly stopped in the 11th round.
Barreras pre-fight woes that time have been well chronicled but, briefly, there was the fuss over a brain operation years earlier that had just come to light, forest fires at his training camp in Big Bear, CA, and an unpleasant dispute with his former promoter.
This time it is Pacquiaos preparation that has come under scrutiny, with eyebrows raised by his decision to train back home in the Philippines instead of at trainer Freddie Roachs Wild Card gym in Los Angeles. Roach flew out to the Philippines to work with Pacquiao, and all seems to have gone well, but inevitably questions of focus and commitment come to mind. Did Pacquiao do everything possible to get himself into the best shape he can be in, mentally and physically? We will soon find out.
As ever there have been stories of turmoil in Pacquiaos personal life but he does seem to thrive on chaos. In the gym he is always all business but I wonder if his mind has been as concentrated on the fight to the degree it would have been had he trained in Los Angeles.
There is a possibility, then, that Pacquiao will not be at his absolute best. Barrera, meanwhile, has prepared in Guadalajara, trained by his brother, Jorge, and longtime Japanese co-trainer Sendai Tanaka. He imported fast Japanese sparring partners, unbeaten southpaws Takahiro Aoh and Yoshimitsu Yashiro. The power-hitting southpaw Edwin Valero, who lives in Tokyo, also sparred with Barrera, although I am told this was more moving around than full-blown sparring. Valero, meanwhile, was quoted in the Spanish-language newspaper Esto as saying that he is convinced Barrera will win.
The plot thickens, as they say.
In the last fight I think it is clear that Barrera was not his usual self. He seemed to be in the ring in body but not in spirit. Pacquiao swarmed all over him.
That time Pacquiao was moving up from 122 pounds to box as a 126-pounder. This time it is a meeting of solid 130-pounders but the roles have been reversed in that Barrera is the underdog and also the challenger (if you attach any importance to Pacquiaos WBC International title).
Barrera has a very determined look about him and is said to be intensely motivated. He has been metaphorically counted out in the past only to produce stirring showings against Erik Morales and Naseem Hamed.
However, Barrera is 33 and has been boxing professionally for an astonishing 18 years like Pacquiao he started out as a light-flyweight. I thought that the wear and tear was starting to show when Barrera barely beat Rocky Juarez in the first of their two meetings but then he outboxed Juarez in the rematch and fought well against Juan Manuel Marquez in his last fight, which seemed much closer than the scores suggested. He dropped Marquez, too, although the ref didnt spot the right hand.
So, even if Barrera is slipping he still has enough left to be very competitive at the highest level. Whether he can box well enough to turn the tables on Pacquiao is another matter.
I get the impression that Barrera plans a scientific type of fight on Saturday, jabbing, moving to the sides, countering. Pacquiao will do what he always does, surging in with those fists-whirling attacks. He plans to set a fast pace and keep the pressure on Barrera, seeking to wear him down the way he did in the first fight. Pacquiao is 28 and probably at his physical peak. If he fights with the fury and passion that he did in his knockout wins over Morales he will once again be too much for Barrera.
There is another Pacquiao, though, the one who can be complacent and careless as when he got wobbled by Oscar Larios and struggled early against Jorge Solis. If Pacquiao starts eating punches at the start of the fight and lets Barrera pick him off and get into a smooth-boxing groove then I think the Filipino faces a long night. It is important that Pacquiao does some damage in the early rounds and prevents Barrera from settling down and Freddie Roach will be sending him out with this in mind.
I do think that Pacquiao will meet stiffer resistance than he did in his first fight with Barrera I will be very surprised if he simply walks through him. I do feel, though, that Pacquiaos strength and rapid attacks are going to prove too much for the older man.
There was a point in Barreras fight with Marquez when he was definitely wobbly. He came through the crisis but it just seemed that he was getting hit more than he usually does, and at ringside it appeared that he was being affected a little bit more by the punches than in the past. I had the impression this was a great fighter who had reached the point where everything was getting a bit harder for him in the ring, and I ask myself if he can really improve dramatically on the performance he gave against Marquez.
Barrera has said that this will be his last big fight. If he can beat Pacquiao it will be a magical moment for him personally and in boxings historical context but I dont see it happening. Pacquiao has a fight on his hands, but I see him gradually forcing his way into control of the contest, perhaps hurting Barrera to the body to slow him down, and either winning on points or by a stoppage at some point in the last three rounds.
RESULT: In a tactical fight, Pacquiao won a unanimous decision.