Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Can Barrera Do It?

Living legend, Marco Antonio Barrera, gives the thumbs up for Saturday's rematch against Manny Pacquiao which will take place at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.

Forget all the sub plots, all the rumors, all the hoopla and all the other soap opera-like drama that has surrounded the Manny Pacquiao versus Marco Antonio Barrera rematch that will take place this Saturday night inside the Mandalay Bay Events Center at the south end of the Las Vegas strip.

Forget about the chaos that envelopes Manny Pacquiao’s life like a cocoon. Forget about Manny the politician or Manny the movie star or Manny who might just be the best fighter on the planet. Forget about the fact that Barrera was surprised, shocked and savaged before going down at the fists of Pacquiao in their first fight nearly four years ago.

The only question that you need to concern yourself with, and the only question that really matters is this: “Can Barrera Do It?”

Can Marco Antonio Barrera, one of the greatest Mexican fighters that has ever lived, a sure-fire first ballot hall of famer, a boy that turned pro in the dusty rings of Mexico City at the tender age of 15 summon the inner resources to do what he does one more time?

“The Baby Faced Assassin” as he is otherwise known, has been at this sport, the one that the great fight writer Hugh McIlvanney called, “The Hardest Game” for 18 years now. And last week, Barrera told a group of us boxing writers that, “I've made up my mind, my mind is set. This is the last big fight I'm doing. If I do lace ‘em up again after this fight, it's going to be for a retirement fight and it's not going to be against a top-level guy. I’ve had so many tough fights in my career, I've decided now that this is the last big fight I'm having.”

There is a sense of purpose about Barrera this time around and his demeanor is more serious than it has been for his recent fights. He lost the last time out in a close battle against fellow countryman, Juan Manuel Marquez. But Barrera says for this fight that his mind is right and that when he fought Marquez he considered it “just another fight.”

A focused and stern Barrera says, “I’m motivated because it's personal. I’m motivated because I want to dedicate this fight to the Latin people. And it's just - it's been there ever since the fight was signed.”

Certainly those who have seen him in camp say that he has been unstoppable. Running up and down the Mexican hills and whittling his skills to a fine point has been his sole mission for the past several months. This fight, he says, “is different” and he claims he is motivated to win. When he speaks of Pacquiao, his brown eyes turn icy and he declares; “I know him. I see him in my sleep. I see him all the time. I know exactly what he does. I know how he fights.”

Manny Pacquiao, perhaps the most loved man in all the Philippines, shrugged off Barrera’s new found spirit and when he was asked what he will do differently in the rematch, he smiled, “For me there's no difference from the first fight to this one coming up on October 6th. Right now, I'm 100% conditioned and I feel good and I feel ready to fight.”

What Barrera wants you to realize is that when he is determined he is still a very intimidating opponent. And at 33 years old with a record of 63-5 (42) KO’s his chances cannot be summarily dismissed. He is a heavy betting underdog for this fight and the bookies don’t like his chances to pull the upset over the phenom from the Philippines. Pacquiao is a bright star with few that can outshine him and most feel that the ending is a foregone conclusion and that it will be a repeat of the first fight – only shorter. Perhaps that helps explain why, with only a few days until the fight, that tickets are still available. Most perceive this fight as Pacquiao’s to lose - and not Barrera’s to win.

But it would be foolhardy to count Barrera out, not yet anyway. As he has aged, the always-candid Barrera has become wiser and more honest with himself. His fighting style has also changed with time. He was once a youthful, come ahead, take-no-prisoners slugger who would take one to give one. But his style has morphed to the point where he is now a suave and slick boxer that possesses a stunningly smooth left jab and exquisite defensive moves coupled with deft footwork. When he is on, as he was the magical night that he embarassed “Prince” Naseem Hamed, he is as close to unbeatable as any fighter you will ever see.

Now, in the certain twilight of a brilliant career, Barrera often offers his opinions to anybody willing to listen - and he’s not overly concerned whether you believe him or not. He’s undergoing his mental and physical preparation for this fight on his own terms. And most importantly, unlike their first fight, in which he was stopped in eleven brutally one-sided rounds, he says this training camp has gone wonderfully.

“Obviously I had a bad night the first time around,” he quietly explains, his voice barely rising much above a whisper. “I'm not going to make any excuses. The first fight was a total meltdown. It was Manny’s night that fight. He took it to me. But this fight, the difference is going to be the inspiration within me. I’m really inspired for this fight and training camp has been real relaxed with no problems. Everything has been going really smooth and great.”

As with most big fights everyone has been trying, in their own subtle way, to pry out of Barrera exactly how he plans on beating a Manny Pacquiao that many feel is close to unbeatable at this particular point.

“Look, it's like any other fight,” he says in a calm and convincing manner. “You know, sometimes experience beats a young guy that’s at his peak and that’s what I have. I have a lot of experience. And it's not whether I can get up to my “A” game or to his level. It's about using my experience and executing my plan and that's what's going to help me be victorious.”

Only one question remains; Can Barrera do it?

October 2007

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