Saturday, January 24, 2009

Barrera Rolling Full Steam Ahead Toward Khan

Veteran Marco Antonio Barrera is looking forward to facing the much younger Amir Khan on March 14th in Manchester, England.

He turned pro two decades ago in a dusty Mexico City ring and now, at age 35, he’s preparing to take on one of boxing’s youngest stars and newest sensations. The 'Marco Antonio Barrera Express’ is on its own set of tracks, its own time, and as usual its rolling along according to its own schedule.

Next weekend, Barrera will square off against ham-and-egger Johnny Nolasco in Guadalajara, Mexico. Once that expected pedestrian affair is over with it’s full steam ahead to Manchester, England for a March stop against the young British upstart - Amir Khan.

The fight with Khan was an unexpected surprise that came together hastily and was intriguing news to the entire industry when it was announced by Khan’s promoter Frank Warren and Don King, who is now guiding what will likely be the final chapter of the long and storied career of the ‘Baby-Faced Assassin.’

There are two schools of thought on the Khan vs. Barrera match-up.

The first school has criticized the fight in saying that Barrera is too experienced and too ring wise for the still green Khan - who only four months ago was brutally dispatched in 54 seconds at the hands of Breidis Prescott. This faction says that Barrera, a world champion in multiple weight classes and a wily veteran with 70 professional fights, has probably forgotten more about boxing than Khan will ever know and that the younger man is totally overmatched.

The other school of thought says that the 22 year-old Khan, a 2004 Olympic Silver Medal winner with only 20 professional fights, is catching the slower moving Barrera train at precisely the right moment. They are of the opinion that Khan is bigger, fresher and has long enough arms that will allow him to stay out of harm’s way. They tell you that Khan’s reflexes, quickness and speed will be enough to overcome what will surely be a stubborn challenge from one of Mexico’s greatest ring warriors.

In three fights against one another, Barrera and Erik Morales (pictured above) became legends and won the hearts and minds of their Mexican countrymen.

The two most ardent supporters of Khan (and the two that mattered the most in making the fight with Barrera) are his recently hired trainer Freddie Roach and his promoter Frank Warren who has been with him since he made the transition to the paid ranks in 2005.

Warren, who used to actually promote Barrera many years ago during his featherweight heyday, gave his thoughts on a match that many are questioning his judgment in making.

“This is a tough fight, it’s a gamble,” admitted the hard bargaining Warren. “It’s a tough fight for him, but I think that Amir, mentally, is prepared for this fight and I think he’s got the skills to win it. Barrera, we all know, is a quality fighter. I think this is a tough fight but I think this is a good move for Amir in his career and hopefully it will pay off.”

The fight came together quickly in a casual conversation between Warren and Don King. After a bit of back and forth rumination, Warren proposed the match and King presented the idea to Barrera. Warren said he watched a few DVDs of Barrera’s old fights and within a day King got back to him with the message that Barrera was on board and the next day the fight was announced.

“The thing about this fight is that we’re all taking about it,” said Warren. “Is it too soon for Amir? Has Barrera got too much? Is Khan too big for him? There’s all these different arguments as to who is going to win this fight and that’s what makes great fights.”

Frank Warren, a promotional powerhouse in Great Britain, has a hunch that he is putting Amir Khan in with Barrera at just the right time.

A key cog in the wheel of the entire process was Freddie Roach, who took over Khan’s training reigns after the Prescott disaster. Roach thought it over too, and he informed Warren he was comfortable with the fight and according to his calculations it was a fight he felt Khan was capable of winning. Roach has a great deal of familiarity with M.A.B. as he trained Manny Pacquiao and Johnny Tapia in fights against Barrera.

“I think Freddie Roach makes a big difference to Amir,” said Warren. “I think he really adds to Amir’s confidence level and I think he’ll rise to the challenge. I think this is a fight he can win and that it will bring him on.”

Roach obviously has a great deal of insight when it comes to breaking down how styles will mesh and how a fight between two guys will play out. It was Roach who told anybody that would listen that underdog Manny Pacquiao would be too much for Oscar De La Hoya and he was ‘crystal-ball like’ with how that fight eventually played itself out.

So when Warren told Roach he wanted to match Khan against Barrera, Roach got out his Tarot cards and he liked how the deck shuffled out.

“I thought about it a little bit and I came to the conclusion that it’s a good fight for us and I think it’s the right time,” said Roach from his Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, California. “I think it’s a great fight for Amir and it’s a one-hundred percent ‘go’ in my mind and I can’t wait to start getting ready for the fight.”

Roach is impressed with Khan’s work ethic and says that because of that and because Khan is willing and eager to learn, that he will be able to formulate a game plan for him that should lead him to the biggest win of his embryonic career.

When Freddie Roach talks - people listen. The trainer believes that Khan has what it takes to overcome the experience and skills that Barrera will bring to the table.

“We’ll have a perfect training camp and I know the type of sparring partners to get him to get ready for Barrera’s style,” said Roach. “ I know Barrera’s style and I know the types of fighters and the types of styles that he has troubles with. So what we’ll do is make Amir have one of those styles. We’ll have a couple of different plans available for him in case he tries to change something up on us.”

For his part, Barrera was all smiles when the news of the fight against Khan was announced.

Never short on confidence, Barrera, who took a 13-month break from the sport after losing for the second time to Pacquiao in October 2007, returned with a knockout win over Sammy Ventura in China last November. Barrera sees a victory over Khan as a springboard to more mega-fights in the future. If he manages to prove victorious, and more importantly, if he looks good in doing so, he will be right back in the mix in the lightweight division.

Barrera is the #1 ranked contender at 135-pounds by the World Boxing Organization, a ranking which he says “surprised me.” Barrera also claims the time remaining in boxing is short for him, “I want to fight for the title at 135 pounds and then maybe three or four more fights,” he says.

It’s an ambitious plan for a 35 year-old little engine that could. Barrera is a guy with a lot of miles on his fistic odometer and he knows that Frank Warren, Freddie Roach and Amir Khan are all trying to derail the last stop of the ‘Barrera Express’.

Amir Khan and his people feel that he is ready to take on the veteran challenger and future hall-of-famer Marco Antonio Barrera.

But Barrera is the type of special talent that only comes along once a generation. In his last fight against the limited Sammy Ventura in China, Barrera demonstrated very nice hand speed and deft foot movement and he crippled Ventura with a left hook to the body.

It says here that come March 14th in Manchester, England - that Barrera will keep rolling along - full steam ahead - and that Amir Khan better get off the tracks.

January 2009

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