Marco Antonio Barrera's 69th professional fight on Saturday night will be his last.
At Wednesday's respectful, calm press conference, Barrera asserted that the rematch with Manny Pacquiao would be his last bout. Many of us supected it very well could be, and the hints had been coming for months. Following his tough March loss to Juan Manuel Marquez, Barrera went on vacation with his family to make up his mind about whether or not he would continue on in the sport where he is an idol and stacks up against just any fighter, in any weight class, of his generation.
Then came the rumblings that Barrera wanted Pacquiao, and only Pacquiao. Not a rematch with Marquez, not a fight against any of the other top 130-pounders. Just Pacquiao. Barrera wanted a reckoning for the 2003 battering he received at the Filipino superstar's fast, thunderous hands.
When the Top Rank-Golden Boy qualms were settled, it was the first fight signed, cancelling out a Top Rank-promoted Pacquiao title defense against Humberto Soto in Vancouver. For Marco Antonio Barrera, this is the last thing on the list. The only thing left to do is beat Manny Pacquiao.
As I said earlier this week, were Barrera to pull off the upset, it would be a miraculous sports story. And no matter what I think of the odds, I know that Barrera has it in him. Even if it's like sitting down at a slot machine -- sure, the odds are that you stand up broke, but that big money is in there.
He's no longer the fighter he once was. As a blood-and-guts, leave it all in the ring-type warrior, Barrera had few peers. As he's aged, he has not only seen countless punches and Father Time take away the "baby face" in "Baby-Faced Assassin," he's also become a highly skilled boxer-puncher. When tested, Barrera will still go to war. But, preferably, he lays back and lets the fight come to him, as he did in his rematch last year against Rocky Juarez.
The Marquez fight said a lot about Barrera. It was as tight as any fight can be, despite the lopsided scores in Marquez's favor. All but a couple of rounds could have gone either way. The ringside judges favored Marquez, but ask any one of them, and I think they'd have to tell you that it was a hell of a fight, and a hell of a task to score. Marquez did put Barrera to the test, trying to push him back with big punches, only to find that the Mexican legend still has the guile, resolve and firepower to go toe-to-toe. And it's not like Marquez can't punch. The two were tailor-made for one another.
But Pacquiao is not Marquez. This is a furious puncher, a guy whose hand speed is often overlooked simply because he hits so hard. It's not just that Pacquiao can punch, it's that he can land the punches -- lots of 'em. He is a bull in a china shop, looking to run through whatever is in front of him. He's also become a good enough fighter under the watchful eye of Freddie Roach that his style is a luxury, and in no way hinders him.
Can Barrera withstand the inevitable Pacquiao storm? Roach and Pacquiao are making no secret that they believe they should win the fight with relative ease. Roach says that he's not worried about Marco hurting Manny, or even outboxing him. He is only concerned with Barrera looking for any advantage he can find, whether it be too much wrap on his hands or a headbutt or three for Manny's troubles.
Barrera seemingly isn't letting the presumed mind games from Roach bother him. As of this moment, he has less than 48 hours until he steps into the ring for one last go, and he's doing it against the best the sport has to offer at this weight.
Marco Antonio Barrera has always been a proud fighter. Win, lose or draw, he will walk tall on his way out, too.