2007 has been the final year of a lot of phenomenal boxing careers. Generational heroes Erik Morales and Arturo Gatti went out on their shields in weight classes they didn't belong in, just trying to stay above water. Both fought valiantly and gave us something to cheer for -- Gatti was just outgunned and clearly worn out against Alfonso Gomez in July, and in August, Morales left every ounce of himself in the ring against 135-pound champion David Diaz in a quest to become Mexico's first four-division champion.
In May, we lost not only the career but the life of Diego Corrales, the month after his final bout, fought at welterweight against Joshua Clottey. Corrales, Gatti and Morales all had clearly come to a wall, if not the end of their boxing line completely. The three valiant bangers were valiantly banged to disappointing defeats. Corrales' death was shocking and tragic, but it would be dishonest to say that we hadn't spent the last month debating whether or not it was time for Chico to hang up the gloves.
On Saturday night, Marco Antonio Barrera joined his most hated rival, Gatti and Corrales in leaving the sport of boxing poorer for his absence this year. But Barrera's final performance didn't fit the script that his predecessors had laid out. Marco ad-libbed on it. And the results were, to be frank, less than inspiring.
Marco Antonio Barrera was a great, great fighter that turned into a great boxer over the course of his legendary career. We've said it a million times, but it's been earned a billion times more: He's a first-ballot, no doubt about it, Masterlock pick of the century Hall of Famer. He was a phenomenal fighter, as skilled as he was courageous and violent.
But what I've always found truly fascinating is what stemmed from the Barrera-Morales feud, and it was something that came up several times over his career, up to and including his final loss to Manny Pacquiao.
While he was generally portrayed as a gentleman, Marco Antonio Barrera had a genuine professional mean streak, and could be a real son of a bitch. In March against Juan Manuel Marquez, Barrera delivered a blow to Marquez while he was on the ground. It was ruled a slip, and while it's true that in reality it was a totally clean knockdown from a Barrera right hand, the fact remains that Barrera clearly took a cheap shot at Marquez.
On Saturday night, in the 11th round, following a fight that started tense, got really exciting, and then faded due to a lackluster attack (or non-existent attack at times) from Marco, Barrera drilled Pacquiao with a cheap shot on a break. He would complain of a headbutt after the fight.
Erik Morales once summed up Marco Antonio Barrera with the simple, undignified, but very realistic quote, "He's a motherfucker." Morales and Barrera hated each other then, and they hate each other now. They were, as we know, more or less born to hate one another. Barrera, a rich kid from Mexico City, and Morales, fighting out of poverty in Tijuana, had very little in common past the base of their heritage. And the fact that they were tremendous fighters, of course.
Morales-Barrera doesn't get the mainstream, casual boxing fan love as a trilogy that Gatti-Ward does, but I think most of us would say that the three fights between the two Mexican champions were, collectively, far better than the Gatti-Ward bouts. (For the record, I will say that Gatti-Ward I was the best of the six fights, but the next three are the Morales-Barrera fights, and they were all far better than the latter two Gatti-Ward encounters. I am also not saying I have anything against Gatti-Ward.)
Two times their bouts won the RING Magazine Fight of the Year (2000, 2004). There was a genuine feeling of danger when they were in the ring together, but it was also technically superior boxing, somewhat like the Marquez-Vazquez fights of '07, which will join the ranks of the great trilogies next year. In fact, if you could take the Gatti-Ward series and throw it in a pot with the Barrera-Morales fights, you'd be able to mix it up into Marquez-Vazquez -- technically superior, intensely violent. But Barrera-Morales was not just about pride or bragging rights or being, essentially, the heir to Chavez's throne as King of the Mexican Fighters. It was about hate. Pure, Western-movie style hate.
But, Barrera didn't begin or end his career with his bitter feud against Morales. When Barrera was just 15 years old, he climbed into the ring in Mexico City to face David Felix, whose age I do not know. It was the pro debut for both men (well, Barrera wasn't quite a "man" by traditional age standards). Barrera scored a second round TKO. Felix would go on to fight two more times. For Barrera, it turned out to be the first of 43 straight professional victories.
After a 20-0 start in the Mexican rings, and having captured the Mexican super flyweight title, Barrera made his way to the States -- the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California, which would become his home. Barrera became a star attraction of the legendary Forum Boxing circuit, starting with a fourth-round knockout of tomato can Esteban Ayala in 1992, defending his belt.
Barrera's first real major fight came in '94, when he was to battle Carlos Salazar in a WBC super flyweight eliminator bout. Barrera came in overweight, and took a tough majority decision over 10 rounds. It was also the last time Barrera ever tried to make the super flyweight limit, and he jumped to super bantamweight immediately.
World title shot number one came on March 31, 1995. Barrera was still just 21 years old, and was barely 21 at that. He won a unanimous decision over Daniel Jimenez, and then he went to work.
Challenger Frank Toledo was knocked out in the second round. Maui Diaz was next, out in the first. Agapito Sanchez managed to knock Barrera down in the 12th round, but that was about all he managed to do, as he was beaten soundly while going the distance with the dynamite young champion. Eddie Croft was knocked out in the seventh round.
Then came the Kennedy McKinney fight. If Barrera still needed a star-making performance, this was it. McKinney was a 30-year old ex-champion who could still fight. Barrera put him down in the eighth and ninth rounds, and seemed to be in total control. McKinney floored Barrera in the eleventh, and the "Baby-Faced Assassin" had to rally. And did he ever. McKinney tasted leather and canvas in short order two times in the 12th, and Barrera notched another TKO.
Three more knockout defenses followed. Then came his first taste of kryptonite in the form of Junior Jones. In their first fight, Jones knocked Barrera down in the fifth round, and Barrera was declared the loser via disqualification because his corner jumped into the ring. The rematch didn't go much better for Barrera, with Jones winning a unanimous decision. After the 43-0 start, Barrera had lost two straight. Still very young at 23, Barrera announced his retirement.
Of course, it didn't last. 10 months later, Marco was back, and back with a vengeance. Four knockouts in 1998 and another in 1999 covered a comeback run that brought him gold in the featherweight division.
By this time, there was only one fight that had to be made. Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera first met on February 19, 2000. I could keep going on and on about those fights. I won't. The rest is just history.
One fight I've never really talked about here, though, is the one against Naseem Hamed. I'd like to do this bullet-points style, since we all know the story (which, depending on who you talk to, is more of a fable) of the tough, no-bullshit Barrera neutralizing, demoralizing, and thoroughly defeating the hotshot, asshole Hamed.
- That fight was not AS one-sided as HBO and a lot of people have made it out to be in the six years that have passed. Official scores were 116-111, 115-112, 115-112. They accurately reflect the bout. Barrera did clearly win, but it was not a slaughter job like Barrera absorbed at the hands of Pacquiao in '03.
- Hamed has had his share of troubles after Barrera essentially retired him, but Naseem Hamed shook Barrera's hand, nodded his head in defeat, and clapped when the decision was announced. He was a very, very gracious loser, and didn't make excuses. He lost, and he knew it.
- Since he didn't make a comeback, some people have started to paint Hamed as a guy who was overrated and the Barrera loss as a fight that proved it. That's bullshit. Whether you liked him, hated him, or couldn't have really cared less about him, Hamed could fight. He was a thunderous puncher that used his body very effectively. Yeah, he was arrogant. He beat the hell out of some really good fighters. And he went tooth-and-nail with Kevin Kelley over four of the most action-packed rounds you'll ever see.
- All "over time" hyperbole aside, it was a good fight, and a tremendous performance for Barrera. It fully established him as a great fighter, and launched the second part of his career.
Like the Hamed fight, time has given the first bout with Pacquiao something of a fictional feel. Yes, Barrera was the fairly heavy favorite. Yes, Pacquiao wasn't as proven. But I think we all knew that, at the very least, Pacquiao had a slugger's chance to beat Barrera. And we all knew he had good hand speed. Technique was the only thing that Barrera for certain had on Pacquiao.
And, like he did after losing twice to Jones and the first fight with Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera roared back. Ayala, Morales, Mana, Peden, and Juarez (twice) all fell to the new, boxer-first Barrera. He had changed, and it was a career-prolonging effort.
He lost to Juan Manuel Marquez in what I have spent seven months championing as a truly great fight, probably the most absolutely even fight I have ever seen. And then he lost to Manny Pacquiao again. This time, Barrera didn't have the gas in the tank to come roaring back. But there's nothing to be ashamed of.
Barrera had a Jekyll and Hyde personality. He was not always the nice guy he was hyped to be. But, bottom line, he was a terrific fighter, and gave us our money's worth time and time again. There was nothing overstated about Marco Antonio Barrera's ability.
2007 has been a great year for boxing, in my view. But it's also been bittersweet. Barrera's presence in the sport will be sorely missed. We at Bad Left Hook salute the career of Marco Antonio Barrera.