In October 2007, after his second one-sided loss to Manny Pacquiao, Marco Antonio Barrera called it a career. It didn't last. Of course it didn't. When does it?
The living legend came back to fight 13 months later in Chengdu, China, against journeyman Sammy Ventura. Barrera stopped him in four rounds in a new weight class. Gone was his relationship with Golden Boy Promotions, where he had been one of the foundation stars of the company with Oscar de la Hoya, Shane Mosley and Bernard Hopkins.
The sport was starting to pass him by. Fittingly, he signed with Don King for his comeback. Neither have been at their best in years.
A fight in January with Freudis Rojas caused a lot of controversy. Fans booed when Barrera's original tomato can opponent pulled out, replaced by the 33-year old Cuban with the 1-7-1 career record coming in. A headbutt opened up a nasty gash on Barrera's forehead and caused a third-round DQ. No one was happy, least of all Barrera and King, who had already signed to take on British prospect Amir Khan in March.
Watching Barrera get treated like a third-rate fighter by the bigger, stronger, faster, younger Khan in Manchester was somewhat painful for me. I'm not the world's biggest Barrera fan (in my heart, I'm a Morales guy), but I've got tremendous respect for what he's done in his career. He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer. And unless something major changes with Amir Khan's chin, Barrera at his peak was twice the fighter Khan can ever be. And that's not a knock on Khan, either.
It was painful to watch because that was not Marco Antonio Barrera. That was an old, out of his depth, physically destroyed Barrera trying to stand in there with an offensive phenom of a fighter who would not relent. Barrera was given no quarter, even when an accidental headbutt opened another nasty gash on his forehead. Khan did what he should have with the opponent that showed up in the ring. Barrera did all he could, which sadly was "nothing."
Marco Antonio has nothing left. Period. The epic battle with Juan Manuel Marquez in 2007 was the last great fight he had in him, I think. Fighters often do get old "overnight" -- one fight they're themselves, the next one they're not. He fought Pacquiao in the rematch only to not get knocked out, and Freddie Roach has said publicly that Pacquiao held back once he felt he was in no danger and in firm control because he didn't want to embarrass Barrera.
Beating Sammy Ventura means nothing. The fact that he couldn't touch Amir Khan is a huge deal.
But Barrera won't stop. The fact that the fight probably should have been a no-contest will give him that "I can still do it" feeling even if it's foolish. Cut or no cut, Khan whooped him bad. And Barrera couldn't stop him.
The warrior spirit is there in flashes. But flashes aren't good enough to beat good fighters. At 135 pounds, Barrera is old and undersized. He doesn't have the strength or the speed to hang in with the division's best. It's not a fault; it's just a reality.
Marco Antonio Barrera shouldn't have come back, and he shouldn't keep trying to bang out that fourth weight division world title. It's not worth the physical toll it will take on him. But when you're talking about Barrera, you're also talking about a proud man. He'll fight on.
Personally, I just have no desire to see the legend take his knocks anymore. I had a similar feeling after watching Manny Pacquiao beat the crap out of Oscar de la Hoya. I'm not a pansy about this stuff, either. I love a good war in the boxing ring. I'm not going to be one of these guys that says the violence isn't part of the appeal, though that's always open to moronic interpretation from those that don't get that the violence is just one aspect of the incredible stuff these athletes do.
What I don't like is watching an aging fighter that can barely defend himself get cracked. It's not entertaining, it's just sad. And it's a necessary part of the sport, too, in its own way. Without that fight, how does a fighter know when enough is enough? What's bothersome is that they rarely act and say, "Well, that is enough." They cherry-pick something to convince themselves they can go on. Barrera has the cut. Oscar has the weight drain. Roy Jones is an interesting case in that it seems like he really came to love his job once his physical gifts began to erode.
He'll fight on. They all will. This is boxing, it's fighter pride, and it's the guts to take the chance again. It's not about legacy. Barrera could lose to Freudis Rojas in a rematch and it wouldn't change what he did in his prime. Athletes in all sports play "too long." But Michael Jordan with the Wizards wasn't getting hit in the head, and neither was Jet Brett Favre.
He'll fight on. And it won't be pretty.