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Barrera vs McKinney: A Forum Classic

Tonight, it's Gennady Golovkin and Roman Gonzalez. 19 years ago, Marco Antonio Barrera and Kennedy McKinney waged war in a legendary fight at the Great Western Forum.

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Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

With Gennady Golovkin and Willie Monroe Jr set to fight for Golovkin's WBA middleweight title tonight at the revamped Forum in Inglewood, California, we once again have big-time boxing at one of the great American venues.

Last year, Juan Manuel Marquez reopened the building for boxing with a main event win on HBO over Mike Alvarado, a fight that had some of the passion and grit of the old Great Western Forum boxing classics, even if ultimately it fell short of being included in that class.

One fight that immediately jumps out for many fight fans as a Forum epic is the February 3, 1996 bout between Marco Antonio Barrera and Kennedy McKinney, fighters with hugely different styles, backgrounds, and places on the totem pole at that moment in boxing.

* * * * *

The hype for Barrera-McKinney kicked into high gear on Tuesday, four days before fight night. At the press conference, McKinney went on a verbal rampage, staring down Barrera and screaming at the young titleholder.

Barrera, having stood up as McKinney unleashed his tirade, glanced back at his team, paused a second, and then fired a quick right hand toward McKinney. The fighters were quickly pulled apart, with McKinney not offering anything in return.

Barrera, a Mexico City native nicknamed "The Baby Faced Assassin," had turned pro in November 1989, two months before his 16th birthday. By the time he faced McKinney, he was 39-0 (27 KO) and one of the rising stars of the super bantamweight division, having worked his way up from flyweight in his teenage years. At just 22, he was already a seasoned professional and a world champion, beating Daniel Jimenez in March 1995 for the WBO belt, followed by successful wins over Frankie Toledo, Maui Diaz, Agapito Sanchez, and Eddie Croft, all coming in 1995.

McKinney was born in Hernando, Mississippi, a small town in DeSoto county, in the northwest corner of the state. Both the town and the county were named after Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto, who is credited with being the first European to cross the Mississippi River.

Unlike Barrera, who became a professional as a child, McKinney had a tremendous amateur background, including a gold medal in the bantamweight division at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. In a 1992 fight in Italy, McKinney won the IBF super bantamweight title by knocking out Welcome Ncita, a tough South African nicknamed "The Hawk." The 11th round KO was necessary, as McKinney trailed on the cards, 96-95, 96-94, and 97-94, when he landed a crushing right hand to put Ncita to sleep. It was the winner of the 1992 RING Magazine Knockout of the Year award.

McKinney made five title defenses, including a rematch majority decision win over Ncita in April 1994, before he was victim of the RING Magazine Upset of the Year award for 1994, losing in August to another South African, lightly regarded challenger Vuyani Bungu, who would in fact never lose the title, holding it through a February 1999 defense against Victor Llerena, before vacating to move up and challenge Prince Naseem Hamed in 2000, having made 13 successful title defenses, one a rematch win in 1997 over McKinney.

The press conference spiel from McKinney, now 30, was, in his words, an attempt to get inside Barrera's head. There was a lot of hype for the young Mexican, and he'd earned it.

But HBO's Larry Merchant, working the Boxing After Dark broadcast with Jim Lampley and Roy Jones Jr, wasn't sure that was the best idea.

"If he got inside this kid's head, I'm not sure he liked what he saw, because [Barrera] may seem like a quiet, passive kid, but deep down, there's a lot of turbulence going on there."

He continued, "Many people regard Barrera as the equivalent at the same stage of their careers as Julio Cesar Chavez. He may be the best fighter south of Oscar De La Hoya, not only geographically but in their weight classes. What this prizefight tonight is all about, what this night is about, is to find out if Barrera is as good as many people think he is, and that would be very, very good."

* * * * *

Barrera put on 12 pounds on the HBO unofficial scales, up to 133, with McKinney at 131 on fight night. "30 is middle age at least for fighters in this weight class," said Merchant. "It would really take a heroic effort for McKinney at this point to be the McKinney of old."

Kennedy McKinney (28-1-1, 17 KO) made his way to the ring to a fairly subdued reaction from the Forum faithful, but the building came alive for young Barrera and the strains of "La Negra."

"It's clear," Merchant noted, "that the Mexican fans in Los Angeles have already embraced him as their once and future hero." Decked out in bright white entrance apparel with red trim, he looked every bit the part of the Western good guy. McKinney, in red and gold, disrobed to reveal a Magic Johnson Lakers jersey, at the arena where the NBA star had become an NBA legend. But as Michael Buffer made his introduction of "The King," the jersey elicited few if any cheers.

Pat Russell was assigned as referee. Lou Filippo, Robert Byrd, and Ismael Wiso Fernandez were the judges.

An enormous 24-foot ring was noted by Lampley, who asked Roy Jones Jr about which fighter it would benefit. Jones said it would favor Barrera. "McKinney will be there," Jones figured. "I don't think he plans to move. He will be there."

About 30 seconds into the round, Barrera got a rise from the crowd with a couple of hard right hands, and went on the attack. McKinney landed a good right in response, but Barrera wouldn't budge, throwing power shots with McKinney moving into the corner, quickly escaping and taking it back to the center of the ring. Barrera's aggression was evident, as the young Mexican fighter looked to boss the ring and establish himself as the man dictating where and how the fight would be fought against the veteran, throwing lefts to the body and rights to the head.

McKinney began flicking his jab out in the final minute, and followed that up with a sudden, strong right hand, as he began to mix it up, providing two-way action down the stretch, and when the bell rang, the crowd responded to what they'd seen in the first three minutes with enthusiastic cheers, many rising to their feet. But Barrera and McKinney were just getting started.

McKinney landed a good right hand, but Barrera shot a laser left hand to the body, hurting McKinney. Barrera followed up with another shot to the body, and began winging left hooks upstairs and to the breadbasket, but McKinney clipped Barrera and backed him down.

"You don't often see that with Barrera," Merchant said of the young Mexican taking a step back.

As both fighters jockeyed for ring position with flicking jabs at the center of the squared circle, Barrera landed another good left to the body. McKinney's rights fell short regularly, but as Barrera indulged McKinney in a boxing match, they began to find a home as the round drew to a close. Barrera smashed him with another left to the body as the round ended.

The CompuBox numbers after two frames had Barrera landing 71 of 129 (55%) of his total punches, and McKinney at 59 of 156 (38%). Those are averages of 35.5 and 29.5 punches landed per round. This is notable right now, this very day, as we just saw a $100 pay-per-view mega-fight where one of the two multi-millionaire fighters, who became richer than ever that night, landed a meager 6.75 punches per round, his opponent clocking in at 12.3 connects per round.

Between rounds, Barrera's corner advised him that the body punches needed to continue: "He's very weak in the body" was the HBO translation. In McKinney's corner, trainer Kenny Adams advised his charge that "the right hand is hurting him."

Barrera V McKinney

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"McKinney looks like he's been peeled out of a textbook," Merchant said early in the third round. "He's erect, he throws correct, straight punches. You don't often see this kind of a classic kind of a boxer-puncher as McKinney is anymore."

Barrera's lefts to the body and occasional jabs continued, with McKinney poking the left jab out at distance, and flustering Barrera a little bit, keeping him on the outside, away from the trenches, where Barrera wanted to be. Barrera's left hand once again sunk into McKinney's midsection, McKinney coming back with a right hand to the head, pushing Barrera backwards again -- not hurting him, really, but letting him know that he was not going to go down easily, as McKinney had promised when he asked, "Who's he hurt? Who's he beaten?" in the lead-up to the fight.

With McKinney dictating the pace of the fight in round three, the young Barrera looked a bit less sure of himself when going back to the corner. "Barrera's allowing McKinney to fight his own pace," Jones noted. "I said before if Barrera let McKinney dictate the fight, it'd be a very difficult fight for him. He can't win this fight if he keeps letting McKinney dictate the pace."

Still jabbing, McKinney stayed in control in the first minute of round four, playing solid defense and shutting down the body work of Barrera, dropping his elbows to drop the left hooks. Standing at center ring, McKinney kept using his left hand as a range finder, before pushing Barrera back to the ropes and grazing a right hand off the side of Barrera's head. The younger fighter came back a counter right hand, but McKinney cut off the ring, keeping Barrera against the edge of the ring, moving with Marco Antonio.

McKinney, his confidence growing, opened up his offense and got a little careless, after which he got caught with a counter uppercut, which sparked a big Barrera rally, as he let both hands fly. McKinney, turned around to the ropes himself, looked to slip shots and counter himself. McKinney had done the solid work in the first half of the round, but Barrera popped away and closed it strong, even with McKinney cracking him with a good right hand with Barrera dropping defense for offense in the final moments.

McKinney's jab remained his go-to early in the fifth, but as Lampley noted, the two began to stand and trade at center ring, both looking a bit more flat-footed, as was inevitable given their very high punch output. The subtle change in tempo was in Barrera's favor, as he laced Barrera with a hard right hand, McKinney rolling with it. Referee Pat Russell received jeers and whistles as he stepped between the fighters briefly, the fight fans at the Forum looking for the action they'd been given. McKinney then complained that Barrera was once again straying low with his body shots, but with Russell not giving it the time of day, Barrera took advantage, and popped his opponent with a few good shots to end the fifth round.

Though Merchant remained poetically impressed with McKinney's performance, the tide was turning. Barrera's punches and the pace were starting to get to McKinney in the latter portion of the round. But it's true that McKinney was giving the fight of his life, a terrific performance against a younger, hard-hitting, determined, and very talented champion.

Kennedy McKinney

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The two main questions coming into the fight were classic crossroads-type boxing dilemmas:

  1. Would Barrera look as spectacular against a seasoned professional like McKinney?
  2. Could McKinney still work a tireless pace, as would likely be needed to beat Barrera over 12 rounds?

Between the fifth and sixth rounds, the referee warned the Barrera corner about the body shots/low blows, but it didn't do much to change the Mexican's attack, as he thrashed away at the veteran's midsection. McKinney looked to stop the rush with a right uppercut, and indeed it backed Barrera up to the ropes, with Marco Antonio looking suddenly tired, though it didn't last. Barrera took a moment, and began clobbering away again, McKinney doing everything possible to keep the champion at bay with hard right hands, a double left hook, and uppercuts.

By the final minute of the first half of the fight, Barrera and McKinney were standing toe-to-toe, trading massive shots. After McKinney pivoted off the ropes, Barrera caught him with a hook to the body and shots to the head, McKinney reeling in retreat, but gathering himself. Both fighters sat down on a couple of right hands, landing nearly in stereo. The best round of the fight favored Barrera statistically, and he appeared to do more damage, too. In an insane round of offensive action, Barrera landed 62/113 (55%) of his total punches according to CompuBox, with McKinney connecting on 42/77 (55%).

"This is movie town," Merchant said. "You've never seen a better round in a movie than the one you just saw." McKinney's head dropped and his chest heaved as he appeared weary between rounds, making liberal use of the spit bucket. A heavily breathing but calmer Barrera had truly seized the momentum, and came out fighting for round seven as if he knew in his heart that this was the case.

Barrera put the pressure on right away in the first minute, but McKinney went into the reserves and made Barrera go backwards yet again. McKinney landed a clean right hand. "Oh, what a right hand shot!" Lampley exclaimed. "Oh, what a return!" followed as Barrera roared back with a left to the body, a right to the head, and a left to the head in succession. But McKinney wouldn't fold any sooner than Barrera would. With Marco Antonio returning to the vicious work, McKinney stood his ground and fired back with big shots of his own, pushing it back out to the center of the ring, where the two of them dug in their heels and fired away yet again, and it was Barrera who showed the first signs of retreat.

Having abandoned his jab, McKinney was now fighting fire with fire against Barrera. "This is the best of an American-style fighter against the best of a Mexican-style fighter," Merchant opined, "and it's as good as you could hope for." After the round, Lampley compared the fight to the 1990 fight between Meldrick Taylor and Julio César Chávez.

With McKinney bleeding in his mouth and his left eye beginning to close, the fight had become virtually even after a fast start from the challenger. Back in the center of the ring, McKinney was able to jab while Barrera's pressure dropped. But Barrera snapped off a couple of sharp jabs that were preceded by two shots that may have once again come in just below the belt line.

Reaching with his jab and right hand, McKinney was caught wide open by a Barrera right hand, followed by a left hook that connected to the body as McKinney was already on his way to the canvas, and then another short right off the chin. Just over a minute remained in the round as Pat Russell began his count.

McKinney rose at the count of seven, and the fight continued with McKinney on his bicycle. Barrera, looking to finish the fight immediately, threw shots with reckless abandon. Russell could and probably should have called another knockdown with just over 40 seconds left in the round, as Barrera smacked McKinney with a left hook that sent him tumbling into the ropes, leaving him forced to use both hands to steady his body as his body gave out beneath him, prone to shots open shots from Barrera, who was in full-on destroy mode.

Barrera held back on a cocked right hand until McKinney was about halfway back to his feet, then jacked him in the jaw. Russell, running onto the scene of the beating, then backed away as McKinney got back into an upright position, where he ate another series of rights and lefts from Barrera. Turning to get himself out of the corner, McKinney took another right hand to the chin, and on spaghetti legs, hit the canvas for a second time.

Barrera v McKinney

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McKinney got back up immediately, and was conversing as best he could with Russell as the referee picked up the count at three. The fighter was given a standing eight count, and warned that the three-knockdown rule was in effect, meaning that one more trip to the canvas in the round, and the fight was over, even if it was more McKinney's legs betraying him than anything significant landing from Barrera.

Understanding the stakes, McKinney had 23 seconds to deny Barrera of a finish. Barrera threw with true fury, knowing that anything that knocked McKinney off balance would end the fight. But McKinney, staggering and running, slipping and dodging as best he could, survived the round.

"No problem," McKinney was told in the corner. "You just gotta go out and take care of business now."

Barrera came out all business for round nine, sensing a chance to get McKinney out before the veteran might be able to rally. With a buzz in the crowd, McKinney stayed away from Barrera, who doggedly stalked his man, only to walk his way into a jab and then a straight right hand that bounced off of Barrera's forehead, letting him know that the fight wasn't over just yet.

"The Baby Faced Assassin," though, was undeterred. Barrera maneuvered McKinney back to the ropes, throwing both hands at the body. But McKinney stayed away, drawing boos from the crowd as the reeling challenger poked away with his left hand. Barrera made a charge, but McKinney ducked out of the way and scampered away from Barrera's wheelhouse as quickly as he could.

He could run, as they say, but he could not hide. As Barrera forced him into the corner, McKinney threw a pair of long right hands, but couldn't keep Barrera from pummeling him back down to the canvas with a left hook to the body and two thudding shots to the head.

Down for a third time and with a minute left in the ninth round, McKinney had gone down that time more because he needed to in order to prevent Barrera from really doing serious damage. Still, referee Pat Russell warned him, "You need to show me something." Not missing a beat, McKinney replied, "I'm alright."

McKinney, his hands dipping perilously toward his waist, kept Barrera at bay for the final 40 seconds of the round, catching him with a stiff jab that slowed Marco Antonio's forward march just enough for McKinney to work his way out of the round.

Trainer Kenny Adams started on what may have been an inspirational speech. "Listen to me, Mac. Let's be truthful with ourselves and let's work. Here's what we've got," he began, before Russell interrupted to tell McKinney's corner he wanted the doctor to take a look and make a call. Ignoring Russell's commands to back up, the corner just worked away, stalling the doctor's check on their fighter as long as possible.

"I'm alright, doc," Kennedy McKinney said, as only a professional boxer could. "I'm alright. Tenth round. Got three to go."

His chance for something more in-depth and stirring taken away, Adams truncated his thoughts: "You gotta take him out. Set him up. Quit moving to that hook, you understand me?"

Barrera V McKinney

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With a minute and 40 seconds going by between the ninth and tenth rounds, due to the clock stopping for a doctor's check on the fighter, McKinney got 40 extra seconds to recover from a tough couple of rounds, and he looked a bit fresher in the first minute of the round, connecting clean with a lead right hand 58 seconds into the round, and then four seconds later, slashing him with another before bouncing away from any retaliation from Barrera.

Barrera found himself stunned, and McKinney did what he should have done, closed in and let his hands go with just about everything he had left. Barrera managed to gather himself and land a left uppercut to the chin, but with a second (or third) wind, Kennedy McKinney was now the initiator of the action, flinging rights and lefts to the head of the champion.

McKinney, though, walked into a shot from Barrera, which stopped the tide, if not turning it. The mouthpiece of McKinney flew out on a stinging blow from Barrera, but still McKinney walked his man down. With Russell lurking and looking for a moment for the action to slow down to get McKinney's mouthpiece replaced, the referee chose to break up the ongoing exchange with 17 seconds left in the round, much to Kennedy McKinney's objection, and judging by the look on his face as he let his own mouthpiece hang out while he turned to his own corner, Barrera's relief. Once the action resumed, there wasn't even enough time remaining in the round for the exchanges to strike back up.

"If this is an epitaph for McKinney as a prizefighter, that round should go down," Merchant said of McKinney's rally, "because he won that round after the last two rounds."

Kennedy McKinney and Marco Antonio Barrera may have been at a loss to start round 11, as both came out jabbing in the middle of the ring, as if, Lampley noted, we were back in round one. McKinney shot a quick right hand to the ribs of Barrera, who tied him up.

Down goes Barrera.

One maybe his fastest right hand of the night, Kennedy McKinney slid to Marco Antonio Barrera's left, then uncorked an absolute beauty of a punch. If Barrera were a lesser fighter, it may have been over right there. It was a shocking, sudden blow that Barrera never saw coming, and that caught him trying to let go of his own punch, so he was defensively compromised, as well.


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But Barrera scraped a glove on the canvas, his knees dipping. Clearly woozy, he argued with referee Russell that he hadn't gone down, though he had, even if he had also slipped a bit on the big Budweiser logo in the middle of the ring. His legs momentarily looked jellied, but recovered quickly. For the first time in his career, Barrera had been knocked down. He didn't care for it.

Barrera came right back and landed a good right hand, then another one followed up, but once again Barrera's right foot slid across the insignia of the King of Beers, proving, really, that the logo had at least been a factor, even though McKinney's right hand is what sent him skidding the first time, while this time it was his own furious momentum.

Pecking away from the outside, McKinney was once again victim of a long, hard right hand from Barrera, as well as a left that followed just before the bell signaling the end of the round.

On to the 12th and final round.

When it comes to the genuinely special fights, there's always a moment where you can sense that something really amazing is happening before your very eyes, something that will echo through the years and be remembered as a true epic. The recent battle between Lucas Matthysse and Ruslan Provodnikov was a good fight, if not quite one that lived up to the hype or expectations of an all-time classic war. It never did have that moment where your jaw dropped, where the display of skill and violence reached a fever pitch, where the drama went overboard and broke the meters.

For 10 rounds, Barrera vs McKinney had all you could ask for. Non-stop action. High-level offensive boxing from a couple of legitimate top fighters, one still on the way up, one trying to prove he wasn't on the way down. Kennedy McKinney, at 30 and having suffered a huge upset loss 18 months prior, knew that the chips were down in this fight. He could not afford to lose. That's why he got up the first time. Why he refused to go down again until Barrera absolutely forced it. Why he got up that time. Why he got up the next round, when he displayed his savvy by taking a knee under duress.

And it's why Kennedy McKinney, even if he was aided by a doctor check that stopped the clock between rounds nine and 10, giving him 40 extra seconds to gather himself, was able to once again swing the momentum in round 10. That doctor check could just as easily have ended the fight. Though McKinney was in no imminent danger, there have certainly been worse doctor stoppages in boxing history, and the fighter had been down three times, and had taken quite a beating in the previous handful of rounds. There was a lot to consider there. Ultimately, the doctor erred on the side of machismo and the long tradition of prizefighting. It wasn't over until it was over, and it wasn't over yet.

Barrera, too, had shown a lot of tenacity and intelligence. McKinney had caught him with a number of clean right hands that he stood up to, proving that his chin was the real deal. Even the knockdown in the 11th, though legitimate, was taken by Barrera as if he'd simply been mildly inconvenienced. He also was able, with the next slip, to settle himself down and not leave himself open for more of McKinney's rights, as his opponent was operating with a renewed sense of optimism.

It was already a truly great fight through 11 rounds -- hell, it was a great fight through four. At several different points amidst this tsunami of offensive firepower and stunning resilience, we may have already seen The Moment. But for Barrera, it was still to come.

The two touched gloves to start the final round, after both corners told their fighters that Barrera was ahead. A jab and a cuffing right hand opened the round from Barrera, who looked to sling more arrows McKinney's way, while the veteran tried to tie up. McKinney's feet slipped on the damned Budweiser logo this time, and with a half-shove/half-punch from Barrera, McKinney went careening to the canvas as if he'd just stepped on a patch of ice.

Though he protested, McKinney was ruled down by Pat Russell. He was up at four, still pleading his case to the referee. McKinney seemed to believe he'd tripped on Barrera's foot, but he hadn't. It may not have been a knockdown other than officially ruled as such, but it wasn't Barrera's foot that got in the way, it was just the wet beer logo, the same that had vexed Barrera in the prior frame.

McKinney, though, moved away from Barrera once the action resumed, tying him up as Barrera closed the distance. Once again, McKinney wrapped his arms around Barrera, but shot a right hand that landed, though to Barrera, it may as well have been nothing more than a stiff breeze. He was determined to close the show in spectacular fashion, to seal the fight.

Again, the logo came into play, as McKinney slipped once more. Then, it happened. Bam! A vile left hook from Barrera to McKinney's liver put the Olympic gold medalist on the mat for a fifth time, a delayed reaction that saw him crumble to his knees. Unbelievably, referee Pat Russell missed the call, putting the finishing touch on his overall atrocious performance over the course of this fight.

Barrera, though, knew that was The Moment, and he ripped away at McKinney, battering him with right hands to the head, dropping him again, with Russell this time jumping in immediately to stop the fight without a count.

Barrera v McKinney

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"A fitting end," said Merchant, "to a great, great prizefight."

"That was a great fight, son," Russell was seen and heard telling McKinney, still on his backside. "You got the best heart I've ever seen."

Replays showed that on the shot that dropped McKinney for the final time, McKinney quite appropriately went down while also landing one more right hand on Barrera's nose. The official time of stoppage was 2:05 of round 12.

Through his interpreter, Barrera spoke with Merchant after improving to 40-0, calling McKinney a great champion, though he had refused to shake his hand after the fight was over. Asked why, Barrera said, "Because he offended me in front of the Mexican public. I was very angry with that." Right after that, Barrera did make his way over to McKinney, offering a hug and raising his vanquished foe's hand.

The two shared more thoughts when the dust had settled.

Barrera: "I promised there would be no style, that I would go toe-to-toe, and I followed through on that prediction. This was my best win just because he did so much talking before."

McKinney: "Age was a big difference. And I was rusty. My timing was off. He's stronger than I thought he was. There is no doubt I fought a great fighter tonight. I didn't think he could do what he did to me."

* * * * *

McKinney came back quickly -- three months later in fact, beating Johnny Lewus to win the USBA super bantamweight title. In September of 1996, he returned to the Great Western Forum to beat Nestor Lopez over 10 rounds, before an April return to South Africa, where he was once again defeated by Vuyani Bungu, the fighter who had taken his title in 1994.

Barrera followed the win over McKinney with three successful title defenses in May, July, and September, beating Jesse Benavides, Orlando Fernandez, and Jesse Magana. In November, he was disqualified in round five against Junior Jones, losing his WBO super bantamweight title and the first fight of his pro career. The two rematched in April 1997, with Jones winning by unanimous decision to retain his belt.

McKinney V Jones

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McKinney would face Jones in December 1997, going down in the third round of what appeared it was going to be a short night and a successful defense for the reigning titleholder. In the fourth, though, McKinney's right hand began to land, and Jones' legs betrayed him, thanks to McKinney's power. As he battered Jones around the ring, he landed a brutal straight right that put Junior Jones on the canvas. As he tried to come forward after getting to his feet, he stumbled across the ring, grasping for McKinney's legs as referee Wayne Kelly stopped the fight. Once again, Kennedy McKinney could call himself the super bantamweight champion, this time holding the WBO belt that he'd failed to take from Barrera, beating the man who beat the man.

In his next fight out 11 months later, McKinney moved up to featherweight and was stopped in two rounds by Luisito Espinosa, who held the WBC title. McKinney fought sporadically after that, losing two of his final five fights against opponents who in his prime wouldn't have even belonged in the same ring with him.

Barrera, of course, rebounded pretty nicely from the losses to Jones. After some rehab wins, he regained the WBO 122-pound belt in 1998 after McKinney vacated it, beating Richie Wenton in Atlantic City. In 2000, he began a truly bitter rivalry with fellow Mexican fighter Erik Morales. The two would fight three times, Morales winning the first bout, and Barrera the latter pair in 2002 and 2004.

Hamed v Barrera

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In 2001, Barrera ended the 35-fight undefeated streak of Prince Naseem Hamed, and in 2003 he was starched by a surging new star from the Philippines, Manny Pacquiao. He beat Johnny Tapia, Paulie Ayala, and Kevin Kelley. In 2007, he faced Juan Manuel Marquez, losing a decision, before a listless rematch effort seven months later in another loss to Pacquiao, this one far less definitive or exciting than their first encounter.

Barrera fought on for another few years, beating club fighters on four occasions and losing a fight in the United Kingdom against Amir Khan in 2009, where Barrera bled profusely from a gash on his forehead that had been originally opened up on a headbutt six weeks prior, when Barrera held a tune-up bout in Mexico against a 1-7-1 Cuban fighter named Freudis Rojas. (Rojas never fought again, which is likely not a coincidence.)

Two more lower-level fights followed in 2010 and 2011, with a bloated and aged Barrera operating as a junior welterweight. He looked little like the Marco Antonio Barrera that waged war with McKinney or Morales.

Barrera, now 41 and out of the sport for four years, will be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, a likely first balloter. He won world titles at super bantamweight, featherweight, and super featherweight, faced a who's-who of those divisions over his era, and simply had a great career. He retired with a record of 67-7 (44 KO).

McKinney, now 49, has been out of boxing since 2003. A two-time super bantamweight titleholder and of course an Olympic gold medalist in 1988, McKinney spoke to FightHype in 2012 about his thoughts on the modern age of boxing.

"I don't really get into it. I train fighters and I am interested in boxing, but I don't like to watch fighters that don't fight," he said. "These fuckers don't fight no more. They dance around and they pitty pat and they showboat and shuffle and drop they hands, but they ain't fucking fighting no more."

* * * * *

Tonight's fights at The Forum are almost certainly not going to equal what Barrera and McKinney did 19 years ago. Gennady Golovkin and Roman Gonzalez have the sort of firepower and offensive ability that these two displayed on that night in front of 7,912 fight fans, but it takes two to tango, and it definitely takes two to make a great fight. Opponents Willie Monroe Jr and Edgar Sosa are, on paper, overmatched. Golovkin and Gonzalez are established dominant fighters, one facing a fringe contender most expect to be outgunned in Monroe, the other a wily veteran in Sosa who has already failed in two attempts to win a world title in his current weight class.

But maybe if The Forum can continue to host world class fights, we'll once again see the venue play host to the sort of encounter that is worth revisiting two decades into the future. It's been many years since the old building has had its walls rattled from a great prizefight, but it's one of the most storied venues in American boxing history. Hopefully a little bit of that old fistic magic remains.

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