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Classic Fight: Manny Pacquiao takes step toward superstardom against Marco Antonio Barrera

Marco Antonio Barrera was the featherweight champion, but Manny Pacquiao broke through with a huge win in San Antonio.

Manny Pacquiao had already won world titles at flyweight and junior featherweight by the time he met Marco Antonio Barrera for the LINEAL!!! featherweight championship in 2003, but he hadn’t quite become a star.

On Nov. 15, 2003, he became a star, and took his first big step toward eventual superstardom.

The 29-year-old Barrera (57-3, 40 KO at the time) was a seasoned young veteran, and had been through the wars, but was also also the defending champion, one of the top fighters in boxing. His two losses to Junior Jones in 1996-97 and first loss to Morales in 2000 were not erased, but they had been overshadowed coming in by a run of top form, where he took the “0” from Naseem Hamed in 2001 and then rattled off victories over Enrique Sanchez, Morales, Johnny Tapia, and Kevin Kelley, in order. There was no thought that Barrera was past his prime, really. He’d been looking good, as competitive and ferocious as ever.

But the 24-year-old Pacquiao (37-2-1, 28 KO coming in) proved to be a whole different kettle of fish. While the southpaw Hamed was awkward and tricky, the southpaw Pacquiao was even tougher to deal with, as his speed and power, coming from odd angles, gave Barrera fits on the night.

Manny was coming up to 126 pounds for the fight, having made his mark a bit in 2001 when he smashed Lehlo Ledwaba on the De La Hoya-Castillejo undercard. From there, he fought on the Lewis-Tyson card in 2002, and eventually made his way to this HBO main event.

Pacquiao, of course, would go on to become more than a star and even more than a superstar. He would become a global sporting icon.

For Barrera, who had never been stopped before and never would be again, this wasn’t a career-ender, as he’d have more good nights — he beat Morales again in 2004, notably — but it was the beginning of his down slide, perhaps. He’d last another eight years in the sport, which included a rematch with Pacquiao in 2007 that nobody had really asked to see, and didn’t wind up being very memorable at all, serving mostly as the first time Top Rank and Golden Boy had worked together after a long “Cold War,” opening the door for further co-promotions.