14.06.04 – By Matthew Hurley: When Marco Antonio Barrera steps back into the ring against the slippery Paulie Ayala he won’t just be gazing across the ring at a very serious challenger, he’ll be looking inward, perhaps wondering how he fell from the elite of boxing so quickly and so dramatically. Barrera’s dismantling at the hands of Manny Pacquiao in 2003 was so complete and so violently overwhelming that many were calling for his retirement. Even members of his own entourage, perhaps still in shock at seeing their charge bloody, battered and bewildered, expressed hope that he would walk away. Marco however, a warrior who had gone through this already years before at the hands of Junior Jones, decided he was having none of it and began the physical and mental preparation for what will surely be his final comeback.
Barrera first came to prominence when he defeated Daniel Jiminez for the WBO light featherweight title in 1995. Instantly he was anointed Mexico’s great new star and he tore through his first four challengers. Then, on the debut of HBO’s After Dark series, he went to war with Kennedy McKinney. Both men hit the canvas in a contender for fight of the year honors before Marco finally ended it on a twelfth round TKO. After a few perfunctory defenses Barrera met Junior Jones, a fighter who resembled a miniature Thomas Hearns and had a right cross Hearns would have been proud of. The right hand never missed and by the fifth round Barrera was done. The two would meet again in a more tactical rematch with Jones winning a close unanimous decision.
By the time Barrera met Erik Morales, “El Terrible” had supplanted him as Mexico’s next great star. We all know what happened in the ring that night. Despite dropping a controversial decision, Marco had reignited his failing career in the consensus choice for fight of the year. He was back. In his next few fights, particularly against odds on favorite Prince Naseem Hamed, he also reinvented himself. Gone were the wild swinging, face first rushes. In their stead he opted for precision and patience. Along the way he was justifiably ranked by boxing fans and scribes as a pound for pound great.
Then came Pacquiao and Barrera suddenly found himself back at square one. Or as close to square one as he has been in years.
There were distractions going into the Pacquiao fight. The revelation that he had small metal plates put into his skull mid-career and the premature break up of his training camp certainly bothered him, but Pacquiao had as much to do with it as anything. Barrera looked slow and simply couldn’t keep the hard punching Filipino whirlwind off him. It was as brutal a beat down of a great fighter, apparently in his prime, as you’re likely to see.
Now comes junior featherweight champ Paulie Ayala. Fortunately for Marco, Paulie doesn’t hit nearly as hard as Manny Pacquiao and he too is coming off a lopsided loss. In his last significant fight he dropped a decision to Erik Morales. Still, he remains a dangerous opponent both for his skill level and because there as so many questions in regard to what Barrera has left. This will also probably be Ayala’s last shot at the big time so look for him to be sharp, focused and prepared to leave whatever he has left in the ring. He may try to test Marco early to see if he can rattle him and, if unsuccessful, he’ll back off and settle into his tricky boxing mode.
It says here that Marco reverts even further back to a very cautious, defensive approach. He was severely shook up mentally against Pacquiao, to the point where he head butted on purpose and seemed to have been looking to find a way out of the fight before he got knocked out. Never before had he seemed so confused. It was completely out of character and may have indicated that his days as an elite fighter are over.
Everything really depends on how much the loss to Pacquiao effected Barrera mentally. If he’s damaged goods he’s done. But great fighters have come back from devastating losses and Barrera is a great fighter. He may have had a bad night. However, for a lighter weight fighter, he’s getting up there in age and perhaps his body is breaking down. It’s the mental damage however that is his biggest concern. If he can shake that off, he should be all right.
In a fight that could go either way this corner feels that Barrera will make one more run for the pound for pound rankings and he will begin this assault on the division’s elite with a very close decision victory over a game Paulie Ayala. But it’s a tough fight against a tough opponent and there is a chance this could be one of the last times we see Marco Antonio Barrera in the ring.