A Rare Breed: Marco Antonio Barrera
Marco Antonio Barrera was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame this year. Barrera will go down as one of the greatest fighters in the history of Mexico, and one of the most exciting of the last generation.
Published: June 23, 2017
The last few weeks in the sport of boxing have been filled with announcements of upcoming fights and new ventures in the television landscape. Last week, the divisive yet financially lucrative fight between a returning 40-year old Floyd Mayweather (49-0, 26 KOs) and Mixed Martial Art’s star Conor Mcgregor (21-3) was announced for August 26th. This week Boxing Promotion Top Rank announced that 8-division champion Manny Pacquiao (59-6-2, 38 KOs) would be facing Jeff Horn (16-0-1, 11 KOs) on ESPN. It could lead to future shows that include the likes of Terence Crawford (31-0, 22 KOs) and Vasyl Lomachenko (8-1, 6 KOs).
We also had the press tours for Adrien Broner-Mikey Garcia and the mega-fight of Canelo-GGG. It cannot be forgotten that Andre Ward (32-0, 16 KOs) and Sergey Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KOs) fought for the second time. This time with a clear victory for Ward, but with a controversial ending that will be debated for years.
Lost in the shuffle may have been the International Boxing Hall of Fame held in Canastota, New York. This years entrants included the late Johnny Tapia, Evander Holyfield, Jerry Roth, Steve Farhood and Barry Tompkins among others. One of the standouts this year was Mexican legend, Marco Antonio Barrera (67-7, 44 KOs). Barrera who began his career in 1989 at the age of 15 is among not only the greatest Mexican fighters of all time but an important piece of boxing’s last generation. Almost everything that you can experience as a professional boxer happened in the career of the 3-division champion.
HBO Boxing After Dark
The HBO Boxing after Dark series is going through a renaissance after being all but dead in the water. In July, Miguel Berchelt (31-1, 28 KOs) will defend his title against Takashi Muira (31-3-2, 24 KOs) headlining an outstanding triple-header with Joe Smith (23-1, 19 KOs) taking on Sullivan Barrera (19-1, 14 KOs) on the undercard. Afterward, on September 9th Roman Gonzalez (46-1, 38 KOs) will rematch Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (43-4-1, 39 KOs) as part of what is being called the ‘SuperFly’ triple-header card. Fighters like Gonzalez and Berchelt in the lower weight classes may not even be featured on HBO if it were not for the success of the first Boxing after Dark telecast.
On February 03, 1996 the first HBO telecast of Boxing after Dark took place headlined by Barrera and Kennedy McKinney (36-6-1, 19 KOs). It was seen as the biggest test of the young Barrera’s career against a former Olympian and IBF world champion. That night Barrera and McKinney put on a fight that would forever be the bar to which fights on Boxing after Dark are held. In the fight, Barrera was down once in the 11th and McKinney down twice in the eighth, once in the ninth, and twice in the 12th. The fight is an absolute classic with infinite replay value as the standard bearer for great fights in the upcoming era.
Afterward, Barrera would go on to be part of one of the greatest rivalries in the history of the sport and a mid-career renaissance that would change how he would be viewed for the rest of his career.
In 1996, Barrera fought a total of five times making four successful defenses of his WBO 122-pound championship. The Mexican star was growing in popularity not only in Mexico but California as well as he became a staple at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood. At the end of the year in November, he met Junior Jones (50-6, 28 KOs) and the first defeat of his career. After four rounds, Barrera was up on the judge’s scorecards until he ran into Jones’ lethal right hand. The Mexico City native hit the canvas hard and got up to a barrage of punches from Jones. Barrera’s corner had entered the ring before the referee called the fight off causing the fight to be ruled a disqualification loss for Barrera.
Not one to rest on his laurel’s Barrera went immediately into a rematch with Jones in April 1997. Barrera showed signs and indications of changes he would master in the future almost pulling off the victory in a close fight. The judges, however, scored the fight for Jones by unanimous decision. Barrera spent the rest of 1997 outside of the ring only to return in 1998 four times. He was able to win back his WBO 122-pound title against Richie Wenton (24-6, 10 KOs) in New Jersey by the end of 1998. Now the time was for a fight with the other popular Mexican fighter in his weight class, WBC champion Erik Morales (52-9, 36 KOs).
Going into the first fight with Morales, Barrera was a heavy underdog as Morales was coming off some big victories including a fourth round stoppage over Junior Jones. Many had thought Barrera's best days were behind him. The fight with Morales was personal for Barrera, as the two had exchanged insults in Mexico. The fight was the hardcore boxing fan’s wet dream, and it did not disappoint. The fight took place at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas in February 2000. In the fight, Barrera proved that he was far from done as he engaged in an absolute war with Morales that would end up as the standard for the entire decade. It was a fight that can be shown to people who do not watch boxing to convert them to hardcore fans. Morales ended up winning a narrow split decision that was so disputed that the WBO refused to relinquish the title from Barrera. In a year with fights like De La Hoya-Mosley I and Trinidad-Vargas, Barrera-Morales stood above them all to win fight of the year honors for the year 2000.
The fights between Barrera and Morales were so good that the term Barrera-Morales has become part of the boxing lexicon as a term for a great back and forth fight between two Mexican fighters. The two men would go on to have two more fights in 2002 and 2004 with the third match-winning fight of the year honors. The Barrera-Morales fights interweaved a mid-career renaissance for Barrera. In his fights in between facing Morales, Barrera would utilize more of a boxing style with an elite jab. During this time Barrera was ranked consistently in the top five of the pound for pound rankings. He was able to show that while comparisons to Julio Cesar Chavez (107-6-2, 86 KOs) were valid that other comparison’s to Mexican greats such as Salvador Sanchez (44-1-1, 32 KOs) were also warranted.
The Barrera-Morales rivalry is one of the greatest in the history in the sport. They not only produced unbelievably violent fights but also had a level of hatred and animosity that brought it to another level. As significant and historic as the Barrera-Morales fights and rivalry were, the fights are arguably not the most important of Barrera’s career. That night belongs to April 7, 2001, where Barrera had his most historic performance.
After the first fight with Morales, the detractors and those who had written Barrera off disappeared. The Morales fight was the catalyst although not in the actual fight itself for a change to a more technical style for Barrera. It was all put together as a prelude for all to see in late 2000 against Jesus Salud (63-13, 38 KOs). After Salud, Barrera was ready to put on the best performance of his career.
In 2001, the landscape of boxing was unique. It was filled with punchers like Felix Trinidad (42-3, 35 KOs) and boxing savants like Floyd Mayweather. Undoubtedly, the fighter with the most charisma was Naseem Hamed (36-1, 31 KOS). At the time Hamed was thought of as the biggest puncher in the sport with victories over Kevin Kelly (60-10-2, 39 KOs) and Vuyani Bungu (39-5, 19 KOs). The man known as ‘The Prince’ made 15 defenses of his WBO featherweight championship. He also unified the WBC and IBF titles along the way only to vacate them both keeping the WBO title. Needless to say, Hamed was a heavy favorite going into the fight against Barrera.
For those boxing fans who are either too young or didn’t follow the sport closely in 2001, Barrera’s performance against Hamed can only be rivaled by Marcos Maidana’s (35-5, 31 KOs) win against Adrien Broner (33-2, 24 KOs) in December 2013. Barrera not only beat Hamed on that night but also embarrassed and humiliated him. The victory will go into the annals of boxing history as one of the most satisfying wins for any fighter. Although Hamed was a popular fighter with many fans, he also had plenty of detractors because of his pension to trash talk with a sense of confidence that came off arrogant.
In the final round of the fight, Barrera slammed Hamed’s head into the ring corner causing him to lose a point, but Barrera’s point had been made. The Mexican champion won a unanimous decision victory and earned his place in boxing history for providing a historic night in the sport.
Many point to the 1980’s as a golden age in boxing referencing the famous ‘Fab Four' of Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, and Marvin Hagler. The 2000’s had it’s own ‘Fab Four’ with Juan Manuel Marquez, Manny Pacquiao, Erik Morales, and Barrera. All four gave fans great fights and for Barrera to be the first of the four in the Hall of Fame is appropriate. The man known as the ‘Baby Faced Assassin’ will be remembered for the bravery he showed inside the ring, the intelligence to adapt his style, and the great nights of boxing that fans will never forget. Boxers like Barrera are a rare breed, and we may not see many like him in the future.
(Feature Photo: HBO Boxing)