Barrera bashes stereotypes

Sep 13, 2005 3:03 AM

The stereotypes were always there to be shattered. Long before Marco Antonio Barrera, there was Salvador Sanchez and before him Miguel Canto. Yet Mexican fighters are seen as guys who march forward, no matter the pain, and throw left hooks.

The stereotyping, of course, is based on some cultural truths. I remember, before Pipino Cuevas lost his title to Thomas Hearns 25 years ago my Mexican buddy, Cuevas biographer and now successful agent Rafael Mendoza, explaining that more important than winning or losing was fighting.

"If a boxer returns to his neighborhood without a mark, no one cares about him if he had an easy fight," he said. "But if you were cut up and have black eyes, then you are a hero, no matter who won."

But it has long been past time to forget the idea that Mexicans can’t "box." And for that we should be thankful to one of their greatest, a little guy who started his career as the "Baby Faced Assassin." Befitting the role of the stereotype, Barrera was everything beloved in a Mexican fighter. He’s famed for vicious left hooks to the body, a take-no-prisoner style, incredible resiliency and a passion for the battle.

Barrera showed his brilliance when he showed the legend of Prince Naseem Hamed was more of a myth by undressing the unorthodox featherweight from Sheffield (England) with a stylish boxing performance. Marco Antonio is one of the greatest Mexican fighters of all time, but yet I can’t get too excited about his obvious chances of beating Robbie Peden in Vegas this Saturday.

I certainly wouldn’t lay 6-1. Peden is a very, very live underdog, even if the casual fan is not hip to it.

This is a unification fight between two belt-holders at 130 pounds. But Barrera is not a true junior lightweight. He went up in weight to win the "real" title from his old rival, and another of the great Mexican fighters, Erik Morales. Peden is bigger and thus may be able to blunt the Assassin’s power. He managed to take the best shots of Nate Campbell.

Peden knows Barrera. He estimates they have sparred 200 rounds, though Barrera says it was much less and besides, sparring is not the same as fighting. But Peden knows he can hurt Barrera. He forced a postponement in the second of the three Morales fights when he cracked one of Barrera’s ribs.

Also, he has a pedigree. He represented Australia in two different Olympics and when he turned pro, he was signed by Shelly Finkel, who is no slouch when it comes to recognizing talent. His career went under the radar, though, and he returned Down Under to revive it.

In a way, Peden fights like the stereotypical Mexican. He hooks with both hands in a crowd-pleasing aggressive style. But that’s one of the reasons I don’t like Peden even at a high buyback rate of say 5-1.

Barrera had trouble with Kennedy McKinney, a tall American with a good right hand, when they kicked off HBO’s Boxing After Dark series with a classic encounter. Off that, it was obvious he was always going to have trouble with Junior Jones, who had the same tall style and a bigger right hand.

Peden is different. He’ll be in front of Barrera as much as he can. I expect him to try and bully the smaller man, but I also expect the Mexican to show that in this matchup, he is not the slugger, but the boxer who can punch. It should be a good show and a reminder that Mexican fighters indeed do know some of the sweet science. Hey, even Julio Cesar Chavez, who may have been the greatest example of the stereotype, showed what a superior fighter he was when he broke down and destroyed Edwin Rosario. Of course, Julio can not be counted among the superior Mexican "boxers."

When he claims he was ahead of Meldrick Taylor at the time of Referee Richard Steele’s controversial stoppage and brags that he was robbed against Pernell Whitaker, Chavez shows that he really doesn’t understand the nuances of the game. He was one hell of a fighter, and it’s too bad he’ll be "fighting" this Saturday as part of Bob Arum’s farewell tour. The real reason, I’m afraid, is that Arum wants to hurt the pay-per-view sales of the Barrera show since it is promoted by his biggest enemy this side of Don King, Oscar de la Hoya.

Also on the Barrera card, Leavander Johnson defends one of those alphabet lightweight belts — the real 135-pound champion, of course, is Diego Corrales — against Jesus Chavez, who is moving up from 130, where he was exciting but not much of a banger. I haven’t seen any odds, but I think Chavez should win on sheer hustle.

Another Mexican will be on the card, coinciding with our neighbor’s Independence Day, Jose Luis Cruz, an undefeated welterweight. I haven’t seen a line on his fight either, but I would say the odds are at least 10-1 against him since he’s facing Sugar Shane Mosley. The report is that Cruz, while a banger, is slower than promoter Don Elbaum reaching for a check.