Barrera-Marquez may
match past greats

Mar 13, 2007 6:46 AM

The last time two champions from Mexico City met we had the half-fight of the year.

Israel Vazquez, after seven wonderful rounds against Rafael Marquez, had to bow out with a broken nose that left him more breathless than the fans who appreciated the splendid sampling of the sweet science. Now we have Marquez’s big brother, Juan Manuel.

For years, Juan Manuel has been generally regarded as the star of the family. He faces another Mexico City little giant in Marco Antonio Barrera in a pay-per-view special from the Mandalay Bay in Vegas. I’ve always felt Rafael, on my pound-for-pound last, was the better brother, but not by much.

Last December, when I compiled my most recent authoritative ratings, I had Rafael at No. 6 and Juan Manuel at 11. I had Barrera at 4, behind Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Winky Wright. So the Mandalay Bay matchup should be one of great skills.

Stylistically, I’m not sure it will have the sheer excitement displayed by the more aggressive Rafael Marquez and Vazquez. That’s because the two veterans, each 33, have long belied the old Mexican fighter stereotype of left hookers with no second or third gear — just full drive, straight ahead.

Barrera, back when he was billed as the "Baby-Faced Assassin," more fit the old mold than did J.M.M., who has been trained by Nacho Beristain — the Mexican Eddie Futch. Barrera, after two losses to Junior Jones, has become a complete fighter. It was his undressing of Naseem Hamed, whom he chased into an embarrassing retirement that proved he had become more than just a slugger.

Barrera can punch and box. Three classic fights with Erik Morales showed he can brawl with the best.

Big Brother disappointed with his passive performance years ago against Freddie Norwood, a difficult southpaw. But after being knocked down three times in the first round by Manny Pacquiao, he came back to get a draw. I thought he lost, but my vote didn’t count and the judges felt he had outboxed the Filipino left-hander.

In fact, in a couple of cases, he has done better than Barrera against mutual opponents. Pacquiao beat up and knocked out Barrera; Marquez knocked out