No brainer

Nov 11, 2003 8:42 AM

You must have a hole in the head if you think Manny Pacquiao, the hard-to-spell Filipino with the good punch, is going to beat Marco Antonio Barrera next Saturday in San Antonio.

Of course, Barrera has a hole in his head. Or something. Actually, it’s been filled in.

A brain operation in 1977 to remove some bad veins has not stopped him yet. It has been reported that Barrera had metal plates put in his head. He says the size was more like computer chips. Size matters, I am told.

Thomas Hauser, the Muhammad Ali biographer and novelist, broke the story about Barrera’s brain on the Internet. It came out, one supposes, at a curious time ”” 16 fights after the operation, which was to correct congenital defects, nothing caused by taking punches to the head.

The timing, however, coincides with a bitter break Barrera had with his old manager, Ricardo Maldonado, and his older promoter from the Forum, John Jackson.

He recently signed with Oscar de la Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions - making him the best fighter Golden Boy has under contract, including the boss himself. Golden Boy said Barrera has been tested and retested and found healthy enough to box.

Barrera said he’s been examined by his doctors regularly, has had more MRI’s done on him than the world’s collected heads of state. He is a very bright lad, was going to college and planning to become a lawyer when he realized boxing was better than chasing ambulances. But only after Hauser’s piece, ridiculously entitled by the author as "Shame on Boxing" (really tells the story, huh? plus it could be used over most any column on the sport), no authority has had Barrera tested.

The Texas commission, prodded by Hauser’s piece, finally did and he passed with flying colors. No surprise.

In the 16 fights since the operation, Barrera has had no problems, at least with his brain. Of course, he hasn’t faced his old nemesis, Junior Jones, since the operation, and here, in Pacquiao, he is facing another big punching bantamweight who keeps going after bigger prey.

Jones surprised Barrera, and most of the boxing world, with a right hand straight down the pike. Pacquiao’s punches are not as straight. And since Jones - Barrera lost a close decision in a rematch - the Mexico City "Baby-Faced Assassin" has morphed into one of boxing’s greatest technical fighters.

He simply took the heart from the then HBO darling, Prince Naseem Hamed, by boxing instead of slugging. Barrera, certainly among the elite pound for pound, is one of the few who can box and slug, who can hit with power and hit for average.

His defense makes him more Gold Glove than Golden Gloves. He is, simply, one of the greatest all-round fighters around and the 3-1 or so odds on him seem too low.