There's much at stake for Paulie Ayala and Marco Antonio Barrera in their scheduled 12-round featherweight bout Saturday night at the Home Depot Center in Carson, and each boxer knows it.
The loser might be destined for lesser fights, or retirement. The winner would move a step closer to a possible title shot.
"This is one of the most important fights in my career; it's a crossroads fight," Ayala said. "We all know there's big opportunity after this fight, and losing could be devastating to my career or to Barrera's career because neither one of us can afford a loss."
Ayala, 34, acknowledged that, with a poor showing, he would contemplate retirement. In Ayala's last significant fight, in November 2002, Erik Morales dominated, won a unanimous decision and the World Boxing Council featherweight title.
"That's the significance of this fight," Ayala said. The loser "would basically have to start over. I'm going to have to give everything I have."
Barrera, 30, echoed that opinion. In the Mexican boxer's last bout, in November, he was beaten badly by Manny Pacquiao.
Afterward, Barrera complained of distractions before the fight, when it was revealed that he'd had brain surgery in 1997 to repair malformed blood vessels.
Barrera (57-4, 40 knockouts) said this week that he was in top physical condition and ready to give his best in his first Los Angeles-area bout since 1996.
"Every fight is important," he said. "On this occasion, it's more important for me to show the people in L.A. that I am back."
Ayala (35-2, 12), who had a points victory over Edel Ruiz in November after his loss to Morales, said he expected Barrera to be a different fighter Saturday than he was in his loss to Pacquiao.
"I'm not expecting the same Barrera who fought Pacquiao with the distractions," Ayala said.
Each former world champion acknowledged a deep respect for the other.
Asked what he would have to do to win, Ayala replied, "I have to do everything right, because Barrera doesn't make very many mistakes."
Barrera called Ayala "a great fighter."
The main event at the Home Depot Center's outdoor tennis stadium will follow a 6:45 p.m. 12-round bout involving Jermain Taylor (20-0, 15) and Raul Marquez (35-2, 24) for the WBC Continental Americas middleweight title.
The two main bouts will be televised by HBO on a three-hour delay, starting at 9:45 p.m.
Marquez, who was Oscar De La Hoya's roommate at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, said he had prepared well to face the unbeaten Taylor, who has fought twice this year, winning on a first-round technical knockout in January and a seventh-round knockout in March.
"I had a great camp," Marquez said. "We've got the right plan to beat Jermain Taylor."
Marquez challenged Taylor to "fight, not run," to which Taylor replied, "As far as me running, I'm coming to fight."
Undercard bouts will begin at 5:45 p.m.