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Barrera aims for a place among greats

History motivates the `Baby-Faced Assassin' in his super-featherweight title bout with Marquez.

March 17, 2007|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS — He wears not only the World Boxing Council's super-featherweight champion's belt, but the experience of 67 professional fights and 33 years of life.

Marco Antonio Barrera has stepped upon many scales at weigh-ins throughout a career considered one of the most successful in Mexico's boxing history.

As he now moves toward a planned retirement by the end of 2007, the "Baby-Faced Assassin" said he's found the most difficult scales are the ones a veteran boxer must balance.

On one side of Barrera, there's the motivation of victory and affirming a legacy as one of Mexico's best fighters. On the other, the perspective of knowing that he's aging in a sport in which skills can evaporate overnight.

"I want to prove what kind of fighter I was, and when I retire, I don't want to come back," Barrera said recently as he prepared for his fifth title defense, tonight against former World Boxing Assn. featherweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. "I think 33 is a good age to say goodbye."

Motivation? Barrera wants to beat Marquez and one final opponent -- probably the man who battered him in 2003, Manny Pacquiao -- to clinch his spot among Mexico's greats.

"The most important Mexican fighters have been Salvador Sanchez, Carlos Zarate, Ruben Olivares, Ricardo Lopez and Julio Cesar Chavez," Barrera said. "I gave you five. The sixth is me. Mexico is a seed that grows many champions. I don't think I can surpass or equal any of them. I'm leaving boxing soon, and I'm satisfied with what I've accomplished."

As long as he keeps winning.

Barrera is aware Chavez continued to fight despite eroding skills, suffering technical knockout losses to Oscar De La Hoya, losing to journeyman Willy Wise and being knocked out by then-champion Kostya Tszyu. Zarate (66-4) also was boxing as late as age 36, when he lost two super-bantamweight title fights.

Mexico's greats have left lessons for those who have followed. Sanchez's death in a car crash at age 23 reinforced the truth that life can be short. Former strawweight and light-flyweight champion Lopez showed a boxer can walk away on top. He retired with a 51-0-1 record in 2002.

"With thanks to God, I will retire reminding people I was a good fighter, not thinking that I was crazy to still be here," Barrera said.

He said he's being pulled away from the ring mostly by his family -- his wife of eight years and three children: a 5-year-old son, 3-year-old daughter and newborn boy.

"I've thought while training, 'What will happen if I stop boxing?' But then I see my kids," Barrera said. "I want to be with them."

Barrera's popularity among fight fans has been built on his frequent involvement in classic fights, mostly the 2000-2004 trilogy against Erik Morales that began with Morales winning the Ring Magazine's fight of the year, and closing with two Barrera victories by decisions.

The rivalry between the fighters from Mexico has been fierce. Barrera once punched Morales at a news conference, and Morales described Barrera in a recent HBO program with a term fit only for an R-rated broadcast, but Barrera acknowledges, "Thanks to Erik Morales, I will always be thought of as one of the best."

"Marco is so admired in Mexico because of the way he fights," said Ramiro Gonzalez, a former boxing writer for the Spanish language newspaper La Opinion who now works in public relations for the Barrera-Marquez fight promoter, Golden Boy Promotions. "He exchanges a lot of shots ... he likes to give, and he can receive. He's become a master, a real technician.

"Marco is too humble to say this, but if he wins these last two fights, I think you can place him No. 3 on the list of all-time great Mexican fighters, behind Sanchez and Chavez."

Said Barrera: "I've tried to write my own history. I haven't emulated or copied anyone."

Barrera (63-4, 42 knockouts) made his mark in the U.S. by fighting on 10 Forum cards in Inglewood. In 1996, he defeated former Olympic gold medalist Kennedy McKinney, rallying from his first knockdown to floor McKinney five times.

Questions were raised about Barrera's ability to achieve a major sanctioning body's world championship after he suffered the second of consecutive losses to Junior Jones in 1997.

He responded, however, with a memorable performance in the first Morales fight, a thorough beating of the flamboyant "Prince" Naseem Hamed in 2001, and the revenge victory against Morales in 2002.

"Maybe the fans like my dedication, the way I can turn fights around," Barrera said.

After being beat down by Pacquiao in 2003, Barrera has won six straight fights. He said he made a firm decision to avoid retiring with a belt retained against lesser-skilled foes.

When a rich rematch with Pacquiao failed to immediately materialize because of the current lawsuits connected to Golden Boy's dispute with Top Rank Inc. over the rights to promote the Filipino star, the $1.2-million purse offered for a Marquez fight proved tempting too.

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