By Jake Donovan
There reached a point when it was believed that boxing’s modern day version of the Fab Four was forever reduced to the Dynamic Duo. Manny Pacquiao still ranks as the very best fighter in the world, while Juan Manuel Marquez – even in the twilight of his career – isn’t very far behind.
Meanwhile, it was realized more than three years ago that Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales had no chance of ever catching back up with their former contemporaries.
Such a reality was once enough to convince the longtime rivals to call it a career. Barrera stepped away from the game following a lethargic points loss to Pacquiao in their October ’07 rematch, a couple of months after Morales was seemingly done with the game after coming just short to David Diaz in a failed bid to become Mexico’s first ever four-division champion.
But far be it for any proud warrior to sit idly and watch the game pass him by. So as Pacquiao and Marquez continued (and still continue) to add to their resumes, it was a matter of time before Barrera and Morales made their ring returns.
Barrera was the first to return, coming back 13 months after the Pacquiao rematch and more than a full year before Morales would elect to give it one more try.
Yet it’s Barrera who remains in a very distant fourth place, struggling to keep pace with his one-time peers.
At the height of their quartet, it was Morales who held the dubious distinction of serving as the group’s cellar dweller. The legendary Mexican boasted a record of just 2-4 against Barrera and Pacquiao, having never fought Marquez.
That was supposed to change this year, in a pay-per-view matchup that – among its best feedback - was received as a fight that was better late than never.
It now appears as if never will be how the final piece of the Fab Four puzzle plays out, as Marquez never officially signed on for the planned April 9 bout, pulling out altogether a week or so ago.
Morales, who won three fights in 2010 after a ring hiatus of more than two years, could’ve milked the comeback for at least one more fight by chasing pedestrian opposition while awaiting bigger game.
Instead reminded everyone why he was long recognized as one of the game’s bravest warriors, calling out the dangerous Marcos Maidana as a replacement opponent.
Sanctioning bodies being what they are these days, a belt will be at stake in the bout, giving Morales the chance to become the first Mexican fighter ever to capture alphabet hardware in four separate weight classes.
Such plans were announced as the main motivation for Barrera’s ring return last June. While Morales isn’t given much of a chance to win the fight, the face that he feels that – three fights into his comeback – he is ready for such a fight serves as a reminder of just far behind Barrera has fallen from the rest of the field.
Not helping his cause was his struggling to get past Adailton De Jesus in his comeback fight last June. The bout served as the pay-per-view chief support to Julio Cesar Chavez Jr’s decision win over John Duddy, but did nothing to enhance Barrera’s otherwise legendary credentials, which includes championship reigns at 122, 126 and 130 lb.
If anything, the fight merely revealed that Barrera and Top Rank – to whom he granted a gentleman’s agreement last summer – have a long way to go before he can even think about fighting on the title level.
At first glance, his second round knockout win over Jose Arias on Saturday evening went a much longer way towards justifying the latest comeback attempt.
But in having to search for a 43-year old opponent who has never before faced a live body and himself has embarked on two separate comebacks in the past 20 years, it’s clear that it will be a while – if ever – before anyone believes Barrera will ever again do anything to further contribute to his already legendary resume.
Barrera looked sharp for as long as the fight lasted, which was exactly 21 seconds shy of two full rounds. Fighting in his new hometown of Guadalajara, Mexico, Barrera scored knockdowns in the first and second rounds and was relentless enough to force the early stoppage.
However, conditioning remains an issue. His past two fights have taken place at the junior welterweight limit, with not a lot of trace of muscle evident on either occasion. It’s clear that the 37-year old remains in fighting shape after all of these years, but is a far cry from the hungry warrior he was at his best, and even towards the twilight of his career when he became more of a boxer.
But if this is the weight class to where he will vie for one last title shot, then there exists the concern that neither time nor favorable matchups are on his side.
At the top of the division, there exists undefeated Tim Bradley – fresh off of a technical decision win over Devon Alexander – and former Barrera conqueror Amir Khan, whose next ring appearances comes April 16 against unbeaten fringe contender Paul McCloskey.
The plan, if cable giant HBO gets its way, is to match up Bradley and Khan sometime in the summer, to produce one definitive kingpin at junior welterweight.
In addition to capturing lineal championship honors, the winner will also have in his possession three alphabet belts.
The only other major title floating around will be contended for on March 5 when Zab Judah and Kaiser Mabuza square off in a vacant title fight. Perhaps he angles for a shot at the winner, though it’s doubtful that the payday that comes with such a risky fight is enticing enough to convince his handlers to pursue the fight anytime soon.
Once upon a time, promoter Bob Arum suggested the possibility of Barrera facing countryman and lightweight titlist Humberto Soto.
Aside from the fact that Barrera hasn’t proven to be title ready or that such a fight isn’t the ideal cashout opportunity if it were to come to that, there exists several other issues.
First, Soto is being steered towards a May 7 rematch with Urbano Antillon in a follow-up to their 12-round thriller last December.
Then there is also the fact that Barrera hasn’t made the lightweight limit in two years, with the general rule of thumb that as your age increases, so too does your weight. Barrera’s last two fights haven’t given any indication that he can safely get back down to lightweight and be competitive on the title level.
It’s not to say that Barrera can’t put in the work. But the risk would have to be worth the reward, something that has rarely if ever been synonymous with fighting Humberto Soto.
For all of the same reasons, you would also have to rule out the possibility of Barrera facing the winner of the February 26 showdown between Miguel Acosta and Brandon Rios. It’s possible that Rios wins and goes on to be the division’s next bankable star – it’s also far more likely than Barrera ever agreeing to serve as his steppingstone.
However, if Morales is going to risk his career – and possibly his brain cells – in a fight against Maidana, then Barrera will have to begin thinking about the type of risk he’d be willing to take in order to keep pace.
Because as long as he stands no chance of ever again catching up to Pacquiao or Marquez, Barrera will have to give considerable thought as to what this latest comeback is all about.
If it’s just means to cash in on his name and old fame, then so be it. If there’s more to it, then he can hardly afford to waste any more time, as for the moment the one time pound-for-pound entrant struggles to keep pace with the rest of his one-time peers – even the guy over whom he owns scoreboard.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected] .