By Ryan Songalia
It was the fight they say should never happen again. After a close first round in their first meeting, competitive moments came few and far between. Barrera is even coming off a loss his last time out against Juan Manuel Marquez, a former Pacquiao nemesis. Eleven rounds of a thorough hammering might have coaxed lesser men into retirement, let alone compel them to arms once more with their oppressing plight.
So why is Barrera in this fight with his unforgiving menace? Because he deserves to be.
Even at the advanced age of 33, Barrera is worthy to share a ring with any adversary. His defeat to Juan Manuel Marquez was hardly anything to be ashamed of. Barrera displayed a professional saavy that enabled him to control the action for long stretches, including an uncredited knockdown in the seventh. Barrera's valorous effort proved that he can still trade punches with anyone in the business.
The realist's perspective for the rematch favors Pacquiao. Their first encounter was a drubbing, the kind that requires a few trips to the dry cleaners to wash out. Pacquiao's blinding fury of assorted blows escorted the Mexico City-icon to the floor twice, compelling a balling-eyed Rudy Perez to throw in the towel. A lot has changed since that night in San Antonio, the night that the boxing world called for the retirement of Barrera.
That night was rife with distraction for Barrera. Disclosed shortly before the fight was the revelation that he had a metal plate inserted in his forehead. The resulting media and medical hassles detracted from a beleagured training camp, which had already been interrupted by wildfires in the Big Bear facilities.
"My preparation was really bad for the first fight," Barrera says. "This fight I feel really good and really confident. The difference in this fight is that training has been great."
The primary justification for the rematch is to determine whether Pacquiao beat the "real" Barrera in San Antonio. For that reason, Pacquiao has the burden of proof on his shoulders.
Time heals all wounds, and time has certainly benefited Barrera. As the first fight wound down into the one-sided monotony, Emmanuel Steward remarked "I don't think anything would change if they ever fought again." Perhaps not if Barrera had gone back in any kind of a timely manner (Like he had done against Junior Jones). Barrera has had a lot of time to think about what happened that night. Pacquiao has remained an unavenged scourge in his life for a long time, and with renewed confidence will be far from a walk-through.
Confidence is one thing that Pacquiao has never lacked. Trainer Freddie Roach commented to Ronnie Nathanielsz that Pacquiao is “a better fighter today than when he first fought Barrera." Pacquiao has picked up a number of new tricks, including a right hook and improved lateral movement. To Philippine Star writer Abac Cordero, Roach went into deeper details on Pacquiao's improved versatility. "Barrera has to look after two hands this time. Manny’s right hand has come a long way."
The intangible left yet to guage is the seriousness of Pacquiao: Is he viewing this fight as the potential life-and-death stuggle it could potentially degenerate into? Well, take into account Pacquiao recently signed a two-year contract to star in Filipino sit-coms. "Please support our movie because only here you will see a champion boxer who can cry and do stunts." What is appurtanant is not tears nor props, save for the ones he would be receiving for the fists he throws. In addition, Pacquiao also has a rap single that he will be promoting. You have to wonder who is pitching him these ideas.
Nonetheless, Pacquiao claims to be focused on Barrera, contradicting reports of Pacquiao's indifference. "I don't want to give this fight over-confidence and give him a chance for revenge. That's why I work hard this fight and I train hard to get in shape."
Barrera has a world of incentive. "This is my last fight in this scale, a super fight." Resonating words proclaiming the end of an era in the sport, a proud champion declaring that he needs to rest. The only blemish boiling in his competitive blood that matters is turning the tables on Pacquiao, a feat that could decide how history remembers him.
"Manny Pacquiao has been an ugly painful thorn in my side for nearly four years," an emotional Barrera said. "...Once we signed the contracts to fight, I have done nothing else but eat, drink and dream of Manny Pacquiao. Throughout this training camp Manny Pacquiao has been the only thing I've thought of, morning, noon and night."
Barrera's claims of having "never been so focused on an opponent" previously is supported by his enlisting the services of Edwin Valero, a wanton knockout artist in the mold of Pacquiao, as a sparring partner. Valero's style is similar to Pacquiao, typified by his southpaw reckless unpredictability.
There is no substitute for the real thing, as Barrera undoubtedly knows. When a child has his hand burned, he learns not to play with the stove. Barrera feels the heat, and elects to stay in the kitchen. Does anyone smell smoke?
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