Thursday, October 4, 2007

Pac-Man Versus The Baby-Faced Assassin

Manny Pacquiao is a sensation, pure and simple. He's one of the most famous people on the planet, if the manic devotion of one country counts for anything, and no worse than the second or third best boxer around regardless of weight class. He's certainly the most fun to watch, with his fists rocketing into his opponent in constant barrages, fast as quicksilver and heavy as bricks.

Marco Antonio Barrera is a living legend. He's maybe one of the five best Mexican fighters ever to lace up the gloves. He can box smartly, he can brawl, or he can do both from one round to the next. He's one half of one of boxing's all-time great trilogies, against fellow Mexican Erik Morales. But the last time he ran across Pacquiao in 2003, he got the beating of his lifetime until his corner threw in the towel in the 11th.

When they meet again Saturday night, Barrera, four years older at age 33 -- ancient for a 130-pounder (junior lightweight) -- will be the heavy underdog against Pacquiao, four years better at age 28. And yet I find myself itching at a creeping feeling that I should pick Barrera to win.

Maybe I bought into the hype of the mouth-watering countdown special that HBO produces for its big fights, which highlighted that unlike last time, Barrera has no distractions, no fires forcing him to evacuate his training camp, no questions over the revelation that he'd had surgery to implant a metal plate in his head. He is bent on revenge, thinking night and day of Pacquiao, motivated by the pride that makes him the kind of warrior in the ring who is consumed with answering every punch like it's an insult to his very being. And unlike last time, Pacquiao isn't the ambitious, single-minded up-and-comer, but a star who is so distracted by his hero worship in the Philippines, he shows up to training camp a month later than Barrera. It sounds like role reversal, but then, it's to HBO's advantage to create doubt that Barrera can win. Otherwise, the people will be paying their $50 for a pay-per-view beatdown of a boxing icon, a total buzzkill.

Since 2003, Barrera has won the rubber match against Morales, his hated rival for the love of Mexican fans, relying upon a perfect mixture of skill and meanness in 2004's consensus fight of the year. He nearly lost a brawl to another young up-and-comer, Rocky Juarez -- a candidate for fight of the year in 2006 -- then adopted his slick boxing persona for an easy win in the rematch. And earlier this year, he became the first high-profile Mexican to take on his most avoided fellow countryman, Juan Manuel Marquez. The result was yet another fight of the year candidate, showcasing about the highest level of skill you'll ever see in a boxing ring, but Barrera came out on the losing end after nearly scoring a knockout late. The fact is, win or lose, Barrera is fearless, he's smart to the point of being devious, and he's never once bored me, although I missed his alleged yawner rematch with Juarez.

Since 2003, Pacquiao has upgraded from rising star to supernova. When he fought Barrera, Pacquiao was a one-trick pony, but as the saying goes, it was a great trick: a quick one-two -- right jab, straight left, repeat. In his next fight the following year, Pacquiao used it to deck the aforementioned Marquez three times in the first round, but the awfully clever Marquez figured it out in the rounds after that, battling back for a draw. The aforementioned Morales fought Pacquiao next in 2005, where Morales exploited the one-dimensionality Marquez exposed at the beginning of Pacquiao's own tremendous trilogy with Barrera's nemesis, defeating the Filipino icon. By the sequel in 2006, though, Pacquiao was a different fighter. He had a right hook, and he spent a lot more time punching to the body. It was all he needed to hand Morales the first KO of his career in round 10, then the second KO of his career during the rubber match in a much shorter but intensely captivating three-rounder. Pacquiao's bouts with Marquez and Morales all were fight of the year candidates, and primarily on the strength of his wins over Morales, he was named Ring Magazine's Fighter of the Year in 2006. Pacquiao is an energetic, ferocious, almost happy warrior, and now that he's sharpened his natural gifts with improved skills, many think he's the best boxer still roaming between the ring ropes.

MY PREDICTION: The only thing I'm sure of is that this will be better than their last fight. I say this despite Barrera's advanced age and accumulated years of punishment because Barrera's proven time and again that he's at his best when he's at the apex of public doubt. I don't believe his pride will let him lose so badly this time around. Still, having re-watched their first meeting, I'm picking Pacquiao by decision. He was far faster than Barrera, and still will be Saturday night. No distractions can change that. He should put together enough quick, hard-hitting rounds, even if he's not in peak physical condition, to pull out a victory on the judge's scorecards.
CONFIDENCE: 60%. Pacquiao should win, and yet, if you go to the 2003 tape, you'll see that Barrera fared pretty well in the first round, before Pacquiao overwhelmed him with blurry bursts of energy. While he was soundly defeated, Barrera still had his moments throughout, floating wisps of possibility for 2007. And remember, Barrera has, throughout his career, performed far better in rematches.
MY ALLEGIANCE: Pacquiao. I admire Barrera greatly, but I'm serious when I say there's no one I enjoy watching more than Pacquiao. His stubborn commitment to goofing off outside the ring -- star in movies! record albums! run for political office office! (allegedly) nuture a gambling problem betting on cockfights! -- make him a character, but it also infuriates me to the point of hoping he pays for it one day. That day hasn't arrived yet. I'm with the Pac-Man over the Baby-Faced Assassin in a rematch of great nicknames and great fighters.

Will crap like this be Pacquiao's downfall?


inowpronounceyou said...

LOVE your blog. I'm a huge fight fan and I used to it's great to see someone writing about this.

Me? I'm picking Manny but Iunderstand why you have that creeping feeling that MAB could pull this out. But even still, my money's on Manny getting to him early and often.

Tim -- said...

Thanks, inowprounounceyou. I'm glad you like it, and I'm even happier to have someone with some experience in the ring stop by. Yours is the smart money on Manny, I think.

Dammrod said...

I'm going with Pacquiao. I love Barrera. The man's a warrior, and a fantastic boxer, but his time is past. This is Pacquiao's era, and I think Pac-Man will win by an early round KO. In a singing contest I would imagine Barrera would come on top.

Have you listened to Pacquiao's album? I have, and it's horrendous. I don't know what he's saying, but he has a voice that would make Simon Cowell's head explode. I've also listened to De La Hoya's album, which is cheesy but listenable thanks to the army of sound engineers that De La Hoya must have hired to alter his voice and bury it behind a thick layer of ambient noise.

Anyways, here's a link to the official Manny Pacquiao music video if you haven't seen it. I'm a Pac-Man fan, but this is pretty bad.

Tim -- said...

I'm scared to death to click on it, but I will next time I'm on a computer where I have headphones or the sound of hideous crooning will only offend my own ears.

BOB said...

Pacquiao by KO...somewhere around the 8th.