In November of 2003, it would have been appropriate to use the old adage of geriatrics all over the world by saying that the “times were a changing.” At that point, the US had entered and stayed in the country of Iraq for eight months. The Democratic Presidential Nomination process was entering the home stretch prior to the last minute scramble and victory of John Kerry nearly a year prior to his 2004 loss to President George W. Bush. The Boston Red Sox were entering a tough off season following a game seven collapse in their classic American League Championship Series against the hated New York Yankees. The Dynasty of the Los Angeles Lakers ended when Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs took the championship the summer before. In October of that same year, California Governor Gray Davis was recalled and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Davis gained some company in the historical loser category later that month when Steve Bartman reached up and touched a fly ball that may or may not have been caught by an airborne Moises Alou in left field during a pivotal Game 6 of the National League Championship Series.
Given the events of the world in general and specifically the sporting world, the fight between Manny Pacquiao and Marco Antonio Barrera was not the most important thing going on to most world watchers. However, it was as important as it gets in the world of boxing, the Philippines and Mexico. Manny Pacquiao is and was a rock star in his country and was 37-2, 30 KO’s, entering the showdown. Barrera, 57-3, 40 KO’s, going into the fight, was the more battle tested of the two entering the fight, splitting two decisions to Erik Morales in outright wars, obliterating the undefeated record of Prince Naseem Hamed in embarrassing fashion, coasting easily past Johnny Tapia and knocking out Kevin Kelley in four rounds.
Pacquiao’s experience at the time included his dominant six round performance against Lehlohonolo Ledwaba in which he took the IBF Super Bantamweight Title, a one sided second round knockout of Jorge Eliecer Julio and an erasure of the undefeated record of Emmanual Lucero in only three rounds. Essentially, Pacquiao was unproven on paper but was seen as an ultimate knockout machine with an incredibly pleasing style. The fight with Barrera would be his chance to prove that he was the real deal once and for all.
However, the days leading into the fight featured a high turn in the tide of what was to come. Barrera trained at his Los Angeles Big Bear training camp at the time. Nearby forest fires actually forced him to cut his training short. He also was forced to fly back and forth between San Antonio and Houston the week before the fight because of an order from the Texas Boxing Commission concern regarding his brain surgery from roughly four years earlier. Barrera was handling an ugly divorce from his wife and a separation from his corrupt managers, switching to Golden Boy Promotions in the process. Essentially, Barrera met with more doctors and lawyers than trainers and speed bags in the pivotal period leading up to the fight.
The two fighters finally butted heads on November 15th of 2003 in San Antonio, Texas. The Alamodome was absolutely rocking that night. The official attendance for the evening was 10,127. While that number is not so hot for a Spurs game, it is known to be plenty in boxing. The nature of the fans makes for a different sort of experience than basketball, such to the extent that 10,000+ boxing fans is worth as much as a sellout Spurs crowd any day.
The fight started off at a fast pace with both men trading shots to the body and several long jabs to the head. Pacquiao was immediately able to establish distance and a stylistic competitive advantage over Barrera. Only thirty seconds in, Barrera tossed Pacquiao to his left with a sweeping shove as Pacquiao’s ankle turned. Pacquiao came tumbling to the mat, prompting referee Laurence Cole to call a knockdown and count to ten. Pacquiao got to his feet in less than a three seconds and looked in total shock that the slip had been ruled a knockdown.
The Barrera thrived on the momentum and stepped on the gas, landing several hard shots to the body. Pacquiao landed leather of his own with long straight shots down the pipe of his opponent. When the bell rang, the fight looked to be an even match.
In the second round, Barrera made a tactical decision to take another step back and allow Pacquiao to be at the end of his punches. With roughly a minute to go in the round, Barrera ripped a huge combination. This prompted the crowd to chant Pacquiao’s name and Pacquiao to raise one fist in the air as he began a huge rally down the stretch of the round. Pacquiao danced in perfect motions around Barrera, peppering the Mexican fighter with whirlwind hooks and spearing jabs. By the end of the round he had thrown a hundred shots.
It was in the third round that Barrera suffered a knockdown from a 1-2 combination down the pipe that sent him to his butt. He took the Pacquiao whirlwind for the rest of the round and returned to his corner with a red swell on his left cheek.
Over the next two rounds, Barrera tried to box and slow the pace. While successful for brief moments, the efforts would always amount to Pacquiao launching and landing combinations of straight rights, lefts and right hand hooks to the body. In the sixth, Pacquiao dropped him yet again. However, Laurence Cole ruled that the fall was from a slip.
Barrera would make his last stand in the seventh round after a cut opened up over his left eye. Cole ruled the cut was an accidental head butt and Barrera was now forced to continue with the cut. He fought forcefully off the break ruling from the referee and let his hands free, trading shots evenly. Pacquiao’s knifing jab began to wear Barrera. Barrera attempted to butt Pacquiao near the bell, receiving only a warning for the maneuver.
After a brawling eighth round in which the action was decent on both ends, the fight was rather anticlimactic. Pacquiao frustrated Barrera and pounded him with incredibly fast combinations. Barrera was deducted a point for hitting on the break in the ninth round and took a beating through the tenth before Pacquiao knocked him to the deck yet again in the eleventh. It took only a few seconds for Jorge Barrera to run across the ring and step in for the stoppage.
In the end, the outcome of this fight was not a question for more than six rounds depending on the IQ of the person asked. Barrera was clearly outgunned and he could not outbox Pacquiao because the faster man can dictate the pace. The same game plan that defeated Rocky Juarez is not universal to all opponents. Jorge Barrera continued to ask Marco for speed but the flurry just was not there. As for Pacquiao, Freddy Roach was calm with him the entire fight and methodically helped him break down Barrera, explaining toward the end of the evening, “If you follow up that right hook with a left hand, you’re going to knock him out.”
This fight was the first in a long list of battles against top flight competition for Pacquiao, competing with tremendous success. He faced Juan Manuel Marquez in his very next fight and traded shots in one of the greatest fights of the decade, won two of three slug fests with Erik Morales and knocked Morales out twice, out boxed Oscar Larios for twelve rounds and erased the undefeated record of Jorge Solis. Overall, he has been 6-1-1, 5 KO’s in the aftermath of his conquest of Barrera.
Barrera has had a fine streak in that time period as well, dominating Paulie Ayala in a tenth round knockout, taking a majority decision over Morales to earn the victory in their three fight series, out boxing Robbie Peden and Rocky Juarez (twice) and losing a close decision to Juan Manuel Marquez. He is 6-1, 2 KO’s in the aftermath period.