Marco Antonio Barrera I (2003)
In 2003, Marco Antonio Barrera was widely regarded as one of boxing’s finest practitioners. The featherweight king had not suffered defeat since dropping a contentious split decision to nemesis Erik Morales three years earlier, and in the interim had scalped the unbeaten records of both Naseem Hamed (35-0) and Morales (41-0) in a rematch. Although Manny Pacquiao was a two-weight world champion in his own right, few of the 10,127 spectators in attendance expected the rakish 24-year-old to pose Barrera many problems.
In 11 furious rounds, they were disavowed of that notion. Barrera started cautiously in San Antonio, as was his custom, throwing out jabs and trying to get the measure of the challenger. Pacquiao seemed unfazed by the occasion, holding his gloves high. Within 30 seconds he cracked Barrera with a straight left before clumsily tripping over his own feet; referee Lawrence Cole quickly intervened and credited Barrera with a knockdown. In any case, the ruling conned Marco into thinking Manny was hurt and he suddenly went about his business with more vigour and purpose. The challenger returned fire and though he seemed quicker, Barrera was the one who looked more powerful.
The fight wore on and Pacquiao started to take over. Barrera’s fondness of operating at three-quarter range and methodically picking his punches was no match for the Filipino’s speed, energy and power. Manny’s accurate left started marking up the champ’s face in the second, an arrow leaving indents in a dartboard, and one such shot put the Baby-Faced Assassin down in the third.
The pattern from here on was clear: Pacquiao would not be denied. All of Barrera’s skill and patience and experience and timing and wisdom and bravery would count for little against a fighter Larry Merchant described as “a little avalanche”. Sure, Barrera would sometimes land hard punches, but after kissing the canvas he was always conceding ground, back-pedalling, boxing from a defensive position. An ageing matador repeatedly gored by an irrepressible young bull.
The fight ended in the 11th, Barrera’s corner throwing in the towel as their man tried to fend off yet another strafing attack. Pacquiao had dethroned the czar of the featherweights and a star was born.