Preview of Pacquiao/Barrera |

Preview of Pacquiao/Barrera

Appeal Sports Writer

When two of the top fighters in the world meet in a 12-round bout televised by HBO Pay-Per-View, it usually means there is a significant title at stake and that one or more of boxing’s four major sanctioning bodies – or The Ring magazine – will be touting the winner as its champion.

But that won’t be the case Saturday, when Manny Pacquiao and Marco Antonio Barrera meet at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. But what will be at stake is something far more important than a title belt.

After winning championships at 112, 122 and 126 pounds, Pacquiao is generally considered the top fighter in the world at 130 pounds, while Barrera, who won titles at 122, 126 and 130 pounds, is considered a legend in the last act of a great career.

For the 28-year-old Pacquiao, of General Santos City, the Philippines, another victory over the 33-year-old Barrera, of Guadalajara, Mexico, will most likely mean another shot at WBC super featherweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez, with whom he fought to a 12-round draw on May 8, 2004 at 126 pounds.

It’s also a shot for Pacquiao, 44-3-2 with 35 knockouts, to further cement his status as the world’s most exciting fighter and ascend yet another rung up boxing’s ladder to immortality.

For Barrera, over whom Pacquiao scored an 11th-round technical knockout in November 2003, it’s a chance to regain something that has always defined what will be a Hall of Fame career: his pride.

Barrera, 63-5 (42), has already established his pedigree, having taken two out of three bouts with fellow Mexican icon Erik Morales and having beaten then invincible Prince Naseem Hamed in April 2001, among many other accomplishments.

But in a conference call last week, Barrera said he’s fighting Pacquiao for other reasons as well as self-pride.

“(Pacquiao) has been a thorn in my side because he’s beaten so many Mexicans,” Barrera said through translator Eric Gomez. “I want to put an end to that.”

Then there’s also boxing’s version of the nattering nabobs of negativity – the media – which have written off Barrera on more than one occasion, beginning with his two losses to Junior Jones in November 1996 (loss by disqualification in five rounds when his cornerman jumped in to save him from further punishment) and April 1997 (a 12-round decision).

That same media also jumped off Barrera’s bandwagon following his loss to Pacquiao and after his first victory over Rocky Juarez, when Barrera began to show his age.

Now, with a steel plate in his head following brain surgery to repair tangled blood vessels (a fact discovered just prior to his fighting Pacquiao), coming off a loss to Marquez in his last fight, and without his longtime trainer Rudy Perez, Barrera is once again hearing it from the boxing cognoscenti.

“They’ve told me that I’ve been done, but I’ve come back and shut them up,” Barrera said. “They say they are experts in boxing. Just because you watch boxing doesn’t make you an expert. I’d like to prove them wrong and, more than anything, I think that this fight I’m going to have a chance to do the same thing.”

Then Barrera added a final incentive.

“It may be my farewell fight,” he said. “I’m basically planning to retire. It’s not a decision I made overnight. It’s been within the last three years I’ve been thinking about it. I’ve talked with my wife, with my family, with my friends and it’s something I realize I want to do.

“I’ve been at this sport for so many years – 26 (and 18 as a pro) – and I’m ready to pass the torch. I’ll pass it along to fighters like (WBA super featherweight beltholder and sparring partner Edwin) Valero. All these guys that are calling out my name – that want to fight me – let them fight Valero. This should be my last fight.”

While Barrera (who began boxing as 15-year-old flyweight and said he would possibly have one more going-away fight against a lesser opponent after his bout with Pacquiao) is looking to go out on a winning note, Pacquiao is also looking at proving wrong boxing’s naysayers, who claim “PacMan” has been distracted as of late.

In addition to boxing, Pacquiao unsuccessfully dipped his toe into politics, owns a basketball team and is a movie, television and recording star in the Philippines, where he began his boxing career as a 16-year-old light flyweight.

“Being a national treasure and, you know, they call me a hero in the Philippines – I earned that,” said Pacquiao, who is speaking English without an interpreter. “I’m very humbled that they call me (a) national hero because I have big responsibilities to my countrymen and my people.

“You know, I’m still humble and a simple man – same as before. There are no changes with my life.”

And, according to his trainer Freddie Roach, that applies to his training habits.

“Once Manny gets into that training mode in that gym (he trained in Cebu City), there’s no better fighter in the world that I’ve ever seen that trains as hard as Pacquiao,” Roach said.

Roach said Barrera would have to make adjustments after getting beat down by Pacquiao in their first meeting.

“He’s not going to fight us the same way because it wasn’t successful the first time,” Roach said of Barrera, whose brother, Jorge Barrera, trained him following the departure of Perez after the loss to Marquez. “We expect him to counterpunch more and fight at a slower pace. And we’re just not going to let that happen.

“Manny’s a better fighter now than he was the first time they fought. I think he’s a much stronger fighter at his weight. I don’t think Barrera can outfight us or outslick, either.”

Pacquiao refused to discuss possible future opponents, instead choosing to stay focused on Barrera.

“I don’t know. I don’t want to (be overconfident) and give him a chance for revenge,” Pacquiao said. “That’s why I work so hard and train for this fight. I just want to do my best to give a good fight and to make people happy.”

Making boxing fans happy is what Pacquiao and Barrera have been doing for many years and that doesn’t figure to change on Saturday, when one legend decides to move on in life and a legend in the making tries to move on up in his stellar career.

Saturday’s HBO Pay-Per-View telecast begins at 6 p.m.