By Fiona Manning
They called it the Battle of Boxing’s Biggest Little Men. And It was.
From the second a lone, unidentified man stepped into the ring prior to Marco Antonio Barrera and Johnny Tapia meeting for their date with destiny waving an enormous Mexican flag, it was clear that the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino was ready to rumble.
When Barrera relentlessly kept up the pressure, winning a lopsided 12-round battle against Tapia working off his jab all night long, you knew he’d put his friendship with “Mi Vida Loca” out in the multi-tiered parking lot as he went on to dominate most of the fight.
Afterwards, both men spoke highly of each other, just as they had all through the lengthy fight promotion.
Tapia however, was so bloodied and battered, his face swelled up, looking like a relief map of Switzerland. Many ringsiders were upset at the wide scoring but nobody disagreed about the outcome: Marco Antonio Barrera is considered the top featherweight fighter in the world, with our without a belt.
Barrera, who was downright chatty and ebullient (as well he might be with a $1.25 million purse more than well earned in a world-wide boxing lesson) paused to speak with La Prensa San Diego about his latest victory.
“I am very happy,” said the man who speaks English when he likes you and pretends to not understand a word when he doesn’t.
Barrera’s performance was largely unappreciated by many ringsiders who actually asked why he worked off his jab all night.
“Because it worked,” he said. “Fighters who go toe to toe all the time have very short careers. I out boxed him. I surprised him.”
Then Barrera unleashed that famous boyish smile. When asked about the plethora of fighters who now want to step up to the plate to challenge him, Barrera acknowledged that the average fighter can look forward to at least a $775,000 payday which his friend Tapia received in this epic battle.
“Of course they want to fight me,” he said. “Con dinero, baila el perro. You know what this means? For money the dog will dance. It is one of my favorite expressions.”
The “Baby-Faced Assassin” as he goes by in the ring seems to be getting better and better rather than slower as he approaches a hefty professional ring record of 56 wins, 3 losses, 39 wins by way of KO.
“Boxing is a business of limits,” he said. “I prefer to live my life as if I have none. I still have so much I want to do as a fighter.”
The married father of two feels his responsibility towards the people of his hometown of Mexico City as much as he does his immediate family.
With many members of his own family making up his professional boxing team and taking up considerable rows at boxing matches, Barrera conducts life like a soccer match (his other favorite sport).
Well-paid scuffles break the routine of daily family life as Barrera ponders his next professional move. Will he fight Erik Morales a third time?
Barrera is considering it despite the inflammatory things Morales said about him before their fight.
It is well documented that he and Morales, his opponent for two fights and two disputed decisions (Morales won the first, Barrera the second) despise each other.
However, Barrera feels a certain allegiance to Morales and is backing him to beat Paulie Ayala next weekend in Las Vegas.
“You might be surprised considering the things we say about each other but you know what, when you have gone 24 rounds with a man after a while, you have to respect him. But still I would love the chance to knock him out and the next time I will.”
Barrera and Tapia respected each other so much in their meeting, that boxing insiders feel Barrera’s performance suffered because of it.
Hardly. “If they’re wanting to see a knockout so bad they should get in the ring,” said Barrera. “How dare they say I went easy on him. Tapia is tough. He is like hitting steel. You can’t knock out Johnny Tapia.”
While the odds-makers bet Barrera to win, he acknowledges the crowd was initially swayed by Tapia but were screaming for Barrera by the mid rounds of the entertaining but one-sided fight.
“What can I say? I do my best. I try to win. Right now I am on...you know..I am winning. I am on a streak. A few years ago I wasn’t. This is definitely better.”
Barrera once studied to be a lawyer but discarded those plans two years ago half way through his studies.
“I won’t go back to it,” he said. “As a boxer I’ve seen what the lawyers are really like. When I have finished boxing I would like to go back to school. I love to read.”
Barrera? Read? The man who dishes out punishment like a mother ladles out soup?
“Yeah,” he said with a laugh. “I’m full of surprises. Just ask my opponents. I just sat here and listened to Freddie Roach [trainer of Johnny Tapia] say that he didn’t expect me to fight the way I did. That’s bad for a trainer to say that. It means he sent Tapia in there with no battle plan, no strategy. Boxing is all about strategy. Boxing is war.”
Barrera is now in the enviable position of being able to pick and choose his opponents because he doesn’t have an allegiance to one sanctioning body or another. He wore the WBC insignia on his shorts because one day he would like to fight for that title but he feels there are too many “Alphabet Soup” guys and too many people pulling at fighters’ money.
“I hear Manny Pacquiao The Filipino IBF feather champ] wants to fight me. This is good. I’ll fight anyone. Anyone good. I have taken them all on and as long as I feel like I do now Ill keep winning. I have the best team in the world. I have the best family in the world. With everything in the right place, every fighter can win, maybe not against me, but they can win.”
And for the right money, this dog will dance for sure.