It was a story as old as sport, really as old as man.
The young gun faces the aging gunslinger. The young lion tries his strength and skill against the secondhand lion. The strongest young man in the cave steps up against the club carrying champion.
Really, there is not so much difference between the ages of Rocky Juarez and Marco Antonio Barrera ... just 26 to 32. But Juarez is just stepping up onto center stage. He has always traveled quietly, just a step below the radar. He won the silver medal at the 2000 Olympics. So he was not the Golden Boy. He had that one loss, just enough to take the sheen off the rising star. Barrera, at only 32, stepped into the Staples Center ring Saturday night as the veteran of 65 wars ... 65 times he has charged into harm’s way ... 65 times he has laced up the gloves and furiously traded punches.
So, really, it was that classic matchup.
Barrera won. Juarez won.
The officials did not win, botching their arithmetic and letting the crowd leave thinking they had seen a draw. The good thing about it all was that any fan in the seats that night knew it did not matter. They had plunked down their money and they got their money’s worth. They saw a good fight. As HBO’s Larry Merchant said, “When Marco Antonio Barrera is in the ring it is always an occasion.”
It was what a fight should be — two men throwing and taking and never conceding anything.
When Juarez went back to his corner after the first three minutes of banging, it did not look good. He had a small cut above his right eye. Nothing serious. But, still, it seemed an omen, an indication of punches to come, of damage to come.
But the 26-year-old Houston fighter worked his way right into the fight, eventually getting to the point where he was walking Barrera down, landing the harder punches. His compact power punches began to take their toll. Barrera’s face looked a little worse after each round. Late in the fight, HBO’s Jim Lampley noted, “Marco Antonio Barrera’s face is busted up.”
And it was.
Juarez continued to press the action, banging his way through rounds eight, nine and 10.
But this is Marco Antonio Barrera in that other corner. At 32, he is far from a secondhand lion. Barrera reached back and found something in his will, something that allowed him to start throwing again, to start connecting again. He came to life in the championship rounds.
Hardly a surprise.
A fighter might get to be a world champion without a champion’s heart. He might win a title on pure athletic ability and a bit of good fortune. But a champion does not stay a champion without a champion’s heart. Barrera has one of the biggest.
And so the duel under the bright lights of center ring seemed to speed up, whirling toward an exciting finish. The two men fought to the final bell, then beyond. For a fleeting second, it looked as if they wanted to go on. Not because there was bad blood. Not because there was anger. It was just two warriors, doing what they do, fighting to win.
The decision: Duane Ford 115-113 for Juarez. Anek Hongtongkam 115-113 for Barrera. And, finally, Ken Morita 114-114.
Some boos came, as they inevitably do for a draw. But, for the most part, fight fans joined the sentiments of HBO’s astute analyst Emmanuel Steward: “I could accept that if I was in either corner.”
It was not the fight of the decade; probably not the fight of the year. But it was good action, good drama, good men doing good things inside that squared off jungle that is a boxing ring.
Eventually, officials got their erasers, corrected the math and came up with the judges’ actual totals: Ford 115-114 for Juarez, Hongtongkam 115-113 for Barrera and, most importantly, Morita 115-114 for Barrera.
After the fight, before the corrected cards, the fighters were calm.
Barrera was fine with the draw.
“I thought it was a fair decision,” he told Merchant. “I always said he (Juarez) was a tough guy. I respect the judges’ decision. That’s what it was.”
Juarez, the young lion, did not scream or yell. But he wanted victory ... wanted it badly. This was his first time on this stage, after all.
“I had him going back from the beginning of the fight,” he told Merchant. “Basically, the only punch he was really landing was his jab and I don’t think that was enough to win the rounds. He was just trying to stay away. I hurt him in the first round with a hook and I think he felt the power and I think he was just more trying to box rather than make it a fight.”
In the end, the veteran was content with the draw and happier with the late additions that gave him a win. In the end, the newcomer to the part was disappointed with any decision that did not give him victory.
And so they move on.
Their paths crossed on a May evening in Los Angeles and it made for a good show, enhanced both their resumes.
Barrera will now move on to another bangfest with Erik Morales or Manny Pacquiao. Juarez will move on, trying to get another chance. He put himself on the radar Saturday night. He may never be the Golden Boy. But he has a chance to be a world champion someday.
The story, the drama was an old one ... the oldest we know. But, when you have men like Barrera and Juarez playing the lead roles, it is a show that never grows old.