With his fourth round thrashing of Kevin Kelley completed, April 12, 2003, Team Barrera were riding high. Marco Antonio Barrera, at age twenty-nine, was fifty-nine fights into a remarkable career, having lost only three contests.  From the February 19, 2001 classic against arch ring nemesis Erik Morales – a fight Barrera lost by decision – through to his masterpiece dismantling of “Prince” Naseem Hamed on April 7, 2001 and into the fall of 2003, Barrera appeared the complete champion. If the Hamed fight had confirmed Barrera’s conversion to boxing fundamentals, and the June 2002 rematch win of Morales his maturing composure, the Kelley fight confirmed the widely held notion that Barrera, at featherweight, was unmatched, a consummate technical master of pugilistic power calculus.

Preparing for the Hamed fight back in 2001, Barrera realized as formidable a puncher as he was, he was also gifted in applied ring tactics. It had taken the sheer knockout threat of Hamed – and Barrera’s training staff’s considered opinion that beating Hamed must come via strong fundamentals and counter intuitive punching discipline – to remake Barrera. In a sense, just as Erik Morales was defining himself as a fighter moving from a purist boxer to a punching-boxer, so the left hooking, body punishing Barrera was morphing into a stylistically minimalist boxer-puncher.

The economy of Barrera’s boxing and the power it translated into decisive punishment was amazingly effective. Even the great Morales, when facing Barrera the second time, found himself winging in counter punches, generally punching from wider angles than he had ever before.  Though the decision over Morales raised questions, his November 2, 2002 pasting of Johnny Tapia, over 12 mostly one-sided rounds, further accented Barrera’s disciplined effectiveness and towering stature at featherweight.

Then came the November 15, 2003 fight with Manny Pacquiao. When at 2:30 of the first round the speed demon Pacquiao tripped down, called a knockdown by referee Laurence Cole, things seemed to be taking a familiar Barrera-like pattern. The king of the featherweights had started very aggressively, though early in the second Pacquiao’s laser-loaded right hand was finding Barrera’s forehead repeatedly. Suddenly, the speed factor that Barrera had trained to nullify was looming and booming. When Barrera was pummeled down and sat briefly on the canvas, he appeared to be contemplating his destiny as a prizefighter.

Beating ex-bantamweight and jr. featherweight champion Paulie Ayala has apparently righted Barrera’s fortunes. In fact, heading into his rubber match with Erik Morales – this time as jr. lightweights – Barrera puts the Pacquiao bout down to “having a bad night… all champions have bad nights and it was a bad night. Period!”

And therein lies the crux of this final installment of Barrera-Morales or Morales-Barrera, take your pick. We all know that fighting at 130 seems to give the decided advantage to the naturally bigger Morales; gradations of weight being manifestly important when talking about the lower weight divisions where 5 pounds equates to 25 for a heavyweight.

Without indulging in prognostics, the essential battle that Barrera must now wage, in preparing to give his maximum performance, turns on his ability to decide upon illusion-salted reality over delusion-spiked folly, and necessity over desire.

For ultimately, Barrera has always been the ultimate pragmatist, seldom needing the shield of workable delusions to move him past impediments or limitations. When Junior Jones derailed his career, in November 1996 and April 1997, he regrouped to find a new resourcefulness, which took him beyond his early championship standard as a left-hooking dominator. Boxing, for Barrera, is a complex interplay of self-motivational struggle and intricate artfulness. “Boxing is very demanding and I love the challenges it presents,” was how Barrera put it last week.

OK, we know he’s decided that the fight with Pacquiao was just a bad night, a one-time demise. He can and will perform better against Morales. Besides they have no secrets each from the other and neither can hide behind technical invention. There is only the raw hunger to vanquish the other. “Yes, we are both about the same speed, the same with power, so this fight will be won with heart.” At least that’s the premise upon which he’s drawn himself to re-encounter the savagery and bitter warfare that fighting Morales necessitates.

And Barrera believes he’s ready to win, ready to win thee decisive fight of his career. Or at least that’s how profoundly he’s put the case of necessity to himself, to his professional ego.

Team Barrera are convinced that Pacquiao was an unknown threat, not given all the attention needed. Morales can and never will be underestimated. Pacquiao and Morales are apples and oranges. This is the necessary illusion needed to quell the questions that swirled around in Barrera’s head, convolutions in the fog of war, as he sat on the canvas, in that third round in San Antonio. Being the champion he was, Barrera rose to wade back into the Phillipino typhoon and fight out his fate.

Those questions tend to linger, amplifying in the mind as reflective consideration. Beyond the money and the love of for this brutal business, why do I put myself through this glorious torturing? Marco Antonio Barrera will not dignify personal interrogation with anything like finalizing answers. Not until his days in the ring are over, after he’s given a full accounting of himself as a championship fighter.

For Barrera, there’s still plenty of time for glory, braving the honor of an ultimate battle, facing up to a consummate foe such as Erik Morales.

For Marco Antonio Barrera, his time remains now.