In life, as in championship boxing, those brimming with ambition make sure they surge mightily at the nexus points where opportunity taken imprints fate in their likeness. Aspire though he did with his stoic power hitting, Rocky Juarez knows that while battling Mexican featherweight legend Marco Antonio Barrera he didn’t do everything required to make absolutely sure he was the better man on the night of May 20, 2006 at the Staples Center, in Los Angeles, California. That much Juarez freely admits. The mathematics of the fight left the matter unproven, as the announced draw was recalculated 20 minutes later into a decision and championship defending win for Barrera. Fighting legends doesn’t leave the aspirations of hungry men much room for luck; that lesson Juarez learned gloveless in his locker room, the career logistics of a draw being rationalized by trainer Ray Ontiveros and manager Shelly Finkel to the disappointed Texan.
No wonder Rocky speaks of the need to “start off quicker and take a bigger risks,” not that he didn’t know that the first time he fought Barrera. And Juarez certainly understands that the predicate to his promoters Main Events being able to negotiate a lighting quick turnaround rematch with Barrera has everything to do with their first fight being an embarrassment to MAB.
“One thing you learn in this profession is that losing makes you take two or three steps back.” Unless the loss has much to do with accounting for the actual empirical data accounted for and unaccounted for! Even late in a champion’s career, the tidal forces that make constant his or her standing depend on the currents of perception. A lot of people at ringside and watching on HBO thought that Juarez had done enough straight ahead power hitting and enacted sufficient effective aggressiveness to be awarded a victory. Nevertheless, Juarez is willing to concede that though he may have gained ground inside the head of Barrera, outside in the sometimes real world he’s still got quite a hurdle to clear if he wants to prove his superiority in the ring with the great Barrera. He also knows that he bruised the pride of Barrera – the current pride of Mexican boxing – and Barrera was effectively honor bound, if not promotionally compelled to lance the boldness of Juarez and the very idea that Barrera has any real unfinished business other than with Manny Pacquiao.
“I feel I have to beat him decisively the second time,” Juarez stating the obvious as intention. “I left the fight in the judges’ hands and… I was very disappointed… the key is to make him fight… force the exchanges.” The gallant Texan understands fully that countless fighters have tried to do just that – force the issue with Barrera – only to be boxed into near oblivion. Team Juarez leaned in the first fight that the challenger’s strength was a mitigating factor for Barrera. Tactically, they also realize that Juarez showed the champion perhaps undue respect during the critical early rounds of the fight; an assumption born out by the melodramatics of the post-fight re-tabulation.
“I have never doubted my ability… he’s a great fighter, a great champion, but I have to think he’s just another fighter and another opponent.” The age old transposing of the champion into mere opponent of the moment was a task that Juarez and his team understand was too long in the realization for Juarez. You get the feeling now that Juarez has gone one better than putting Barrera into a manageable mental framework. Having fought on equal terms, and in some estimations, more than equal terms with Barrera, Juarez readily asserts is own notions of eclipsing eminence.
“Barrera was given a gift… I believe he was in excellent shape for the fight and he certainly didn’t overlook me the first time… he knows he was in good shape and I know he was in good shape… I learned the inside style of fighting and I also learned how he rests.”
The would-be king of the featherweights might well have said, “I also learned when he rests.” Yes, we understand the implication of this confident assertion; the subtle secrets between champion and challenger have been revealed along with formidable strengths and undeclared liabilities. “I know I really have to make Barrera fight, fight when he doesn’t want to fight, and to do that I will have to get in more shots, maybe take some more risks punching earlier than I did in the first fight… and that’s going to make him fight back too ‘cause he’ll have to respond.”
Indeed, Team Juarez felt that the signs of Barrera’s storied career were to be found in his ability to avoid punches that would have reached most other fighters and in the fact that Barrera was not the stronger fighter down the stretch. Certainly, a paradox worthy of further gloved experimentation. To that vine they cling for added inspiration and informing evidence. Remember how the issue of which brand of gloves the fighters would wear dominated the last week of media coverage before their first fight? Juarez can only laugh at how much of a non-issue ‘glove-gate’ turned out to be. For in his mind, the critical opening frames during which he chose to box and punch selectively was the difference between allowing for the possibility of Barrera winning and securing the championship on his own merit, straight up with aplomb.
It isn’t in Rocky Juarez’s makeup to talk trash making outrageous statements as to his unmatched talent. We don’t have to listen to him rip the skin of decency or denounce his sport for the sake of taking his ego out for a very public examination, under the scrutiny of the world’s media. Yet the challenger has his designs and the confidence of knowing he’s unsettled, if not officially unseated, the champion, virtually catapulting him forward toward Saturday night’s championship rematch.
“Before the first fight I saw the belt around my waist… I could see it there… I reached over and touched it… for a second.” Interesting how something that didn’t happen is neither a dream denied nor irresponsible imagining. “It’s about getting the opportunity of getting the fight against a great champion; it’s about being champion of the world… I imagine myself in the middle of the ring as the next WBC champion of the world.” We all know that if you cannot picture yourself, as you will be in the near term future, then the short term future is not yours for the making. Apparently, Rocky has had a vision.
Determination must find activism in best practice, and in his own intuitive way Juarez understands the task of making his fighting effective against the adaptive sophistication of Marco Antonio Barrera’s operatic talents. “I am going to fight the best style possible to win and I am going to have to adapt, while being aggressive and getting in my big shots… because Barrera will want to land some,” Juarez almost recites for those who are ready to listen. The logic of fashioning reprisals in kind has forever been the essence of Marco Antonio Barrera under fire, his championship standing under siege. And Rocky Juarez wants nothing better than to see Barrera having to make a good old fashioned fight out of their rematch.
“But he got exhausted at the end… I just started late… he was surprised I was just as strong as him, then stronger… He knows he’s going to have to take some big risks, if he wants to stay with me in the middle of the ring and exchange punches… with the first fight, with the result, he might have felt like he really lost.”
Even Rocky Juarez – it seems – has some time for a sprinkling of bravado; he knows he fought well and gave the champion, the great Barrera, a night he’ll never forget. The real trick is making Barrera’s greatness ebb for a second time, making him mortal and then vulnerable. That’s going to take some doing; it might require finding a dimension of his professionalism he’s never given us reason to believe exists. But then again, when you dare to take the place of a legend you are promising to make good on second chances for becoming something akin to a second coming. Expectation is the pressure gauge of desire. How will Rocky handle all of this misfortune reversed, revised for his determining?
With Barrera slightly wounded and dangerous fighting for his reputation, what will Rocky make of this his second chance at greatness, this dangerous moment in time?
(Patrick Kehoe may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)