LAS VEGAS, Sept. 15 – Mae West said, and I quote, “Too much of a good thing is wonderful,” but it is doubtful the great comedienne was talking about tomorrow night’s card at the MGM Grand Arena.
(For you juvenile delinquents who think Arturo Gatti was a great fighter and may not have heard of Mae West, she also said, “When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad I’m better,” “A hard man is good to find,” “I feel like a million, but one at a time,” “To err is human, but it feels divine,” and, of course, “Why don’t you come up and see me sometime – when I have nothing on but the radio.” Tell me what other boxing website offers adult education?)
Three championship bouts and each favorite is less than 2-1. But let’s not the oddsmakers define this $45 pay-per-view card. It doesn’t get much better than when the promoter predicts one of the prelims might be the fight of the year and it might not be the prelim of the night.
Oscar de la Hoya, said promoter, was talking about the all-Mexico City matchup between 122-pound champion Israel Vazquez and Jhonny Gonzalez, a bantamweight moving up a division. I’m talking about Jorge Barrios of Argentina defending his 130-pound title against Joan Guzman, a stylist moving up from 122 pounds.
Of course, to describe two such hot fights as “prelims” is a bit condescending. These two fights give the card a depth seldom seen on pay-per-view shows. But the main event remains the main event – a truly great fighter, Marco Antonio Barrera, showing his greatness by giving a rematch to the young lion, Rocky Juarez of Houston, who almost upset him four months ago.
“If I wasn’t fighting,” said the personable Juarez, “I’d be here to see the fight.”
Barrera may be the best Mexican fighter in history, though when I asked my good buddy, Rafael Mendoza, about it, he shook his head, said, “Maybe, but for me, it is still Ruben Olivares.”
Mendoza, a former journalist who acts as agent and broker for Mexican television and has been affiliated with boxers from Daniel Zaragoza to Miguel Canto to Pipino Cuevas, is of course well aware of such giants as Julio Cesar Chavez and Salvador Sanchez. Plus, he believes that Barrera, at 32, may not be as “finished” as some people think following his close call against Juarez in May.
“I think he will have no problems this time,” said Mendoza. “I think he has several fights left in him.”
He sees Barrera, who has said he intends to retire after 2007, beating the winner of Manny Pacquiao-Erik Morales III, which he sees as Pacquiao “since Morales first has to fight his weight,” which means avenging a knockout loss to the Filipino slugger. Mendoza then thinks Barrera will move up and add a lightweight title to become the first Mexican to win championships in four different weight classes.
These are lofty goals, which de la Hoya reminded Barrera, his Golden Boy Promotions associate, when the Mexican called to demand a rematch with Juarez.
“I told him I wanted this fight,” said Barrera the other day, “and he said, ‘Marco, you don’t need this fight.’ But I said it was a personal debt I had with myself, with my promoter, with my public.”
“Barrera fights with pride,” said Juarez. “I feel he feels he lost the fight, that’s why he gave me the rematch.”
Barrera was easily able to talk his promoter into making the dangerous rematch (in May, the erstwhile Baby-Faced Assassin was a 4-1 favorite, here he is only 3-2). De la Hoya said he couldn’t talk his promoter into giving him a rematch with Pernell Whitaker after he scored a controversial decision over Sweet Pea.
“As a fighter, I wanted to leave no doubts,” he said. “I think I would’ve done a lot of damage (to Whitaker in a rematch).”
He said he “absolutely” asked for the rematch, “but there was a tremendous problem.”
He meant his old buddy, Bob Arum. “It didn’t happen because it was out of my hands,” said de la Hoya. “The difference is now fighters can control their careers.”
De la Hoya said he didn’t think Barrera was in top shape last May.
“He looked a little puffy,” he said, “kind of reminds me when I fought Felix Sturm. I think Rocky Juarez surprised everyone, including Barrera. He’s a great fighter and I never saw him look so fit, so tight.”
That was the first fight Juarez worked with Brian Caldwell, the conditioner who has been handling his fellow Houston stalwart, the nonstop dynamo Juan Diaz.
Juarez has a lot going for him, besides a terrific left hook and a solid right hand. It’s called character. And motivation. He felt robbed when the May contest was announced as a draw, then worse when a half-hour later, in his dressing room, he was told there had been an error in the scoring and he actually was the loser of a split decision.
“This is a dream,” he said, “to be fighting at the MGM Grand, on a pay-per-view card, being the headliner, on Mexican Independence Day, against a legend. It can’t get any better.”
Yes, it can. The man who first taught him to stand with his left foot in front of the right, his 94-year-old grandfather, will be at ringside. Pedro Juarez Sr. has long been promised the first world championship belt to be won by Rocky.
“He’s 94, and he still gets on the roof and puts on shingles,” said the challenger.
It’s the kind of fight where you almost want to root for both contestants.
WOLF’S U-BET: The way to get a rooting interest, of course, is to put some of my hard-earned cash on the line. I advised against betting on Barrera in May, that he wouldn’t be worth laying 4 to 1. Giving 3 to 2 or so, however, is another matter. I think he will be sharper, box more and control the bout….Joan Guzman impresses the hell out of me with his silky moves, but my buddy Mendoza warns that Jorge Barrios may just be too big for him. “If you can’t hurt Barrios, I don’t think you can beat him,” said Mendoza, acknowledging that while Guzman is the far superior boxer with much greater speed, he believes eventually the Argentine will catch him. What’s interesting is that Guzman is the minus $1.55 (what you have to lay to win $1) favorite while Barrios seems a generous plus $1.35 (what you win when betting $1) underdog….Israel Vazquez, the acknowledged king of the junior featherweights, rates minus $1.75 against Jhonny Gonzalez, plus $1.55. Mendoza said that while Gonzalez can punch and box, he has suspicions about his chin, especially at the higher weight. Besides, how can I root against Israel a week before Rosh ha’Shannah?
PENTHOUSE: Oscar de la Hoya’s boyhood friend and Golden Boy matchmaker Eric Chavez for putting together this marvelous show, a wonderful way to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Sugar Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns classic….Juarez was one year old at the time, so of course he doesn’t remember watching Leonard-Hearns live. Barrera was seven, but said he was just first getting into boxing and didn’t see a tape until four, five years ago. “Tremendous pellella,” he said, half in English, half in Spanish.
OUTHOUSE: Golden Boy Promotions for not even knowing about Leonard-Hearns. De la Hoya was shocked to find out yesterday. He said if he had known he would have invited them to be ringside….Emanuel Steward, Hearns’s guru, here for the HBO telecast, had his young Irish middleweight, Andy Lee, on a card in town last night. Lee scored a 94-second knockout over a late-minute sub for a fighter who was found to have been on the suspended list. Steward predicts Lee is going to be one of the “all-time greats.” That’s no way to prepare him, fighting stiffs. He said he didn’t know, it was all a mistake and he didn’t want to do the same thing with Lee that was done with another Irish hopeful, Gerry Cooney. But Emanuel, you’re the manager, you should know who your guy is fighting. You think Leonard and Hearns fought cupcakes on the way up? De la Hoya didn’t start fighting them until he had a title (see Patrick Charpentier).