Don’t expect flower wars when Mexico City’s two world champions Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez meet on Saturday.
Barrera (63-4, 42 KOs) the WBC junior lightweight titleholder and Marquez (46-3-1, 35 KOs) the WBO featherweight titleholder are primed to present another battle between Mexico City fighters at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas on March 17.
The fight will be televised on HBO pay-per-view and is co-promoted by Golden Boy and Romanza Promotions.
For those in need of a history lesson Mexico City was the former Aztec capital called Tenochitlan. And brother, those Aztecs loved war.
They loved battling to the extent that they would stage wars for the public’s entertainment and call them “Flower Wars” where captured prisoners would be armed and face a larger Aztec force. Of course the prisoners would end up slaughtered but the whole purpose was to entertain the masses and Huitzilopochtli their Hummingbird war god.
Just looking at Barrera and Marquez you can see the Aztec bloodlines in their spiky black hair and quick to the trigger tempers.
The Aztecs were one of the fiercest warrior cultures in the history of mankind and their boxers maintain that persona like feathers on a bird.
If you still don’t believe it all you have to do is look two weeks ago when Marquez’s little brother Rafael slugged it out with fellow “chilango” Israel Vazquez. Their clash virtually set television sets ablaze with their skilled ferocity.
Both of these fighters from “de efe” as they call their city – that is short for “distrito federal” – are battling for something even bigger than a world title. They want historical confirmation of their place in boxing lore.
Understanding the psyche of both these fighters compares to understanding Mexico City with all its complexities. On one hand you have a metropolis of more than 20 million people comprised of Europeans, North Americans, mestizos and full-blooded Mexican Indian blood denizens. You also have a city with stark modern architecture sitting side by side with ancient pyramids like a mish mash you might see in a futuristic motion picture like Blade Runner. But these pyramids and temples are real.
At its heart Mexico City and its people are a mixture of European common sense and the root of Aztec culture that entails a yearn for battle. For them, war is a form of art.
Looking and listening to Marquez you see that Aztec pride that stands up as straight as his posture. The curve of his eyebrows and unhesitant stare as he speaks to you reveal a character somewhat like the tales of legendary Aztec warrior Cuahtemoc, a fighter who will not surrender regardless of the odds.
No better example of Marquez’s unmitigated courage can be expressed than his meeting with Filipino super star Manny Pacquiao in 2004. In that contest Pac Man as he is called, battered Marquez thrice to the floor in the very first round but the Mexican boxer rose to fight again just as eagerly as when he signed the contract. Though an entire arena felt Marquez over-matched, he displayed a courage and determination that allowed him to fight back and eventually gain a split-decision draw with the mighty Pacquiao after 12 grueling rounds.
“That was one of the greatest comebacks ever seen,” said HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant.
Marquez, 33, had barely captured his second world title when he opted to confront the deadly fists of Pacquiao who only months earlier had soundly defeated Barrera. No matter, Marquez signed to fight him.
“When you’re a pro and put on the gloves nobody has fear,” insists Marquez.
Determination and consistency are trademarks of the oldest of the fighting Marquez brothers. Younger Rafael recently captured the junior featherweight title after several years world champion in the bantamweight division. Now it’s big brother’s turn.
“There’s no rivalry whatsoever,” said Marquez about his younger brother’s exploits. “It’s motivating.”
Expect total war
No better motivation exists for Marquez than meeting Barrera the fighter who blazed a path to glory in Los Angeles, one of the few remaining breeding grounds for boxers. Barrera arrived two years earlier and reaped universal acknowledgement among boxing fans with captivating world title bids against Kennedy McKinney, Junior Jones, and three epic bouts against another Mexican boxing icon Erik “El Terrible” Morales.
“I used to get angry when I would see them fight these big fights against each other,” said Marquez by telephone. “But it was fine for me. I continued to work on my craft and waited.”
While Marquez waited, Barrera fought in several memorable boxing engagements against other world champions such as Paulie Ayala, Johnny Tapia, Naseem Hamed and others. But his true stamp of greatness came from the three conflagurations with Tijuana’s Morales. Fans still talk about those fights with awe.
“That first fight between Barrera and Morales had so much action you could light a fire with it,” said Los Angeles boxing writer Rick Smith.
Barrera refuses to reminisce.
“Those fights are over,” says Barrera not wishing to dwell on the past. “Now I only think about my upcoming fight with Juan Manuel Marquez.”
For the Mexico City boxer who’s captured world titles in three weight classes and is considered one of the best fighters in the world, the greatest moment of his career will be against Marquez.
“I expect total war. I don’t expect to chase him around,” said Barrera, 33, who many consider one of the few master boxers of his generation. “He’s a tactical fighter but I’ll be ready for anything.”
Since Barrera first arrived in California in 1992 he’s transformed from a whirlwind brawler who never took a backward step, to a wizard boxer that dazzles opponents with complex defenses. Few other prizefighters in the world today are capable of his combination of artistry and warrior mentality.
“He is one of the greatest boxers in the world today,” said trainer Rudy Perez, who has tutored Barrera for more than a decade. “He will prove it again.”
Brandon Rios, a native of Kansas and one of four sparring partners that included former world champion Rudy Lopez, Guty Espadas and Japan’s Yusuke Kobari, said getting in the ring against someone of Barrera’s caliber was similar to earning a doctorate.
“This is not Kansas any more,” Rios said at the Big Bear Lake training camp. “Barrera and Marquez fight at a different level than other fighters.”
It’s in their blood.