LAS VEGAS-A battered and bruised Juan Manuel Marquez finally proved he’s among the best Mexican fighters of his generation with a gritty win over Marco Antonio Barrera in capturing the WBC junior lightweight title on Saturday.

Marquez won the dream fight between Mexico City fighters before 8,127 fans at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Though he and Barrera (63-5, 42 KOs) both emerged from Southern California arenas more than 10 years ago, they finally met and fans were not disappointed.

“Barrera is a great champion,” said Marquez  (47-3-1, 35 KOs). ‘He deserves a rematch.”

From the onset of the promotion, fight fans who had followed both fighters since the early 1990s when the two were main attractions at the Inglewood Forum, excitedly watched the two Mexico City champions in a give and take battle for 12 rounds. The action was fierce.

Marquez seemed ready to knock out Barrera in the sixth round with left uppercuts and right hands. As he readied for the kill, Barrera caught him with a roundhouse right and dropped him to his hands and knees. Then Barrera stood over him for a second and fired one more grazing punch. Referee Jay Nady penalized Barrera one point but did not count the knockdown.

“From where I was standing I didn’t see the punch,” said Nady.

Marquez confessed that he was dropped by the lightning right hand in the sixth.

“He hit me with a nice punch on the chin,” said Marquez, 33, whose younger brother Rafael won a similar fight against a fellow Mexico City rival two weeks ago.

That sixth round proved pivotal.

“If the referee was doing his job I would not have thrown another punch,” said Barrera. “But when I see blood I go for the kill. That’s my job. His (referee) job is to step in when its necessary.”

Barrera used his ring prowess to defend against Marquez’s knock out blows and often confused his opponent. But after the eighth round, Marquez seemed to gain momentum and defend against Barrera’s counters.

A stinging right hand-left hook in the eighth round by Marquez stunned Barrera. Though Marquez’s faced looked much the worse, his combinations began to land more often. From the ninth to the 12th round, Marquez seemed more determine to attack as Barrera countered.

“I proved that I was hungry. Yes I know he had more experience, but I proved that a hungry fighter makes a difference,” said Marquez. “I was pressing, pressing, pressing in the fight.”

It was the willingness to pressure Barrera that won the fight in the judge’s eyes.

The judges scored it 118-109 (Doug Tucker),116-111 twice (Patricia Jarman and Paul Smith) for Marquez. The new champion jumped to the corner ropes to celebrate his long-awaited victory over his hometown rival.

Barrera felt he won the fight but congratulated Marquez.

“This is boxing, we are Mexicans, this is our sport,” said Barrera.

Marquez said a rematch is up to Barrera.

According to Compubox, Barrera landed 262 total punches to Marquez’s 255. But the new champion landed 197 power punches to Barrera’s 146.

Other bouts

WBO junior featherweight titleholder Daniel Ponce de Leon out-punched his way to a lop-sided victory against Gerry Penalosa (51-6-2, 35 KOs) that confused many by the scoring. Although he landed 259 punches to Penalosa’s 175, many felt the fight was a nip and tuck battle. The judges didn’t see it that way scoring it 120-108 and 119-109 twice for Ponce de Leon. Many in press row had it seven rounds to five for either Penalosa or Ponce de Leon.

“It was a very hard fight,” said Ponce de Leon (31-1, 28 KOs) who fired 152 punches in the sixth round. “I had great conditioning for this fight.”

A 12-round battle for the USBA junior welterweight title resulted in public outcry when the judges scored it unanimous for Demetrius Hopkins over Steve Forbes.

Though Forbes landed 198 punches to Hopkins 168, the judges scored it 118-110 twice and 117-111 for Hopkins.

“I’m shocked,” said Forbes. “I want an immediate rematch.”

Despite heated action in the toe-to-toe battle, there were no knockdowns in the fight that saw former junior lightweight world champion Forbes use his experience to gain command in the early part of the fight.

Flyweight contender Diosdado Gabi (29-3-1, 21 KOs) needed only two rounds to overpower Antonio Cochero (17-5-1, 13 KOs). A right hook by Gabi flush to the jaw of the Colombian at 2:59 of the round left him limp. Though he got up at the count of nine referee Tony Gibson motioned that the fight was over.

In a junior featherweight contest Sergio Espinoza (14-2-1, 5 KOs) upset the heavy-hitting Juan Alberto Rosas (25-1, 22 KOs) of Mexico City with volume punching mixed with solid blows. Rosas was frustrated by the pitty-pat punches smacking his face and was called for two fouls – a blow to the groin and holding Espinoza’s head while hitting him four times – in the ninth round. The judges scored it 97-91 twice and 96-92 for Espinoza.

Featherweights Eduardo Escobedo (19-2, 13 KOs) and Edel Ruiz (28-17-4, 19 KOs) battled for on equal ground until a right hand to the body sent Ruiz down for the count of 10 at 1:43 of the second round. Though Escobedo is from Mexico City, he’s trained by Rudy Hernandez.