Robert Silva is back with his greatest super bantamweights in boxing history list.
The first time my father and I saw Marco Antonio Barrera fight was his HBO debut on February 3, 1996 against Olympic gold medalist Kennedy McKinney. We had read several articles on how the Mexican fans and media were proclaiming him to be the next Julio Cesar Chavez. That night, my father and I were both in awe at how similar Barrera was stylistically to Chavez. Barrera knocked out McKinney in the 12th round of an incredible firefight and showed several elements that would eventually result in the Mexican star becoming the third greatest super bantamweight of all-time.
The WBO version of the 122-pound title defended by Barrera that night against McKinney was the fifth successful defense of a belt he won on March 31, 1995 from Puerto Rican boxer Daniel Jimenez. After finishing off McKinney, Barrera stayed extremely busy in 1996, scoring three more knockouts in defense of his title before facing Brooklyn native Junior Jones on November 22, 1996. I was a huge fan of Jones as he reminded me of a young Thomas Hearns. At 5’8, Jones was very tall for his weight class and possessed a stifling jab and booming right cross similar to the legendary “Hitman.” Unfortunately, Jones also shared Hearns’ proclivity of both a shaky chin and stamina. In 1994, Jones was knocked out twice by lesser skilled fighters. Many experts assumed this would be the final straw in Jones’ career, a brutal beating at the hands of Barrera. As my father always succinctly stated, no boxer is ever unbeatable.
For the first four rounds, Jones kept the 5’6 Barrera at bay with a stiff left jab. Barrera had never faced such a lengthy boxer with such height and reach like Jones. Then, with about 30 seconds left in round five, Jones landed a picture perfect right cross that dropped the iron chinned Barrera similar to the way Hearns dropped Pipino Cuevas in his incredible August 2, 1980 knockout. Barrera got up bloodied and practically out on his foot. Jones immediately jumped on Barrera, landing several punches before Barrera fell down in a heap. Barrera’s cornermen jumped into the ring to stop the fight. Barrera’s star had taken a major hit. Barrera would lose the rematch to Jones five months later in a heated 12-round war that could’ve gone either way. Barrera, after an initial brief retirement, would begin his climb back to the top of the division 10 months later.
Barrera regained the WBO 122-pound title on Halloween night 1998 by destroying Richie Wenton in three rounds. After two successful defenses of the title, Barrera signed to fight the WBC champion Erik Morales in the greatest fight ever held between two Mexican boxers. You can read about the entire fight in a previous article I wrote. The WBO was so incensed that Barrera did not win the decision that many felt he earned that they decided, in an unprecedented move, to continue to recognize Barrera as their 122-pound titleholder. Barrera successfully defended his title three more times before abdicating the belt to move up to 126 pounds in early 2001.
Marco Antonio Barrera was the closest fighter that could be compared to the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez. An incredible body puncher who obliterated you after wearing you down, Barrera was also one of the most resilient boxers that ever lived. Despite two tough losses to Junior Jones and one to Erik Morales, Barrera came back each time an even better fighter. In a six year time span, Barrera successfully defended his 122-pound world title 13 times. By the end of his reign in 2001, Barrera had successfully transitioned into being a tremendous boxer/puncher with much more head movement and counterpunching acumen. It’s no mystery why he is the third greatest super bantamweight of all-time.