Boxing: Khan has to prove worth in battle of ages
Barrera may be at the end of his career, but the veteran is still a danger to Briton
Saturday 14 March 2009
A second in boxing is a long time, six months is history and eight years is ancient history but fighters and their people always trawl through old fights in search of answers to new fights.
Tonight Amir Khan will try and walk through history when he steps back in time against Marco Antonio Barrera in a fight that could make a mockery of the accepted wisdom regarding old men in the ring.
Barrera is an old and scarred man with a reputation for brilliance inside the four ropes where he has worked since he was a 15-year-old boy scrapping for tiny envelopes of dirty pesos in the dark boxing underbelly of Mexico City.
Somehow the tiny flyweight with fast hands and a nasty finish in his trademark left hook to the liver fought his way from the slums to titles and millions and fame. Now, 20 years later he stands in front of Khan and the gaze of about 18,000 people at the MEN arena in Manchester.
Khan is the baby from Athens, the kid of 17 who chased arguably the greatest Cuban boxer in history, Mario Kindelan, all over the ring but had to settle for a silver medal in the lightweight final. At roughly the same time Barrera was winning the World Boxing Council super featherweight title in a third and stunning fight against his great Mexican rival Erik Morales. Some people have noted the dates in their trajectory theories.
There are other dates in this fight and Barrera's people are quick to remember that Breidis Prescott ruined Khan in less than 60 seconds last September. At the same time Barrera was in month 11 of a retirement, getting fat and his hair was turning grey at the ends as he contemplated a life away from the lights. The thought was too much and he dusted off his gloves and quit the safe life.
There is also the night in 2001 when Barrera beat what was left of the once slick and devastating Naseem Hamed in Las Vegas. Khan, a schoolboy hopeful at the time, watched his idol lose at his home in Bolton but that Barrera is lost in history.
Barrera has fought 72 times in 20 years and mixed in the company of the finest fighters of this generation and some from the last generation. He is a true modern great with wins and narrow defeats in some of boxing's most memorable encounters – he has won and lost three world titles in 26 championship fights. He is not an unbeaten, untested kid with a fool's appreciation of boxing's violence but a man shaped by hardship, joy and adversity in the ring.
Khan retreated to a seedy corner of Los Angeles to salvage and continue his ring education after Prescott and joined Freddie Roach's gang at the Wild Card gym. He started to put his boxing life back together by at first dismantling the bulky muscles he had acquired. Roach is a dynamic little enigma with enough open flaws to keep him honest and he has said that Khan will have to get a proper job if he loses to Barrera. Tonight's 12-round fight is all about Khan's recovery and the end of Barrera but it could also be about the end for Khan and an extension for Barrera. The winner will get the chance to fight for the World Boxing Organisation's grown-up lightweight world title.
I suspect that cuts will be a factor and possibly the decisive and generous factor in helping Khan narrowly advance in a fight that could alternatively end in the single second it takes Barrera to find an inch of Khan's exposed and highly vulnerable flesh.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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