Philippine folklore has it that Malakas and Maganda, their Adam and Eve, were born full-grown from bamboo shoots. And like that mythical twosome, Manny Pacquiao looked as if he was born from the same source, hard and springy, straight and slender, and only a few feet tall. And almost as godlike to his countrymen.
And last Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Event Center several thousand of his loyal parishioners filled the arena with a noise that kept enlarging itself in breath and range as their hero won a decisive 12-round decision over Marco Antonio Barrera.
Oh, it wasn't as easy as most boxing experts had thought it would be, no repeat of his 11-round demolition of Barrera four years ago at the Alamodome that had launched Pacquiao into the upper echelon of boxing's current superstars. For this time round Barrera, who always viewed a fight as one ripe for stratagems, had determined not to go toe-to-toe with the "Pacman," but instead, calling on his experience--the name everyone gives their mistakes--tried to reinvent the Barrera wheel as he had so many times before (here, see his change of strategy in the second Morales fight) and box Pacquiao, figuring if he couldn't convince Pacquiao with his power he would confuse him with his boxing.
But even as Barrera continued to throw his left in generous potations, Pacquiao continued to come forward throwing punches with "Manny-fest" gusto, his right a streak of lightning, his left pure thunder. Textbook maxims dictate that you don't try to slug with a slugger, but by the middle rounds Barrera, forced to stand and deliver against the Everready Bunny called Pacquiao, was caught up in the toe-to-toe battle he had tried to avoid. And coming out second best--saying later "I definitely lost my head...I got too caught up in the exchanges. I should have kept boxing."
Round after round Pacquiao continued to charge in, landing his newfound right and a follow-up dynamite-laden left--all of which left Barrera with the unequal task of trying to stave off Pacquiao's charges with a counter right.
By the tenth it had become evident to all that Barrera was behind, especially to his corner, which continued to exhort him "to fight." But the old warrior's get-up-and-go had apparently gotten up and gone and the only thing he could do in the face of Pacquiao's constant pressure was go on the defensive, finding that stopping the "Pacman's" charges was somewhat akin to trying to take cheese from a set mousetrap. Barrera's only offensive outburst came in the 11th when, his face bloodied and lined and seamed with long-gone hopes and time too short for a course in etiquette, he swatted Pacquiao on the back of the head with an on-the-break punch and had a point deducted for his effort. But other than that, the man once called "The Baby-faced Assassin" was hopelessly polite in the closing rounds. The decision, a foregone conclusion, was all Pacquiao--118-109, 118-109, 115-112.
For Pacquiao, now 45-3-2, it was more than a partial payment of his rumored greatness. For the 33-year-old Marco Antonio Barrera (63-6) it was the end of the road. But it had been one helluva road, one that will take him all the way to the Boxing Hall of Fame.
Bert Randolph Sugar is the co-author of "My View from the Corner" with legendary trainer Angelo Dundee, in bookstores later this month.
HBO PPV - Oct. 6, 2007