Barrera v Khan: the trader's view
Amir Khan faces Marco Antonio Barrera in a big bout in Manchester on Saturday night. Our very own boxing trader Sam Foulkes gives us his thoughts on the fight below.
Boxing is a funny old game; just six months ago Amir Khan seemed to be nicely on course for a shot at a world lightweight title when he got flattened by little-known Colombian Breidis Prescott.
It was a damaging, destroying and emphatic defeat but just six months later an ingenious piece of matchmaking has put Amir just one victory away from that world title shot. Standing in his way is the formidable Mexican Marco Antonio Barrera.
Never in my bookmaking career have I known such a divide of opinion on a fight. I opened our book with Khan as a 6/4 outsider but the British public have seemingly not lost faith in their man, we were knocked over with bets, six-figures worth in just days. And it would seem that it's not just William Hill who are seeing business for Amir - he has been gambled across the whole industry. As we stand now the fight is a 'pick-em' at 5/6 each of two. Many bookmakers make Khan the favourite.
My instinct on this fight told me that Barrera would win by knockout but as the fight draws closer I now feel that it is very, very difficult to call.
Marco Antonio Barrera is in my opinion, the most adaptable fighter in the history of boxing. Think back to 2000 when the then aptly named "Baby Faced Assassin" was dominating the super-bantamweight division; his record stood at a formidable 49-2 with 35 knockouts, he was the most feared brawler in the game but Barrera ran into the outstanding Eric Morales.
Fellow-Mexican Morales was younger and fresher and was able to beat Barrera at his own game with a relentless hard-punching 12-Round decision. From that moment Barrera began a methodical but extreme makeover of his style.
He converted himself to become a savvy boxer-puncher, no small feat for a fighter so far into his career. A year later, the world witnessed the second coming of Barrera in a stunning and dramatic upset when he overwhelmed then-unbeaten Naseem Hamed with a boxing clinic of counter punching.
That change in style gave longevity to Barrera's career, and now some eight years and several world titles on, he is still competing at the top level.
The big question now is - what does Barrera have left? A peak Barrera would destroy Khan but without doubt aged 35 Barrera is some way past his best. Financially secure and with a place in the boxing Hall of Fame already reserved many question what motivation Barrera has left to go on.
It appears that Barrera is deeply hurt by the masses who are writing him off; he wants one last crack at the title at his new 135lbs weight. If he does win the world title at this weight - before countryman Juan Manuel Marquez wins a world title at another weight, he will become Mexico's first ever four-weight world champion.
Barrera's last two meaningful fights have both ended in defeat but they were no disgrace, points losses to most people's pound-for-pound rated top two, Marquez and Manny Pacquiao.
Even if Barrera is slipping he has shown that he still has enough left to be competitive at the highest level. Since those two defeats Barrera has signed a five-year contract with promoter Don King, and his comeback began with two wins over journeymen.
Amir Khan's defeat to Prescott had been building up since July 2007 when he was given plenty of trouble by the feather-fisted Willie Limond. A few months later Michael Gomez hurt Khan with a body shot and dropped him with a clipping left hook.
On both those occasions Khan was able to come through the crisis and end the argument with punches of his own. Against Prescott though, he wasn't. And what worried me most about the Prescott defeat was not the knockout but the fact that Prescott seemed to have Khan on queer street from the first sturdy jab that landed.
Khan's chin is fragile, that is a fact - 'you can't put muscles on chins' as they say, you can of course keep your hands up and move your head, and that is what trainer Freddie Roach will be drilling into Khan. Amir's offence and handspeed is truly phenomenal, he is younger and stronger than Barrera but this fight represents an enormous step up in class for the former Olympic Silver Medallist.
A lot has been made of the size difference in this fight; Khan does appear to hold significant physical advantages over Barrera. I don't think that the extra weight that Khan carries will be much of a factor. Pundits keep saying that Khan is a "big lightweight" but this is not true. Readers of Boxing News will have read Khan say himself that he could make 130lbs if he wanted, he simply chooses to box at 135lbs as he feels most comfortable.
If you compare pictures of him from weigh-ins to in-ring shots, you will see little difference in his physique - a tell-tale sign of a 'big at the weight' fighter is that he will have a much thinner and more dehydrated look on the scales. They will then replenish themselves by fight time. Most top fighters will tell you that you 'make weight' only for the few hours that you step on the scales.
Khan is also listed as being 5ft 11ins to Barrera's 5ft 6ins; here is another myth. I have stood right next to Khan and can confirm that he is nowhere near that tall; he's 5ft 9ins at the most. No-one can dispute however that Khan is younger and fresher than Barrera, and he does also posses that amazing handspeed, certainly quicker than Barrera, and this could be a crucial factor in the fight.
Can he do it? Will he do it? Those types of questions are what make this such a great match-up.
So who is going to win? Well for me boxing matchmaking is all about timing and Frank Warren is a pretty good judge. Boxing history is full of passing-of-the-torch-type fights; Hatton v Tszyu would be the perfect example of Warren's judgement of this type of fight.
However, it just so happens that lately the boxing world has been witness to a renaissance from some of the old-school fighters - Bernard Hopkins took Kelly Pavlik to school, "Sugar" Shane Mosley stuck a tremendous beating on Antonio Margarito and just last week we saw Juan Manuel Marquez tame the "Baby Bull" Juan Diaz.
The footage of Barrera that I have seen in the build-up to this fight tells me that he is very serious about winning. He flew over with an entourage of some 40 family and friends. Don King is also in Manchester for this fight, supporting his man. Physically, Barrera looks in tremendous shape; he is coming here to win.
I feel that Khan could win this fight in two different ways; he could swarm all over Barrera from the opening bell, he is relentless when he's going for the finish and although Barrera is very sturdy, you never know, if he is taking a lot of shots with 20,000 fans cheering referee Dave Parris might be looking to save the old veteran from punishment.
This scenario seems unlikely though; Freddie Roach will have instilled patience into Khan, plus last time Khan boxed at the MEN Arena it didn't prove too wise to steam in to his opponent from the off. In my opinion if Khan does win then the most likely way is on points; he'll have to contain Barrera, use his speed and keep total concentration for 12 rounds.
This one could go either way but all things considered, at 5/6 each, the value bet must be Barrera. I think that Barrera will win. He will box a technical and tactical fight behind a solid jab; he will give Khan angles, with coy lateral movement and look to counter him with big shots.
Barrera's signature punch is the left hook to the body, once Barrera gets through the opening rounds he should be able to settle into a rhythm and get that punch working. I expect him to start finding the openings for big shots after about six rounds, and, once he has Khan hurt, he will not let him off the hook. I pick Barrera to finish Khan with a straight right hand, sometime around round eight.
|Listen to boxing journalist and pundit Steve Bunce as he previews the big fight on William Hill Radio