Barrera retains title on controversial split decision

Originally Published: May 20, 2006
ESPN.com news services

LOS ANGELES -- WBC super featherweight champion Marco Antonio Barrera and challenger Rocky Juarez left the ring Saturday night believing they had fought to a draw. So did the crowd that had cleared out of the arena.

Marco Antonio Barrera
Robert Laberge/Getty ImagesBarrera took Juarez's best shots, and escaped with a succesful title defense at Staples Center.

Their fight initially was ruled that way, with judge Duane Ford scoring it 115-113 for Juarez, Anek Hongtogkham giving Barrera the edge 115-113, and Ken Morita scoring it even at 114-114. But it was announced some 15 minutes later that Morita's scores had been added wrong, and that his correct total was 115-114 in Barrera's favor to give the champion a split decision.

Even the score announced for Ford's card turned out to be 115-114 for Juarez instead of having him winning by two points, although that difference didn't affect the outcome.

When the draw was announced, there was booing from those in the crowd of 10,617 who thought Juarez had landed far more telling punches than Barrera, whose face was bloody and swollen by the end of the bout.

"I don't believe this. Who could believe this?" said Juarez, the 2000 Olympic silver medalist from Houston. "I had been thinking that [a record of] 25-1-1 was OK, with the one draw against a legendary fighter like Barrera.

"But to come back to the dressing room and tell me that I'd lost by a point is very disappointing, very upsetting. When I was walking out of the ring, everybody was saying, 'Good fight, you won.' I wonder how they would have reacted if they'd heard that I lost the decision."

Scorecard confusion notwithstanding, Barrera and Juarez gave the fans at the Staples Center and those watching on HBO something to cheer about.

Just when it appeared that Juarez, now 25-2 (18), was going to play "too nice" with the Mexican legend after the first round and most of the second round, the Houston native landed a big left hook that busted Barrera's nose and let the veteran know he was going to be in a fight.

The boxing match intensified over the next two rounds as a stalking Juarez took control of the third and Barrera reasserted himself in the fourth with more aggression. Juarez resumed his pressure in the fifth and scored with counter right hands, but Barrera tried to steal the round with a furious flurry in the final seconds. The two junior lightweights traded one-two combinations and counterpunches in the sixth round, as the champ stuck and moved and the challenger stalked, before Barrera broke through with hard left hook to Juarez's body that backed the younger man into the ropes.

Barrera carried the momentum of this punch through to the end of the round, but his face began to show the effects of Juarez's harder punching.

In rounds seven through 10, Juarez's advantage in youth and physical strength was clear, although Barrera, who did a lot of back pedaling while looking for openings, picked spots in each round to plant his feet and at least attempt to get off with combinations. Barrera's bloody nose was obviously bothering him as he spat his mouthpiece out twice (once in Round 8 and once in Round 9), probably due from having to breathe so much through his mouth.

In the 10th, it appeared as though the pressure and power of Juarez was beginning to be too much for the old lion, who seemed reluctant to trade with the young lion. Near the end of the round, Juarez landed a monster right cross that further splattered Barrera's bloody nose. The three-division champ, however, got off with two big left hooks in the final seconds as if to tell his young challenger "I ain't dead yet!"

Barrera committed to his punches in the 11th, showing his championship heart but got nailed in return from Juarez, who scored well on the inside when they stood chest to chest. It was a grueling round. Barrera, with blood smeared across his face, fought as hard as his weary body would allow him, but he was still hurt by a hook late in the round, which ended with both fighters slugging toe to toe.

Barrera continued to swing freely in the now controversial 12th round, but it was the younger man who landed the cleaner, harder punches.

"I definitely felt I did enough to win," Juarez said after the fight, "but I only give myself a B-minus. There were too many times when I was too cautious.

"Barrera's a great fighter, but Barrera's also a dirty fighter. He hit behind the head and uses elbows."

Juarez forgot to mention the low blows Barrera delivered. (Hey, a veteran's going to do what he has to do to win.)

"I knew this was going to be a tough fight," Barrera said. "Juarez is young and he's strong. What surprised me about him was not his power, but the speed of his punches.

"I think the judges' decision was just. I respect their decision."

Speaking of respect, Juarez believes that he got Barrera's.

Juarez also won back whatever respect he may have lost from boxing fans after disappointing performances vs. Zahir Raheem and Humberto Soto last year and in 2004.

He may have lost the fight but he won respect - big time.

Information from The Associated Press and Maxboxing.com was used in this report.

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