Do or die for Barrera and Khan

Updated: March 13, 2009, 10:12 AM ET

Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Proceed with caution: Amir Khan will be on guard against the dangerous Marco Antonio Barrera.

Barrera, Khan meet at the crossroads

Amir Khan was a couple of weeks shy of his third birthday when Marco Antonio Barrera made his professional debut in 1986. Khan was only 8 when the Mexican legend won a world title in the first of the three divisions he would conquer.

They couldn't have traveled more disparate paths to get where they are right now -- years apart in age with a vast difference in their experience level and accomplishments, but each in dire need of a notable victory to keep his career afloat at the top level of boxing when they face each other in a 12-round lightweight bout in Manchester, England, on Saturday (Integrated Sports PPV, 4 p.m. ET).

It's the main event of a bill that also features Enzo Maccarinelli against Ola Afolabi for a vacant interim cruiserweight title and Nicky Cook making the first defense of his junior lightweight belt against mandatory challenger Roman Martinez.

To call the fight a "must-win" for Barrera and Khan would be a major understatement.

Barrera toiled for years out of the spotlight in his native Mexico before surging to the top of the sport with a series of exciting performances. He won titles at junior featherweight, featherweight and junior lightweight and was one of the top pound-for-pound performers for the better part of a decade. His trilogy with Erik Morales is one of the best in boxing history and his 2001 upset of Naseem Hamed one of the most memorable of the decade.

But after back-to-back losses in 2007 to Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao -- otherwise known at the moment as the best two fighters in the world pound-for-pound -- Barrera was left for dead by many.

On TV
TV lineup for Saturday's Frank Warren-promoted pay-per-view card (Integrated Sports, 4 p.m. ET) from the MEN Arena in Manchester, England:

• Lightweights: Amir Khan (19-1, 15 KOs) vs. Marco Antonio Barrera (65-6, 43 KOs), 12 rounds
• Cruiserweights: Enzo Maccarinelli (29-2, 22 KOs) vs. Ola Afolabi (13-1-3, 5 KOs), 12 rounds, for a vacant interim title
• Junior lightweights: Nicky Cook (29-1, 16 KOs) vs. Roman Martinez (21-0-1, 12 KOs), 12 rounds, for Cook's title

Although Barrera (65-6, 43 KOs) rebounded with two victories, they came against extraordinarily low-level opponents. But the wins set the stage for his meeting with Khan, a fight that surprised many when it was made because it came out of the blue.

"I got this opportunity to come here and win. I am a warrior," Barrera said.

He believes the fight makes perfect sense.

"The reason I took this fight is because a win here puts me in line to realize my top remaining goal to become the first Mexican-born fighter to win world championships in four separate weight divisions," Barrera, 35, said. "I've been world champion in three weight divisions and my goal is to win a world championship in the lightweight division. I don't want to wait. I want to get there as fast as I can. A win over Khan puts me right where I want to be."

Barrera promoter Don King sounded confident -- when doesn't he? -- in Barrera.

"He will knock Khan out and catapult himself back into prominence," King said. "Khan is taking the gamble. He figures Barrera is at the end of his career. Oh, have we got a surprise for him."

Khan never had to toil like Barrera did. He was expected to be a pro star from the moment he claimed a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Amir Khan

AP Photo/Jon Super

Amir Khan was on the fast track to fame and fortune -- until he ran into Breidis Prescott.

Blessed with size, skills, power and outrageous speed, he looked like he was on his way to the top quickly as promoter Frank Warren put him the fast track. However, one attribute also necessary for any top fighter -- a strong chin -- has failed him. Khan, 22, suffered several knockdowns, a major cause for concern. Then he met Breidis Prescott in September. Prescott waxed Khan, knocking him down twice in brutal fashion and winning on a first-round knockout.

"I've just got to be more careful in this fight," Khan said. "In the Prescott fight I rushed in a little bit. I was running into punches. That's not my style. My style is more slick, hit and move. That's what I'm going to stick to. The biggest improvement under Freddie has been my defense. After the Prescott fight I needed to work at it and working on my defense has made me a better fighter in a whole different way. It made me more focused and composed and made me think about things more."

Although Khan (19-1, 15 KOs) returned to stop Oisin Fagan in two rounds in December in his first fight with trainer Freddie Roach, the fight with Barrera represents a quantum leap in level of opponent. Having already gone down in flames once, Khan can hardly afford to do it again if he wants to remain a hot commodity.

Khan knows it, too, which is why he spent six weeks in Los Angeles training with Roach.

"I can't wait for the fight," Khan said. "I've still got to prove a few people wrong and hopefully I can do that against Barrera. He's a great fighter but I think his style is made for mine. This is the right fight at the right time for me. I've had a fantastic training camp in the States, and everything has gone brilliantly.

"Freddie is such a knowledgeable trainer and so is everyone around him. We've worked out a good game plan for Barrera, and now it's a case of putting it into action."

Barrera, Hamed

Al Bello /Allsport

Amir Khan's camp believes Marco Antonio Barrera's best days are behind him.

Roach has liked what he has seen from Khan, which is why he didn't hesitate to approve Barrera as an opponent when the fight came up.

"Barrera's best was at 122 and 126. Amir is a big 135-pounder," Roach said. "It's the perfect time -- 22-year-old kid against a 35-year-old veteran. We respect Barrera and there's a lot we have to look out for from him. Barrera can set up guys with his experience but we've really prepared for that. Amir reminds me a lot of Pacquiao.

"They're both very athletic and Amir is the only guy who can run with Manny. I remember Manny getting knocked out early in his career [in the third round by Rustico Torrecampo in 1996] and everybody writing him off. Amir came in on a bigger stage from the Olympics, but I believe he'll rebound and become world champion."

Before he faced Fagan, Khan estimates that he sparred around 90 rounds with Pacquiao, who is also trained by Roach and was preparing for his eventual knockout win against Oscar De La Hoya in December.

"Manny's been giving me some great advice," Khan said. "We sparred a lot ahead of my last fight, and he's had some input this time around as well. Obviously he's beaten Barrera [twice] before, and he's given me some good tips. He knows how tough these Mexicans can be and what it takes to beat them, and fingers crossed a bit of his magic can rub off on me."

Barrera isn't buying Khan's bravado. He believes he will undress Khan the same way he did Hamed, who was hugely popular in England during his heyday.

"I will beat Khan because I have more experience than him and I'm still a much better fighter than he is," Barrera said. "He is a good young fighter but there's nothing he can do between to surpass my skills and experience. Don't forget what I did to Prince Naseem Hamed, too, another highly touted guy with fast hands.

"Amir is young and he is quick, but he doesn't have the chin or the experience to deal with me."

HBO's '24/7' returns

HBO made official the return of its hit Emmy-award-winning reality series "24/7." The fifth installment, "Pacquiao/Hatton 24/7," will feature four episodes devoted to following the buildup to the May 2 HBO PPV fight between junior welterweight champ Ricky Hatton and pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao. Both fighters agreed to give HBO's cameras round-the-clock access to their training camps. Figuring to add spark to the series is the presence of rival trainers Freddie Roach and Floyd Mayweather Sr.

Devon Alexander

Chris Farina/Top Rank

HBO cameras will take boxing fans inside the Manny Pacquiao camp with the return of "24/7."

Instead of Sunday night episodes with the finale on the Thursday before the fight, the schedule other installments have followed, "Pacquiao/Hatton 24/7" will air on Saturday nights with the finale the night before the fight. The first episode premieres April 11 (9:30 p.m. ET/PT) with subsequent episodes April 18 (10 p.m. ET/PT), April 25 (10:35 p.m. ET/PT) and May 1 (9:30 p.m. ET/PT). Liev Schreiber returns as narrator.

"This latest edition of '24/7' features two of the most talented and personable fighters in boxing today, and we look forward to bringing their compelling story lines and personalities to our subscribers in what promises to be engaging television," HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg said in announcing the series. "The trainers, Floyd Sr. and Freddie Roach, will likely add fireworks to the series. This fight is sure to generate a lot of excitement and energy worldwide, and we hope to capture those dramatic moments."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.


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QUICK HITS

Adamek

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Ortiz

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Caballero

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Bailey

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