AROUND THE RING
Barrera, Marquez ready for battle
When a rematch between junior lightweight champ Marco Antonio Barrera and Manny Pacquiao failed to materialize because of Pacquiao's promotional entanglements, Barrera didn't pout.
Instead, the future Hall of Famer switched to Plan B, and what a Plan B it is: featherweight titlist Juan Manuel Marquez, who, like Barrera, is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
The Mexican stars have danced around each other for years, but never met in the ring. That will change March 17 (HBO PPV), when they meet at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas for one of the top fights that can be made in boxing.
Pacquiao owns a knockout win against Barrera, and Marquez has a draw with Pacquiao in a fight many believe Marquez clearly won.
"Barrera will take on the challenger that Erik Morales never wanted," Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer crowed. "Barrera is not going to sit around and wait for Pacquiao, so we are moving ahead with another big fight."
Golden Boy Promotions, which handles both fighters, dubbed the card "Fearless," which makes sense because neither man has ever backed away from a challenge.
"For as long as I can remember, when you talked about the best fighters in the world, the names of Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez were always mentioned, but a fight between them never came off," said Golden Boy Promotions boss Oscar De La Hoya. "I'm excited that we've finally been able to put these two great warriors together and present the fans with what I believe will be one of the best fights of the last 25 years."
It has a chance. Barrera (63-4, 42 KOs) has been involved in a slew of memorable fights, including his trilogy with Erik Morales. Marquez's draw with Pacquiao was a brawl from start to finish.
The pay-per-view undercard is expected to include:
• Junior featherweight titlist Daniel Ponce De Leon -- one of the most savage punchers in boxing -- defending against former junior bantamweight titlist Gerry Penalosa.
• Junior welterweight Demetrius Hopkins facing former junior lightweight titlist Steve Forbes, the runner-up in the second season of "The Contender."
Marquez (46-3-1, 35 KOs), who will move up in weight to challenge Barrera and to earn a career-high $1.5 million payday, has been in top form in his past two fights, winning both by knockout, as he put a controversial points loss to featherweight titlist Chris John in Indonesia behind him.
"This is one of the most important fights of my career and I think I am going to knock out Barrera," said Marquez, who doesn't typically make such bold statements. "Barrera has fought a lot, but I'm at the peak of my career and it is time for him to retire and for me to take the reign."
In his last fight, Barrera boxed his way to an easy decision against Rocky Juarez in their September rematch. Marquez's prediction has Barrera fired up to make their fight more memorable than his last outing.
"Juan Manuel thinks he is going to knock me out? I'd like to see him try," said Barrera, who will earn $3 million. "He is dreaming that he is going to win. His dreams are not reality. Instead he should be training because I am going to shut his mouth with my punches, not with words."
Mark Taffet of HBO PPV loves these kinds of fights. He said it reminds him of the Barrera-Morales and Pacquiao-Morales trilogies.
"Barrera won a legendary trilogy with Morales, and Marquez showed incredible heart coming back from three knockdowns to earn a draw in a memorable fight with Pacquiao," he said. "Barrera-Marquez is another one of those 'best vs. best' matches that boxing fans always look forward to."
Green unloads on Miranda
Allan Green and Edison Miranda are not only two of the most fearsome middleweights in the world, they are also among the sport's best when it comes to smack talk.
That is going to make the buildup to their March 3 (HBO) showdown in Puerto Rico a lot of fun. They have wasted no time in launching a war of words. First, Miranda promised to knock out Green, who then responded.
"Miranda is too stupid to understand science, because he is probably the slowest guy I have ever fought," Green said. "He has a better chance of tickling a grizzly bear in the [rear end] with a chicken feather than hitting me. He forgets that I am a puncher also. I will expose, embarrass and destroy him. He is too stupid to know any better, but he will get an education on March 3."
Holt-Arnaoutis on Showtime
The promoters for junior welterweight contenders Kendall Holt (21-1, 12 KOs) and Mike Arnaoutis (17-1-2, 9 KOs) avoided a purse bid this week by striking a deal for the fight, which will be televised as a "special edition" (translation: bigger license fee) of Showtime's "ShoBox: The New Generation." The date probably will be March 16, but it could be April 20, depending on the site.
Holt is from New Jersey and Arnaoutis, who is from Greece, lives in New Jersey. Holt promoter Dino Duva and Arnaoutis promoter Joe DeGuardia both hope to put the fight in Atlantic City, where it is a natural draw.
The winner will earn a mandatory shot at titlist Ricardo Torres, who won a controversial split decision against Arnaoutis in a November defense.
"It's the type of match you can look at as a great match because you have two of the top 10 guys in the world [at 140 pounds] fighting each other for high stakes," DeGuardia told ESPN.com. "It's an evenly matched fight. I love it. It's the kind of fight I like to see in boxing. Both guys could have sat around and waited, and maybe walked into a big payday, but they are choosing to fight each other to earn a title fight."
"I think this is a terrific fight between two contrasting [styles]," Duva said. "The winner obviously is in a position to make real noise in the division. I look at it as a crossroads fight for both, a very tough fight."
If negotiations for a July 21 Bernard Hopkins-Roy Jones Jr. HBO PPV fight fall apart -- and they are rocky right now -- there have been murmurs that the light heavyweight champ will turn his attention to Welsh super middleweight champ Joe Calzaghe, who has expressed interest in the fight and in coming to the United States for a significant showdown.
Calzaghe, of course, first has to take care of business April 7 (HBO) against Peter Manfredo Jr. in Cardiff. Frank Warren, Calzaghe's promoter, said while they are interested in a Hopkins fight, he wants to make sure Calzaghe stays focused on Manfredo first.
"Joe needs to look good and box well that night, and it won't be a walk in the park," Warren said. "It's all very well talking about the summer, but as far as I'm concerned, Joe can't get too far ahead of himself because in boxing there's always a danger you can take your eye off the ball. Manfredo Jr. is a very credible and very dangerous opponent, and I know he feels that he will pull off an upset."
Calzaghe (42-0, 31 KOs) will be making his landmark 20th defense against Manfredo.
• All-action star Arturo Gatti will return July 14 (HBO) at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., manager Pat Lynch told ESPN.com. Gatti (40-8, 31 KOs), a former two-division titleholder who hasn't fought since suffering a ninth-round knockout loss to Carlos Baldomir in a welterweight championship fight last July, has one more fight remaining on his HBO contract. No opponent has been selected, Lynch said. He said they would have a better idea about possible opponents after meeting with HBO in the next couple of weeks. Many have assumed Gatti's next bout would be his farewell, but Lynch said Gatti hasn't made that decision yet. "We're not calling it a farewell fight because Arturo wants to see how he looks and see how he feels," Lynch said. "I'd be very happy if he said this was the last fight, but he thinks he has more to give."
• Former undisputed welterweight champ Zab Judah now has an opponent for his April 27 comeback fight on "Friday Night Fights" (ESPN2). Judah will meet Israel "Pito" Cardona in the Memphis suburb of Southaven, Miss., promoter Brian Young told ESPN.com. Judah (34-4, 25 KOs), who has lost two fights in a row, is returning from a one-year suspension for his role in the melee that erupted during the 10th round of his eventual decision loss to Floyd Mayweather last April in Las Vegas. Cardona (36-6, 28 KOs) won both of his fights in 2006 after returning from almost four years in retirement. Cardona lost his most notable fight, dropping a lopsided decision to Paul Spadafora in a 1999 fight for a vacant lightweight belt.
• Ghana's Ben Tackie is having visa problems, so he is out a Feb. 17 HBO fight against welterweight Andre Berto (16-0, 14 KOs), the 2006 ESPN.com prospect of the year. Taking Tackie's place to try to give the explosive Berto, 23, a test will be Norberto Bravo (23-12-3, 12 KOs), 36, who participated in the second season of "The Contender." "I think Bravo is a very interesting character, and a rugged guy," Berto promoter Lou DiBella said. "He went through 'The Contender' experience and did well on the show. I think he earned this opportunity. He's a man's man and he will throw down. He was in the gym preparing for another fight, so he is on weight. If you followed the show, Bravo is a very likable cat and fought hard to get an opportunity. Now, he's getting an opportunity." Junior welterweight Paulie Malignaggi faces Edner Cherry in the main event of the televised triple-header at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York. Also on the broadcast: junior middleweight Sechew Powell faces Ishe Smith of "The Contender" first season.
• Although Golden Boy's World Cup tournament pitting Mexican champions against Filipino challengers has been postponed, one of the title fights is still on. Junior bantamweight belt-holder Fernando Montiel of Mexico will travel to Cebu, Philippines, to defend his belt against mandatory challenger Z Gorres on Feb. 24. The tournament, however, is postponed until at least summer because Golden Boy boss Oscar De La Hoya wants to be able to be there. Had the event gone ahead next month, he would have had to miss it because he will be tied up with the press tour and the beginning of training camp for his May 5 fight with Floyd Mayweather. The event will be a follow-up to Golden Boy's initial World Cup event in October 2004, which included four title bouts between fighters from Mexico and Thailand. Mexico won five of the six fights, including all four title bouts, to take possession of the jewel-encrusted trophy cup created for the event.
• A purse bid was called off when representatives for bantamweight titlist Jhonny Gonzalez (33-5, 28 KOs) of Mexico and mandatory challenger Irene Pacheco of Colombia, a former flyweight belt-holder, made a deal this week. They will meet March 30 in the main event of Telefutura's "Solo Boxeo" in Tucson, Ariz., according Eric Gomez of Golden Boy Promotions, which handles Gonzalez. The fight is a good enough match to merit a bigger television platform, but "we are excited that it will be on Telefutura so everyone can see it for free," Gomez said. "It's a great fight." Gonzalez was stopped in the 10th round in a challenge to junior featherweight champion Israel Vazquez in September. Since losing his flyweight belt to Vic Darchinyan via 11th-round knockout in 2004, Pacheco (33-1, 24 KOs) has won three in a row, including an elimination bout in October.
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"Sounds like Cap'n Freddie Roach was smart enough to jump ship before the USS Manfredo sinks in Wales on April 7."
-- Super middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe, reacting to the news that Roach will give up working with his fighters for the next few months, including Peter Manfredo Jr., in order to work exclusively with Oscar De La Hoya for his May 5 fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr.