Rocky Juarez thought he would be challenging featherweight titlist Robert Guerrero on Sept. 15 in the co-feature of Golden Boy Promotions' "Fireworks" HBO PPV card at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, with junior lightweight champion Juan Marquez making his first defense against Jorge Barrios in the headline fight.
But things have a way of changing awfully quickly in boxing, and now the 2000 U.S. Olympic silver medalist suddenly finds himself in the main event challenging Marquez after being tabbed Monday to fill in for the injured Barrios, who had surgery for retina tears in each eye on Friday.
Juarez twice challenged Marco Antonio Barrera in 2006 for the 130-pound crown, but lost a controversial split decision in an outstanding action fight in May and then dropped a lopsided decision in the snoozer of a rematch in September.
After the second loss to Barrera, Juarez dropped back down to featherweight, his more natural division, and was set to challenge Guerrero until Barrios' eye problems were discovered.
Barrios, a former titleholder from Argentina, arrived in Los Angeles late last week to train for the bout against Marquez, who had lifted the title from Barrera on a close decision March 17. Golden Boy sent him to the doctor for a pre-fight medical exam, one that usually isn't done until shortly before the fight.
"We got lucky. Normally, this guy comes in the week before the fight," Golden Boy vice president and matchmaker Eric Gomez told ESPN.com. "He came in early to Los Angeles to train. We figured we'd get the medicals out of the way, so we took him over to get them done and they found that both retinas were damaged. We took him to a specialist and he found the same thing and performed the surgery. The doctor feels he will be able to fight again but not before December. Barrios was very disappointed because he was going to get a big payday and he had a good chance to win.
"We're lucky we caught it in time. It would have been disastrous if we wouldn't have found this out until the week of the fight."
So in steps Juarez.
"He loved the idea," said Shelly Finkel, Juarez's manager. "He wanted to talk to his trainers, Ronnie Shields and Ray Ontiveros, and they both thought it was a very good move for him, so [Monday] we took the fight."
Finkel believes Juarez has a good chance to pull the upset.
"I think they are both skilled boxers," Finkel said. "Marquez can punch, but he's not a devastating puncher and I saw Barrera put him on the canvas and Barrera never hurt Rocky in either fight. I think if Rocky is right, he can beat him."
Juarez (27-3, 19 KOs) will earn a bigger purse to fight Marquez (47-3-1, 35 KOs) than he would have made to face Guerrero, but Finkel, who would not divulge the terms, said money was not the deciding factor.
"The main thing is that this is a much higher profile fight," Finkel said. "I also told him, but not to take it into consideration, that if we didn't fight Marquez, the whole card might fall apart. He's got another opportunity here for a major fight like he had against Barrera. Now, Rocky just has to take advantage of it."
Guerrero (20-1-1, 13 KOs), who is also managed by Finkel, will remain on the card and Golden Boy is trying to lock in an opponent. Finkel told ESPN.com that the leading candidate is Golden Boy-promoted contender Martin Honorio (24-3-1, 12 KOs), who returned from his own eye injury July 6 to win a split decision against Joe Morales.
The two other attractive pay-per-view fights remain intact:
• Former junior middleweight titlist Kassim Ouma against Sergio Mora, the first season winner of "The Contender" in a 10-round middleweight bout.
• Junior welterweight Francisco "Panchito" Bojado, boxing's former No. 1 prospect, against Steve Forbes, a former junior lightweight titlist and the runner-up on the second season of "The Contender," in a 10-rounder.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.