Monday March 16th, 2009

Grotesque.

That's the only word I could come up with to describe the gash on Marco Antonio Barrera's head, a cut that ran straight along the gap created by the 35-year-old Barrera's receding hairline. As soon as you saw Barrera's head clash violently with Amir Khan's skull, you knew it was bad. The blood began to flow instantly and soaked several gauze pads in between rounds.

As for the fight itself, well, it didn't leave me quite so speechless.

I was among the many pundits who weren't sure how Saturday night's lightweight showdown would go. On one side of the ring you had Khan, a highly touted Olympic silver medalist who had been brought back to earth in stunning fashion by the unheralded Breidis Prescott, who scored an emphatic first-round knockout of Khan last year -- and in 54 seconds.

On the other side you had Barrera, a once mighty super featherweight champion who despite two consecutive losses to Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez refused to hang up the gloves. Would Khan be able to bounce back against such a crafty opponent? Could Barrera reinvent his career in his third fight at lightweight?

The former turned out to be true. The latter? Not so much.

Khan was spectacular. Fighting in front of a raucous home crowd, and with wonder trainer Freddie Roach operating out of his corner for the second time, Khan took the fight to Barrera. His long arms were surgical, striking like arrows on Barrera's face, and his relentless pressure had the Mexican backing up the entire fight. Officially, the fight was stopped after the doctors decided one pint of blood was enough for Barrera to lose from that cut. But sliced up or not, there is little doubt Barrera eventually would have been stopped.

The question (and isn't this always the question in boxing?) is what's next?

Khan thinks he is ready for a world title shot against an elite lightweight. I'm not so sure. As impressive as Khan was against Barrera, he didn't answer the one question that has been on everyone's mind since the Prescott fight: what happens when a heavy hitter lands a clean shot? Against Barrera, Khan was the much bigger fighter and was never really threatened. But how would the lanky Brit have fared against someone like Juan Manuel Marquez, who has the power and skill to land power shots? Could Khan beat one of the handful of paper champions? Probably, but titles in boxing are worthless. Khan should look to make a rematch with Prescott and prove that he is capable of going the distance with a stronger fighter before stepping up the competition.

Barrera, meanwhile, has become delusional. After the fight he blamed the cut for everything short of the tanking U.S. economy, saying he believed he would have won the fight. Huh? At 135 pounds, Barrera looked slower and weaker than he did in his final days at 130, and it was clear to everyone watching that Barrera's career was over.

But for whatever reason (and the unscrupulous Don King probably has a lot to do this), Barrera believes he is still a legitimate contender and will likely press on, risking his own health and legacy in the process.

Now let's clean out that notebook.

• Those of you tired of searching for SI.com's pound-for-pound rankings will be happy to hear that they now have a permanent home on the bottom of the headlines on the boxing main page. The toughest call continues to be the No. 1 slot. There is no question Pacquiao is deserving, having defeated Marquez, David Diaz and Oscar De La Hoya last year. But I can't shake the feeling that Marquez should have won the fight against Pacquiao and his two recent performances make him the best in the business. Please God, let those two fight again.

• If you're waiting to hear news of Shane Mosley's next fight, well, keep waiting. I spoke to both Mosley and Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer last week and neither sounded optimistic that we would be seeing "Sugar" Shane in the ring anytime soon. Mosley was rebuffed by Floyd Mayweather, and Miguel Cotto passed on a rematch with Mosley in favor of a June unification fight with Joshua Clottey. Mosley said he would like a shot at Pacquiao regardless of the outcome of Pacquiao's junior welterweight showdown with Ricky Hatton, but neither Mosley nor Schaefer are all that optimistic it will happen.

"We wanted Cotto, but [Cotto promoter] Top Rank didn't want to make the fight," said Schaefer. "That was all Top Rank. I know Cotto doesn't duck anybody, I just think his promoters didn't want to make the fight. The same thing could happen with Pacquiao. If they don't want to put him in the ring with Shane, it won't happen." Mosley says he is not interested in any tune-up fight, and is willing to wait until 2010 for one of the big names to agree to face him.

• Here's a little bit of interesting news: Juan Manuel Marquez may actually have shot at Mayweather. Most people thought that when Marquez called out Mayweather after his win over Juan Diaz last month he was simply trying to insert his name into the mix. But Mayweather advisor Leonard Ellerbe shocked a lot of people when he responded in a published report, telling Marquez that he better "be careful what you ask for, because he just might get it." Schaefer told SI.com last week that he has had discussions with Mayweather's camp who, according to Schaefer, say they are "intrigued" by the possibility of facing Marquez.

• Speaking of Marquez, he just gets better with age, doesn't he? Makes you wish he had been properly managed early in his career, when he was inexplicably spending his 20s fighting second-rate opponents. I've been told that if a Mayweather fight doesn't work out, the fight Marquez really wants is Hatton. Marquez's blood thirst for Pacquiao has become legendary but Marquez's advisors have told me that they believe a fight with Hatton at 140 pounds would be incredibly lucrative. And they would be willing to travel to England to do it.

• A lot of people were wondering what the future of Golden Boy Promotions would be once the company's elder statesmen (De La Hoya, Bernard Hopkins and Mosley) retired. But judging by the performance of James Kirkland and Victor Ortiz last weekend, the future of GBP is secure. In case you missed it, both Kirkland and Ortiz, SI.com's 2008 Prospect of the Year, had emphatic and entertaining victories over Joel Julio and Mike Arnaoutis, respectively. Both are big punchers with concussive power, and their pressing style lends itself to instant popularity.

• There are great body shots and there is "The Punch Lucian Bute Hit Fulgencio Zuniga With" (official title). Bute dropped Zuniga with a wicked uppercut to the solar plexus in the fifth round of their super middleweight title bout Friday night, and though Zuniga barely beat the 10-count, the fight was halted several seconds later. Bute is hoping to secure a rematch against Librado Andrade, whom Bute out-pointed last fall. That fight was considered controversial because a battered Bute barely escaped after being battered in the 12th round. "It's a must," said Bute. "We have to fight again. Hopefully, he will win his mandatory fight against Vitali Tsypko and he will be my next opponent for the fall. We need to settle this. I need to do this and he also deserves it."

• Following his lopsided defeat to Joe Calzaghe, Roy Jones Jr. is getting back in the ring on March 21 in a pay-per-view fight against journeyman Omar Sheika. My reaction? Who cares? Jones was a shot fighter before he stepped in the ring with Calzaghe, and his unwillingness to mix it up with the light-hitting Welshman further proved that Jones doesn't belong anywhere near a marquee fight anymore. Jones, who is also promoting the fight, tried to spice up the event by making it a joint MMA and boxing card.

• Kudos to Team Klitschko for putting Vitali Klitschko's March 21 title defense against Juan Carlos Gomez on ESPN. Klitschko had an opportunity to make a few extra bucks by making his fight available on PPV, but instead chose to make a deal with ESPN. While Klitschko will lose out on some pay-per-view money, a fight on network television will expose him to millions of disenchanted American heavyweight fans. And with a strong performance against Gomez, Klitschko could earn that money back -- and then some -- down the road.

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