A slow start was the difference between him and WBC super featherweight champion Marco Antonio Barrera when they met on May 5 at the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, reflected Rocky Juarez on a recent conference call to promote his upcoming rematch against the Mexican icon.
Juarez, 26, lost a controversial split decision to Barrera on that occasion, but only after pushing his veteran opponent to the very brink. In the return match, which takes place on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, he says that victory is dependant on taking more risks in the opening rounds as it was his early passivity the first time around that cost him on the scorecards.
An accomplished amateur, he has not forgotten about the cruel blow he was dealt on that warm May night. After producing the finest performance of his young career, an inexplicable scoring error ruled that the originally announced result of a draw be changed to a wafer-thin victory for Barrera and a heartbreaking loss for Juarez. He was told in his dressing room, half an hour or so later.
The wound, he claims, is still as raw and as painful now as it was then; thus, he goes into this weekend's fight galvanized by the perceived injustice. Determined this time to leave no doubt. To win every second of every round.
"Oh, definitely," replied Juarez when asked if he felt he needed to exhibit more aggression in the rematch in order to dethrone the legendary Barrera. "I feel that I have to beat him decisively the second time around. I feel that, you know, not too many fighters get the second opportunity, a second chance for a title back-to-back, and as fast as this has happened. So I have to make the best of it and go out there and leave nothing behind."
After returning from the Sydney 2000 Olympics with silver draped around his neck, an air of expectancy surrounded the Houston, Texas native as he reeled off 23 straight victories. Possessing a left hook that would make Joe Frazier jealous, many confidently labelled him a future world champion. A potentially special fighter destined for great things.
That was, of course, until he suffered a shock loss to the unheralded Humberto Soto just over a year ago, a result that saw his stock plummet to almost irretrievable depths. The next big thing had become the latest bust. A familiar tale. It came as something of a pleasant surprise then when he performed so valiantly against Barrera just over four months ago. In the opinion of many, it was a fight that he possibly even deserved to win.
Though still regarded as a solid operator, he was thought too one-dimensional, too one-paced to pose a serious threat. That was the general consensus, anyway. How wrong those predications proved to be. Speaking about his epic first encounter with Barrera, he said: "Well, I mean, I thought that I left the fight in the judges' hands and that's one of the reasons I was very upset with myself. But I think the fans and the people who were watching, you know, felt that I won the fight.
"I think the people who were watching, you know, felt that I won the fight I mean, the people that were there, the fans that were watching live, after I left the arena at the Staple Center, I believe, I mean, you could say it was a 95 to a five percent crowd â€“ a 95 percent Barrera crowd compared to my five percent, you know. But after I left the arena, I had so many fans out there that actually stayed to congratulate me tell me that I had won the fight and that, you know, Barrera was given a gift.
Did his opponent take him lightly?
"I believe Barrera was in great shape," he said, more a proclamation than a reply. "I think he didn't underestimate me. I think throughout the press conferences and before the fight actually happened, he was always showing great respect for me and, you know, as a fighter like Barrera, I think people might say he didn't train and that he wasn't prepared but, you know, Barrera isn't Barrera, you know, the great champion he is for taking opponents lightly. So I think that's just something people want to say to make excuses for him.
"Barrera knows he was in shape. I know he was in shape. If wasn't in shape, I don't believe he would have lasted the 12 rounds, so I feel that Barrera's just going to come in with a different style and try to, I guess you can say, probably avenge the first fight where I feel that he might have lost."
With his date with destiny fast approaching, Juarez is supremely confident of victory. Though he regards Barrera as one of the best fighters in the world, he wholeheartedly believes that his superior strength coupled with a more aggressive approach will be enough to carry the day.
"I was always confident, you know," Juarez told the media, "just confident in my ability and in my training that I was in shape. And I feel the same way so, you know, that I've done everything necessary to be in the best shape that I can. And I feel that, you know, when we took the first fight against Barrera, and we didn't take it thinking we were going to lose.
"I mean, we took it, you know, being glad that we were given the opportunity to fight against a great champion, and not only that, but for the title, for the WBC title. So you know, I feel this is my second chance and like I said, I have to do what is necessary to be victorious that day."