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21 AUGUST 2014

 

Juan Manuel Marquez – Weight Be Damned


Marquez Battles Against Pac Man
Marquez Battles Against Pac Man

By Matthew Hurley: You are universally acknowledged as a great fighter. A certain first ballot hall-of-famer. Yet you remain, somehow, under appreciated.

You held the recognized pound-for-pound champion in the jaws of hell before he wiggled his way out and jumped successive weight divisions to get away from you. One point on the judges scorecards, one damn point, separated you from victory over Manny Pacquiao and many believe that you beat him both times you swapped leather.

You are arguably Mexico’s best fighter since the fall of Julio Cesar Chavez but still not as popular as your contemporaries Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera – and you beat Barrera.

There is an overriding quality about you that has kept you in the shadows for years – too technical for your own good… too good, for your own good. A high risk, low reward proposition for the big money making fighters in the sport. Even when you altered your style, as age slowed you down a bit, and you became more crowd-pleasing the proposition of facing you remain daunting and, arguably, unrewarding.

And now, one week from the opening bell to the biggest fight of your life, the majority of so-called experts and many of the hard-core fans of your sport, your passion, believe you have no chance of victory.

Welcome to the world of Juan Manuel Marquez.

How did such a brilliant career come to such an inscrutable conclusion? If indeed this Saturday night’s bout against Floyd Mayweather Jr. represents Marquez’s final act.

Make no mistake, not only is Juan Manuel Marquez one of the greatest fighters of his generation, he may well be the most overlooked “great” fighter of his era. And that’s a shame. But, that’s how it works sometimes.

Perhaps the only other great fighter in recent memory who warrants comparison to Juan Manuel Marquez is former junior middleweight, middleweight and light heavyweight champion Mike McCallum. There have been many terrific fighters to grace the fistic landscape since McCallum was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003 but none have toiled so brilliantly on the periphery of super-stardom as McCallum’s pugilistic compatriot Juan Manuel Marquez.

Marquez is like the brilliant McCallum in that he has fought in an era of bigger names and personalities. The names are familiar but you would be hard pressed to pick any of them to beat Marquez – Naseem Hamed, Morales, Barrera and Pacquiao. He beat Barrera, but by the time he got him the ‘Baby Faced Assassin’ was, in the opinion of many (of course!), over the hill. He fought Pacquiao to a spirited draw after being knocked down three times and then rematched him to within a point of his life. Pacquiao got the victory in that second bout and all the glory.

In his time McCallum would only share the ring with one contemporary legend Thomas Hearns as a sparring partner at the Kronk Gym in Detroit. Their sessions became the stuff of legend and Hearns nicknamed McCallum ‘The Bodysnatcher’ for his wicked hooks underneath.

But McCallum would never get Hearns or Marvin Hagler, Ray Leonard or Roberto Duran on the grand stage. He never got to ply his craft against the most popular fighters of his era and subsequently never made the big bucks and never got the opportunity to cross over into the limelight that all fighters, particularly great fighters, crave. He carved out a brilliant career for himself but just how great he could have been was never fully realized because he never got that one huge opportunity.


In the two fights against Pacquiao, Marquez had the opportunity that eluded McCallum but, almost inexplicably, his tremendous performances against the Filipino icon didn’t carry him over into the Promised Land. Both won him respect from true boxing aficionados, but Pacquiao still pulled away into the stratosphere while the fighter who gave him endless trouble was left behind to scratch his head in bewilderment at his predicament. Such is the fickleness of fate.

Marquez’s ascension to middling public approval came in that first fight against Pacquiao. At the time Manny seemed to be a mini reincarnation of a prime Mike Tyson. He was flash, speed and power all wrapped up in a smiling, charming package.

Marquez was the glowering, Mexican technician.

After he decked Marquez in the opening minutes of the bout Pacquiao’s face broke into that mischievous grin of his. There was nothing malevolent or obnoxious about Manny’s reaction, it was natural. He was entranced by his own burgeoning greatness. That impishness is what would eventually push him over the top into super stardom. Manny Pacquiao has that extra bit of charisma that fighters like Marquez and McCallum lack. It doesn’t make him better, but it does make him more marketable, more fan-friendly.

Twice more he would put Marquez on the canvas in that first round and twice more Manny would flash his million-dollar smile.

And twice more Marquez would pull himself together, rise from the floor and ask for more. He shook his body loose, sneered through the blood that was pouring out of his broken nose and demanded more. The next 11 rounds, and no one who witnessed that savage beating in the first stanza thought there would be a second round let alone 11 more, brought both men to unquestioned greatness. But because of his blazing style and boyish personality Pacquiao would become the star while Marquez, much to his chagrin, simply became respected.

It was on that night, and every night in the ring that followed, that Juan Manuel Marquez fully realized his potential and became an astonishing fighter. He seemed to realize the risks he needed to take in order to claim greatness; it wasn’t going to claim him. There was a misstep against Chris John, an inexplicable managerial blunder that saw him take a fight in Indonesia for a paltry payday and losing a disputed decision, but that too seemed to ignite even more fire in his belly. Since then he has been nothing short of brilliant.

Thrilling victories over Joel Casamayor and Juan Diaz belabored the point of his significance, even when the rematch loss, by that one point, to Manny Pacquiao seemed to haunt him. It didn’t matter that many believed he deserved that decision, he didn’t get it and Pacquiao became even more popular as time went on.

It’s little wonder then that this beleaguered fighter sought out a bout with the only other fighter with a proper claim to the pound-for-pound throne, the come backing Floyd Mayweather. The fight with Mayweather is two-fold for Marquez. He beats Mayweather and he becomes a household name. He beats Mayweather and he one-ups Pacquiao, no matter the outcome of Manny’s bout with Miguel Cotto in November. Marquez becomes a superstar.

And yet going into the bout he remains an underdog against a fighter who hasn’t even set foot in a ring in nearly two years.

There is a huge disparity in weight between Mayweather and Marquez, which remains the biggest point of contention in this bout. Marquez has never fought above 135 pounds, and only twice at that weight, while Mayweather has resided at 147 for the last several years of his career. It is a significant disparity and if any indications from HBO’s documentary series 24/7 hold true come fight night the added weight has robbed Marquez of some of his speed and, thereby, the precision of his counterpunching technique.

But Marquez remains, as always, resolute. He views Mayweather as he does Pacquaio, an obstacle to be shoved aside. He speaks of Mayweather with respect, calling him the pound-for-pound best in the world but that respect is born from his disdain for Manny Pacquiao. Marquez truly sees Mayweather as his final opportunity to prove to everyone, and all of PacLand, that it is he who is the greatest fighter of his generation. It’s a conceit present in all great athletes. It’s what separates the superior from the merely good. It’s why he has finally found himself on that grand stage, regardless of the pundit’s dismissal of his chances.

It’s not enough for Marquez to realize that he has surpassed Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera as the best Mexican fighter of his generation. His ego demands more. That’s why when his pursuit of Manny Pacquiao reached a dead end he quickly turned and went after the other big fish in the pond, Floyd Mayweather. There was simply no other recourse for a fighter who truly believes he is the best in the business.

Weight be damned.

September 16, 2009


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