By Chris Robinson
On July 16th Juan Manuel Marquez cleared the way for a third fight with rival Manny Pacquiao by stretching out Columbia’s Likar Ramos inside of one round at that Plaza de Toros in Cancun, Mexico. Set to take place at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 12th, Marquez’s challenge for Pacquiao’s WBO welterweight title is one of the year’s biggest fights and it has been a long time coming.
The two men first met in May of 2004, with Pacquiao dropping Marquez three times in the first round before Marquez recovered to fight the rest of the fight on even terms, ultimately settling for a split draw. Nearly four years later the action was just as intense as Pacquiao came away with a split-decision win at the Mandalay Bay as a 3rd round knockdown seemed to be the deciding factor amongst many who gave him the edge that night.
The career paths of the two men haven't exactly been polar opposite, both have had success, but Pacquiao has taken his career to new heights by winning titles from 140 to 154 pounds while tearing through a high-profile list of opponents. Marquez may not be the most dangerous fight out there at the moment, but for Manny’s strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza, it appears to be one of the only fights with serious emotions attached to it.
“I think it’s great,” Ariza told me recently. “This is the fight that Freddie and I have wanted for a long time now. Marquez is always complaining and whining about it but he priced himself out of it so many times that it never really happened. Finally they got it done and now it’s time to put up or shut up.”
Marquez has seemed to have a borderline obsession with Pacquiao ever since tasting defeat in their second fight, even going as far as to wear a T-shirt that read ‘Marquez beat Pacquiao twice’ after his win over Michael Katsidis last November. Marquez has also lashed out with plenty of derogatory remarks towards the Filipino icon and Ariza absolutely can sense a feeling of disdain in the air.
“Yes, absolutely,” Ariza affirmed. “I think he dislikes him. Because he’s always whining about how he lost by one point, but a loss is a loss. Whether you lose by one point or ten points, a loss is a loss.”
Ariza was a part of Pacquiao’s team for the Marquez rematch but didn’t begin to play an intricate role until the fight’s aftermath. Ariza worked hands-on with Pacquiao in the following months as they prepared for Chicago’s David Diaz, then WBC lightweight champion of the world, and reflected back on the different techniques he implemented during those weeks in camp.
“Well, I think that’s when we began to change everything. It’s like everything that Manny was doing was redundant. It’s the same old thing, running around in circles or running up hills. But, more importantly, he had a very severe shin splint problem and that was a time when Manny had hurt his shoulder and he said he felt like the muscle was being torn off his bone, that’s how much it hurt him when he was fighting Marquez and Barrera. It’s just so funny that it was something so simple but none of those guys addressed it. But that’s when we first started changing things,” said Ariza.
The Colombian-born coach also admitted that it was that time in which he really felt a sense of camaraderie with Pacquiao.
“When you troubleshoot things like that with Manny, that’s when you earn his trust because he sees the little things you do are making such differences,” Ariza said.
After a dreadful fight with Shane Mosley in May, one in which most of the blame fell on the reluctant Pomona fighter after he was in retreat mode following a 3rd round knockdown, Pacquiao is again looking to put forth a virtuoso performance and Marquez may be the perfect dance partner at this point. And while the 37-year old Marquez may have plenty of wear and tear on his bones after some hard battles, Ariza points out that the temperament of the Mexico City stalwart is reason enough to have anticipation towards the trilogy.
“For me it’s just a personal thing that I’ve wanted. Because I’d liked to see it because whether I like Marquez or whether I don’t like Marquez, the fact of the matter is that he is exciting to watch. He comes to fight, he’s got a great style, he’s a competitor, and he won’t run no matter how tough the going gets. He’s there to put on a show. I used to be a fan of Marquez and I still am, as far as watching him fight. For me it’s very exciting because we get to prepare for somebody who’s going to show up for the fight.”