By Jake Donovan
In the aftermath of his disputed points loss to Manny Pacquiao last November, Juan Manuel Marquez swore that – absence of a fourth fight surfacing any time soon – he was heading back home. Whether or not he’d be heard from ever again is anybody’s guess.
Marquez remains at his Mexico City home to this day, only this time it’s for an actual fight.
It’s been more than 17 years since Marquez (53-6-1, 39KO) has enjoyed a true homecoming appearance. Marquez returned to Mexico in a tune-up bout last summer, though the bout took place in Cancun.
For this first time since 1994, Mexico City will have the honor of playing host to its favorite son. Marquez returns home to face Sergiy Fedchenko at the New Mexico City Arena in the headlining act of a split-site doubleheader.
“I feel very happy because I fought for 18 years and now I am finally fighting again in México City,” Marquez gleefully exclaims in discussing this weekend’s bout, which shares co-main event duties with Brandon Rios’ lightweight showdown against Richard Abril in Las Vegas. “I have been training very hard because everyone knows that Fedchenko is a very good fighter.”
Very little of the promotion centers around how competitive the main event figures to be. The 30-year old Fedchenko (30-1, 13KO) has led a respectable career largely spent in his native Ukraine. Still, nothing on his resume suggests that an upset will occur more so than whether or not Father Time will finally catch up to Marquez.
By all accounts, that doesn’t figure to happen this weekend. There have been plenty of cases in boxing history where a veteran decides to mail it in for a training camp and it wind up costing him in a fight.
Most veterans don’t boast the work ethic of the former three-division champ appearing this weekend.
“You have to understand that Juan Manuel is a serious man. Boxing is his profession and he takes it seriously so he keeps himself in great shape, he doesn’t get out of shape,” Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum explains of Marquez’ ability to compete and mostly win at the top level. “He is always prepared with his trainer and somebody who lives with that discipline, fights for longer than a person that doesn’t and I think that is the key to his longevity in this sport.”
Still, Marquez showed signs of slowing down in recent years, dating back to his first fight with Juan Diaz in Feb. ‘09. In what turned out to be the Fight of the Year, Marquez overcame a somewhat rocky start to drop and eventually stop Diaz in the ninth round of an all-out thriller.
The resume reads 3-2 since that instant classic, but it bears noting who the “2” came against. Both losses occurred well beyond the lightweight limit, where Marquez has ruled ever since moving up to snatch the lineal lightweight crown from Joel Casamayor in Sept. ’08.
A lopsided points loss to a returning Floyd Mayweather came in a bout that was ultimately fought at the welterweight limit, well beyond Marquez’ comfort zone. The legendary Mexican was far better prepared for his next trip that far outside of 135, last year’s catchweight bout with Manny Pacquiao.
Marquez showed ripped and ready, offering a performance far exceeding anyone’s expectations given the weight, his age and Pacquiao’s longtime stay atop the pound-for-pound rankings. The best he could muster in the end was a draw on one card, losing in the eyes of the other two judges to go 0-2-1 in a three-set series with his longtime rival where he can just as easily be 3-0.
The outcome of last November’s bout left a particularly bad taste in his mouth, one that left him swearing off boxing for good. That tune changed once Arum was able to entice him with a potential headliner at Cowboys Stadium.
The original target was Lamont Peterson, who instead opted for a rematch with Amir Khan which occurs next month in Las Vegas.
Once plans fell apart for a Rios-Yuriorkis Gamboa showdown (this weekend’s originally scheduled headliner about a month ago), a new idea was spawned; have Rios and Marquez fight on the same show from separate locations, with the plan to possibly match them up later this summer.
Also on Marquez’ to-do list is eventual revenge against Pacquiao, which could possibly come later this year.
There are a lot of balls in the air, but don’t expect Marquez to attempt the juggling act. Part of remaining preserved at 38 is focusing on what’s immediately in front of you and nothing else.
“I considered retiring because everybody knows I want to fight Manny again. I won the last fight and I feel very angry about that decision,” Marquez says. “Everybody knows I was looking for the rematch with Manny but I don’t know what happened. The most important thing is I like to fight and I will fight on April 14 and I am very happy about that but I don’t know what happened with the rematch.”
Marquez also doesn’t know what the future has in store for him beyond April 14, other than he is conceivably done with the lightweight division.
“The person that I fight next…the most important thing about that person is that he is in the 140’s, above 140,” Marquez hints.
Top Rank has a general idea of what’s in store for Marquez, though employs the same level of tunnel vision as is the case with its fighter.
“We are focused on April 14 as well,” Arum insists when asked if this bout will lead to a direct collision between Marquez and Rios. “Juan Manuel has his hands full with this Fedchenko. Brandon Rios has a tough fight with the Cuban and I promise you that within a couple of days after the fights, if each are successful – this is a business – and let’s see if we can put a fight between the two of them together.
“First they have to win, and then they have to agree to the fight. We haven’t talked to either of them yet about terms and so forth. We are holding Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, for the match if we make it, but one step at a time. July 14 is the date we are holding it for.”
In the meantime, April 14 is a day where a historic city gets to celebrate the return of a historically great fighter.
“I feel very happy because I get to give back to my country and people want to see this fight. I started my career here in México City with my first eight fights. Then I fought in Los Angeles and in many other places. Now I am back in México and I have a great opponent.”
Regardless of what the odds suggest, Marquez trains as if his career his on the line. It is, in a sense – although nothing about Saturday will change what he has accomplished in the past 18 years. A loss won’t exactly help, but Marquez seems to be well aware of what awaits him on Saturday.
“Fedchenko has a difficult style,” Marquez believes. “I will try to do my job in the ring because Fedchenko is a dangerous fighter. I have trained very hard for this fight. I train very hard because in the ring, anything can happen. Fedchenko is coming to México wanting to win this fight.”
As luck would have it for the great citizens of Mexico City, so too is Juan Manuel Marquez.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]