By Jake Donovan
He’s too old. The fight is coming too late in his career, too high in weight. Working with a controversial strength and conditioning coach only provides further distractions. He’s too big and will be too slow on fight night. He’s never going to be as popular as countrymen Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera.
Juan Manuel Marquez is less than two days away from his long awaited third crack at longtime rival and current pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao. It seems the industry at large is waiting for the moment where he finally cracks and loses his patience.
If you ask the legendary Mexican, the only thing lost is the attempt to find new reason why he can’t emerge victorious when the opening bell rings for their pay-per-view headliner at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“I have to go into the fight with the mentality that I have to win each round and if the opportunity comes I go for the knockout,” Marquez emphatically states with a newfound swagger, if not a hint of defiance. “I am not going to hesitate if the opportunity is there.”
The opportunity has yet to be there for the former three-division champion and future Hall of Famer. In fact quite the opposite, as he’s been put on his ass four times over their two-fight set.
What has been on the table is victory, which he believes should’ve been his twice over in their previous two encounters. Run a poll among any group of media members within reach, and the results will suggest that he’s not out of line in thinking his 0-1-1 mark against Pacquiao could just as easily be 2-0.
One thing Marquez doesn’t need, however, is another moral victory. He has two of those in the bank, and uses the media scorecards as proof of demand for their third and most likely final fight together.
“That’s why we are doing this third fight,” Marquez (53-5-1, 39KO) explains. The first two were very close and this fight should end all doubt. We are not the only ones saying we won the fights. There are a lot of fans and media out there saying the same thing- that we won those two fights.”
Those sentiments are echoed by his trainer Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain. Nobody knows Marquez better than the Hall of Fame cornerman, who has trained him ever since the first time he stepped foot in a boxing ring at the age of 13.
Two-and-a-half decades later, it’s only natural for standout trainer to step in cadence with his longtime student.
“Without question, we have prepared ourselves to win this fight again,” Beristain insists, emphasizing their belief that they’ve already twice defeated Pacquiao. “They can say what they want. (Freddie Roach) is a great trainer and (Pacquiao) is a great fighter. If they feel they won the first two fights so be it – we feel the same way and that’s the way you should go into a fight.”
Marquez heads into Saturday’s fight with the same confidence that has allowed him to excel in what should be the twilight of his career after hitting potholes during his perceived prime.
His first clash with Pacquiao came when both were red hot – Marquez was a unified featherweight titlist, while the Filipino southpaw was fresh off of his upset knockout win over Barrera to capture the lineal featherweight championship.
The first round of their May ’04 showdown had Pacquiao picking up exactly where he left off in the Barrera fight, battering Marquez to the tune of three knockdowns. Marquez somehow survived the round but was already in a deep hole. The remaining 11 rounds defined his career at the time, outboxing Pacquiao enough to make things damn interesting leading into the reading of the scorecards.
A scoring discrepancy on one card turned what should’ve mathematically been a split decision win for Pacquiao into a three-way draw. It was a bit of saving grace for Marquez, though many believe that it shouldn’t have come to that, believing what he did following the disastrous first round was enough to surge ahead and propel to victory.
Instead, it was Marquez’ in-country rival Erik Morales who would earn the distinction of being the only fighter to hang a loss on Pacquiao in the 21st century, coming just ten months later in their March ’05 classic. Pacquiao would go on to avenge the loss twice over, while Marquez was left on the outside, feeling the effects of his trainer/manager Beristain pricing his way out of a rematch.
The move hardly sat well with Top Rank, who didn’t bother to submit a bid for Marquez’ mandatory crack at featherweight titlist Chris John. The standoff resulted in the Mexican being shipped off to Indonesia for a $32,000 payday (before deductions), and a loss at the end of the day thanks to shoddy refereeing and creative scoring.
Then came the rebirth.
Marquez resurfaced with Golden Boy Promotions after a one-fight pit stop with Gary Shaw, going on to win a belt at 130 lb. after soundly outpointing Barrera in their long-awaited grudge match. With Pacquiao well established in the division after too abandoning featherweight, talks once again resurfaced of a long overdue rematch.
Their second clash came in the first quarter of 2008, highlighting what was quite possibly the best stretch of quality boxing in recent memory. Once again, a single point on a deciding scorecards dictated the outcome, with Marquez hitting the deck in the third round proving to be the margin of victory for Pacquiao.
Not only did the outcome not sit well with Marquez, but also with several in press row that had the Mexican winning by anywhere from a margin of 1-3 points.
Despite 24 action packed rounds spent together, demand for a third fight was met with silence, forcing Marquez to travel a different route. It led him to the lightweight division, where he became the first to stop Joel Casamayor en route to capturing a championship in a third weight class, matching that of his more famous countrymen Morales and Barrera.
The win revitalized his career. More importantly, it provided an outlet for him to truly dominate a division, scoring knockout wins over young guns Juan Diaz and Michael Katsidis in instant thrillers.
The lone ill-advised move along the way, came in his agreement to serve as the comeback opponent of choice for Floyd Mayweather. The fight was to be contested at an agreed upon catchweight, only for the undefeated unretired pound-for-pound entrant to rewrite the rules and change the terms to a welterweight fight.
Marquez was ill-prepared as it was, showing up at a flabby 142 lb., appearing to have fattened up for the sake of making weight. The result was a lopsided decision loss, the one time in his career in which he couldn’t dispute the outcome in a high profile fight after landing on the wrong end of controversial decisions against Pacquiao, John and Freddie Norwood.
Rather than dwell on the loss, Marquez simply accepted it as a learning lesson for how to get it right should he once again find himself in a similar predicament.
That fight with Mayweather, obviously he was a defensive fighter with long arms – a difficult guy to fight. He doesn’t really exchange and you have to take the fight for what it was. But we were able to win some fights and get back to the one we always wanted to do.”
That, of course, would be this weekend’s showdown. Unlike the style disadvantage he faced against Mayweather, Marquez likes his chances against a more familiar matchup, even if the fight comes nine pounds above his highest proven effective fighting weight.
“The fans wanted to see and it and the press wanted to see this third fight. I think our styles match and make great fights because we both want to fight and want to win. It’s a big fight and I’m looking forward to giving the fans a great fight.”
What he’s not looking for is a gold watch, or another moral victory. The only honor he’s interested in obtaining is salvation. It’s what led to changing up his training methods, adding muscle to his normally lean frame in his best efforts to fill out at the 144 lb. catchweight.
Doing so will only strengthen where he believes he holds an advantage over his longtime adversay – when the action takes place within a phone booth’s distance.
“Freddie Roach also if looks at the same films that we have he noticed that I always won the “combat zone” as I like to call it. It is important that we do it again but it’s not going to be easy. It is going to be tough but you have to know how to do it and when to do it.”
Many believe that he was better equipped to ‘do it’ three years and possibly nine pounds ago, than he is heading into this weekend. But even at age 38, Marquez believes that good training and preparation truly conquers all.
“I don’t believe age has anything to do with it. I prepare myself very well and I’m going to be just as good as I would have been a few years ago. As long as I had the good training camp that I had, I’ll be fine.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]