by David P. Greisman
It was his white whale, and then he caught it.
Juan Manuel Marquez chased after Manny Pacquiao for eight and a half years. He followed Pacquiao from featherweight, where they fought to a controversial draw in May 2004, to junior lightweight, where Pacquiao won a close split decision in March 2008. He continued to go up division after division in pursuit, to lightweight and to junior welterweight, and then into the welterweight division.
It was there, within a catch weight of 144 pounds, that Pacquiao and Marquez had their third fight, this one coming in November 2011, this one once again ending with Marquez coming up short, the verdict once again one with which he passionately disagreed. He infamously stormed to his dressing room at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, where he sat with nothing but a sombrero covering his privates while HBO’s Max Kellerman interviewed him about the result.
There had been others fights, of course. He’d turned down the terms for a rematch with Pacquiao after their first meeting and ended up flying halfway across the world, taking very little money to face Chris John. That was solely to save his world title, the best leverage he had at that moment, except he would be robbed both of the decision and his belt. He’d later beat Marco Antonio Barrera, stop Joel Casamayor, battle with Juan Diaz in one of the best fights of 2009, and lose a one-sided bout to Floyd Mayweather.
Those other opponents, those other paydays, those other accomplishments, they almost all paled in comparison to the passion, to the obsession Marquez had for righting the rivalry by proving his superiority. He felt he’d already shown himself to be better but that his victories had gone unrecognized, and so he couldn’t stop until he had his moment.
He got it, and spectacularly so.
Fighting within the welterweight limit in December 2012, Marquez knocked Pacquiao out with a single right hand, catching him with a perfectly timed, perfectly placed, perfectly powerful counter shot, sending him face first to the canvas, unconscious, frighteningly finished.
It was of course the clearest ending yet to any of their fights. And to Marquez, it was the clear ending to the rivalry. Though their section of the record books lists Pacquiao as having won two, Marquez winning one, and one bout being a draw, Marquez has felt that there is nothing else to prove, that there is no need for a fifth fight.
“There is no point,” he was quoted as saying in early 2013. “The objective was achieved.”
“I think the book was closed on the rivalry between me and Manny on the 8th of December,” he was quoted as saying a few weeks later. “We are now contemplating other fights, other opponents.”
Their mutual promoter, Bob Arum of Top Rank, believed that this was Marquez’s way of negotiating for a better deal for the next fight with Pacquiao, which would be more lucrative than any other available bout for Marquez.
Yet neither Pacquiao nor Marquez fought in the first half of 2013. When they did return, it was Marquez against Timothy Bradley last October and Pacquiao against Brandon Rios in November.
Pacquiao topped Rios with ease. Marquez lost a competitive split decision to Bradley, another result he disputed. As with the draw and defeats against Pacquiao, this stuck in Marquez as an injustice more important than anything else.
“I have to settle this issue with Timothy Bradley, as long as he accepts a rematch, because I want to make it clear who won on the 12th of October,” he was quoted as saying barely two weeks afterward.
A month later came this from Marquez’s trainer, Nacho Beristain: “Marquez is not interested in another fight against Manny Pacquiao or any other opponent. If he does not get Bradley, he will retire from boxing.”
He did not get Bradley, who instead had a rematch with Pacquiao this past April, a bout that Pacquiao won. Marquez did not retire, though. He stepped back into the ring, taking on Mike Alvarado this past weekend. Marquez scored one knockdown, visited the canvas himself, and took the unanimous decision in what was largely another masterful performance from one of boxing’s most skilled technicians.
Top Rank had spoken of putting together the winner of Pacquiao-Bradley 2 against the winner of Marquez-Alvarado. Marquez was asked multiple times about Pacquiao after his win on Saturday, the repeated line of questioning coming because it is a fight that many fans and observers hope to see, and also because Marquez is seemingly still disinterested.
Marquez was once but a great boxer who got little attention in comparison to his fellow Mexican featherweight stars, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales. He was avoided as high risk and low reward. He was not a priority for his promoter, as was made quite evident with the Chris John purse bid that sent Marquez to Indonesia. It took a conscious change in his style for fans and decision makers to finally catch on, for him to be seen as worthwhile. It truly began with victories in 2006 over Terdsak Jandaeng and Jimrex Jaca, then continued in 2007 with wins against Barrera and Rocky Juarez. Finally he landed the Pacquiao rematch.
He’s since gotten plenty of money and the trappings of life that come with it, including luxury cars and a nice home. He got the victory over Pacquiao. He’s now, at 40, of the age at which boxers typically retire. It’s been almost 21 years since Marquez turned pro and lost his debut by disqualification.
He’s still incredibly good. Pacquiao, as we saw in the Bradley rematch, is not at all done himself. A fifth fight between them makes sense, and it would make money, though it is not at all certain to happen.
There is a magnetism to the idea of Pacquiao-Marquez 5 — it is strongly attractive to some, powerfully repellent to others.
The trilogy has often been the ideal format for movie franchises and combat sports rivalries. Occasionally the storyline’s natural progression extends further. Sometimes there is unfinished business.
Marquez believes that his rivalry with Pacquiao concluded moments after that right hand landed. Some fans agree, feeling that there’s nothing more that needs to be seen between them.
To others, the knockout merely introduced a new wrinkle. Marquez could hurt and finish Pacquiao. Could Pacquiao adjust and avoid that happening again in a fifth fight?
The best rivalries are those we watch again and again. We tuned in for three chapters of Barrera vs. Morales, in 2000, 2002 and 2004. The trilogy between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward was back-to-back-to-back, a trio of fights within 385 days. The first three wars between Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez occurred within a brutal period of 364 days.
Sometimes these rivalries end with one fighter clearly superior, as with Pacquiao’s rubber match win over Morales. Sometimes one boxer has more left to give in the sport than the other; Ward retired after his last battle with Gatti, while Vazquez’s face showed in the fourth Marquez fight that it could no longer hold up to damage.
And sometimes fighters jut move on to new challenges, which is what Barrera and Morales did.
There are other potential pairings at and around 147 for Marquez and Pacquiao, new challenges that would be intriguing to see solved, new stylistic collisions that could be entertaining to see unfold.
Realistically, however, there aren’t many options.
Ruslan Provodnikov, who faces Chris Algieri in June, has the kind of style to make bouts with either Marquez and Pacquiao into wars. Marquez turned down the idea of Provodnikov earlier this year.
“I think the challenge is there, and I love challenges and will fight anyone, as I have not shunned anyone. But right now, at this stage of my career, I want something that will leave a legacy,” he told Lem Satterfield of RingTV.com earlier this year. “I want that fifth championship. If that does not present itself, then I’m closer to retirement. … Fighting with Provodnikov would not gain me anything. I would be fighting for a title that was already mine before and if I beat him, it won’t mean much. I want a transcending fight, something that will be historic.”
Then again, Marquez had also said this past January that he wouldn’t face Alvarado, as he was “not a champion.”
Provodnikov and Pacquiao share a trainer in Freddie Roach and have worked together in camps. Yet Provodnikov now sounds more open to fighting Pacquiao, given the implications a win would have on his career.
Beyond that is Brandon Rios, who Pacquiao already outboxed but who Marquez has not yet faced. There’s also Bradley, though a Bradley-Marquez rematch may not sell as well on pay-per-view as their first fight did, which means they would be paid less, which may preclude the bout from happening.
Most of the top junior welterweights and welterweights, meanwhile, work with Top Rank’s promotional rival, Golden Boy. While Golden Boy’s primary owner, Oscar De La Hoya, has spoken of repairing the relations with Top Rank and working alongside it again, that idea is contrary to the philosophy of Golden Boy’s chief executive, Richard Schaefer.
Unless and until that gets worked out, that likely means no fights for Pacquiao or Marquez against a list that includes Adrien Broner, Danny Garcia, Amir Khan, Marcos Maidana, Lamont Peterson, Shawn Porter, Keith Thurman and, of course, Floyd Mayweather.
For years, it was Marquez chasing Pacquiao, waiting for Pacquiao to give him yet another shot. Now it is Marquez who is in control — not just because of the knockout from 2012, but also because a fifth match with Pacquiao will not come unless he desires it.
What Marquez is fighting for will determine whom he is fighting against, or whether he is fighting at all.
The 10 Count
1. Juan Manuel Marquez’s latest win — and a photo of him from Friday’s weigh-in showing what appeared to be plenty of pimples on his chest — brought out another round of skepticism, suspicion and questions over whether Marquez might be using any performance-enhancing drugs.
Much of that is based on his performance at nearly 41 years old and the power shown at a heavier weight class than his best days. Part of it is also because he has been working with a trainer, Angel “Memo” Heredia, who has admitted to distributing performance-enhancing drugs in the past, though the trainer claims to be clean now.
Marquez has never tested positive for anything. Nevertheless, we continue to be at this point of skepticism about all of boxing, not just for Marquez, because the sport continues to be incredibly far behind given its lack of regular, stringent drug testing. Drug testing in general is a cat and mouse game, but boxing is a cat that has been napping while the mouse has been given a ridiculous head start.
We cannot responsibly accuse without evidence, but we must also understand that we cannot reasonably acquit given the current system. It should not solely be about this fight, or this fighter, or this trainer. You don’t need to go any farther than your local gym to realize that many can have access to illicit substances.
Yet until the commissions, the promoters and the fighters themselves show a greater interest in covering the cost to clean up the sport, we just don’t know how big the problem is.
We only know how potentially big this current system could allow the problem to be.
2. A great retort from HBO commentator Roy Jones Jr. during the seventh round of this past weekend’s main event:
(Marquez had just landed a left uppercut and a right cross, followed nearly immediately afterward by a left hook and a right cross. Alvarado then came forward and threw several shots as an attempted response.)
Kellerman: “This is where Alvarado’s dangerous, when he starts to get lit up.”
Jones: “Well, he better hurry up and get dangerous.”
(Thanks to Matthew Swain of the Queensberry Rules boxing blog for noting and quoting this on Twitter. Follow him @HansLanda0351.)
3. I very much enjoyed this piece on 115-pound titleholder Omar Narvaez written last week by my colleague Cliff Rold:
Narvaez scored a fourth-round win on Saturday over a 13-1 opponent named Antonio Garcia. As Rold noted, that made Narvaez, who will turn 39 in July, “the first fighter in boxing history to score double-digit consecutive title defenses in two weight classes.”
Tweeted Rold after the bout: “The guy he was fighting didn't look like he belonged in a title fight. So, a not untypical Narvaez fight.”
After the bout, Rold and Jeremy Foley of the Pound4Pound Ireland blog had an interesting discussion about Narvaez’s accomplishment, given that Narvaez had 16 title defenses at flyweight and now has 10 at junior bantamweight. He has 27 wins in world title bouts, as well as 1 loss and 1 draw when a belt is on the line.
Foley said that Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. may very well be the record holder in that category, with 31 wins in world title fights.
Bernard Hopkins has 26, if you include his “Ring Magazine” championship defenses at light heavyweight.
Wladimir Klitschko could ultimately catch up, given his activity and potential for longevity. He has 23 wins in title fights. So does Floyd Mayweather.
4. Also high on the list, per an article on 15rounds.com:
- Joe Louis, with 26 (back in the days when there weren’t all these sanctioning bodies with different belts)
- Ricardo Lopez, with 25
- Joe Calzaghe, with 24
- Muhammad Ali, Henry Armstrong, Roy Jones, Sven Ottke and Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, all with 22
- Khaosai Galaxy, Wilfredo Gomez, Larry Holmes and Felix Trinidad, all with 20.
5. I also very much enjoyed HBO’s “Face Off” segment featuring Sergio Martinez and Miguel Cotto talking trash to and about each other for 12 minutes, with Max Kellerman prodding them. It was one of the better “Face Off” segments I’ve seen, along with Martinez vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and the one for the Cotto-Antonio Margarito rematch. Martinez has a legit dislike for Cotto, and it was his passion that fueled their interaction.
I’m far less enthused about the televised undercard for the Martinez-Cotto pay-per-view on June 7, which will be:
- Hard-hitting 154-pound prospect Jorge Melendez vs. the light-hitting come-backing former 154-pound titleholder Yuri Foreman;
- Former 115-pound titleholder Marvin Sonsona, coming off a big one-punch knockout of Akifumi Shimoda, fighting at featherweight against former 122-pound titleholder Wilfredo Vazquez Jr.;
- And former middleweight title challenger Andy Lee, now fighting at 154, facing an opponent named John Jackson whom I’m not familiar with.
Mind you, I think these fights could be entertaining. But the name recognition isn’t there at all. If we wonder why casual fans so rarely tune in for the undercards, it’s because we don’t give them much reason to.
Melendez is probably the only guy of the six that I could imagine showing up on HBO or Showtime in the near future, unless we see the winner of Sonsona vs. Vazquez as the clear B-side/keep-busy opponent against a notable 126-pounder.
6. Last week’s column noted that the World Boxing Council had suspended Adrien Broner from its ratings and from fighting for its title due to Broner’s post-fight comments after his May 3 win over Carlos Molina.
“At the end of the day, I’m still Adrien ‘The Problem’ Broner, ‘The Can Man.’ Anybody can get it. Afri-cans. I just beat the fuck out of a Mexi-can,’ ” Broner had said as part of his usual rehearsed, recycled shtick before interviewer Jim Gray cut him off.
The WBC asked for a public apology for what it called “racially offensive statements.” Broner posted this on Instagram last week:
“Lately I've been portrayed in the news/media as racist for the comment I made after my fight. I am the furthest thing from that. I love all of my supporters and all people for that matter! And last time i checked ‘Mexican’ isn't a race, it's a nationality. If I said ‘Canadian’ would their [sic] have been this much of an uproar? My team is built of all races and nationalities, and I respect and appreciate them all. I sincerely, apologize if my comment offended anyone but it did not come from a place of hate. The Mexican fans are the people that keep boxing alive and well. Without them, there would be no AB.”
7. ESPN executives ere apparently quite happy with the rating that the May 10 heavyweight rematch between Bermane Stiverne and Chris Arreola pulled in. And if the network is happy, we should be, too, as it could mean more bouts airing on ESPN and the potential for wider exposure for our sport, which is desperately in need of it.
The fight averaged 940,000 viewers, which is one of the biggest audiences for boxing in the network in years. According to an ESPN spokesman, the July 2006 heavyweight title eliminator between Sultan Ibragimov and Ray Austin had an average audience of 1.18 million viewers, and the August 2006 card featuring Anthony Peterson vs. Jose Soto had an average of 1.018 million.
“Friday Night Fights” has a much smaller average audience these days. In the first 15 “FNF” telecasts this year — not including the Saturday broadcasts of Stiverne-Arreola 2 and the fight between Wladimir Klitschko and Alex Leapai — the average was 295,000 people watching.
8. We can celebrate the rating for Stiverne-Arreola 2 all we want, but boxing still has quite a long way to go. The most-watched and most talked about fight in May, by far, after all, was still Solange vs. Jay-Z.
We get happy when a card in the United States has 8,000 paying customers at the venue. The upcoming rematch between Carl Froch vs. George Groves, meanwhile, will have an estimated live audience of 80,000 people just in the arena.
Andre Berto’s probably never fought in front of that many people, combined, in his 31 pro fights.
9. Boxers Behaving Badly update: Kelly Pavlik’s trial on a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated was supposed to take place last week but has instead been pushed back, with an evidence suppression hearing scheduled for June 18, according to online court records and a report in The Youngstown (Ohio) Vindicator.
In December, police responded early one morning to a report of a potentially impaired driver on the Ohio Turnpike. “A trooper spotted Pavlik’s car at the gate trying to exit the turnpike, but Pavlik did not have a pass or ticket on him to exit the toll road,” said the Vindicator’s newspaper report at the time, citing police. “As the trooper questioned Pavlik, he showed signs that he was impaired.”
Pavlik refused a breath test but “was still cited because the trooper had probable cause to believe Pavlik was drunk,” the newspaper reported.
The 32-year-old retired last year after a planned fight with Andre Ward was postponed due to Ward suffering an injury in training camp. His last bout was in July 2012, a decision win over Will Rosinsky. That brought his record to 40-2 with 34 knockouts.
10. June 1981:
Barbara Walters, interviewing legendary actress Katharine Hepburn, has this much-lampooned exchange:
Hepburn: “I’m a very strong, I’ve become a sort of, you know, thing”
Hepburn: “I don’t know what. A tree or something.”
Walters: “What kind of a tree are you, if you think you’re a tree?”
Hepburn: “I hope I’m not an elm with Dutch Elm disease, because then I’m withering. Everybody would like to be an oak tree. It's very strong, and very pretty.”
Victor Ortiz, responding to the trash talk from upcoming opponent Floyd Mayweather Jr., puts forth this much-lampooned quote:
“If you’re talking to me, you’re literally talking to a tree, bro.”
- May 2014:
Barbara Walters retires — with her career incomplete, an interview that needs to be conducted and an important question that needs to be asked.
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]