By Jake Donovan
In a manner of 20 minutes, Juan Manuel Marquez went from on the verge of becoming an ex-lightweight champion to punching his way towards the top of the Manny Pacquiao sweepstakes.
A third round knockdown was not enough to slow down the defending lightweight king, who rallied back to stop Michael Katsidis in the ninth round of their main event Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Marquez weighed 134 lb for what was the third successful defense of his lightweight crown, while Katsidis checked in at the divisional limit of 135 lb.
On paper, a war was expected but also one where Marquez would pick apart the Australian in a fight that figured to be fun for however long it lasted.
It’s pretty much exactly how the fight turned out to be, with Marquez doing his part in the early going. The future Hall-of-Famer jumped out to a quick lead, dominating the action in the opening round with superior boxing skills and offsetting a potential Katsidis rally in the second with precise combination punching upstairs and to the body.
The beauty of boxing is that one punch can often turn things around, and on several occasions erasing huge scorecards. Katsidis was well on the verge of falling into a deep hole before scoring with a monster left hook to floor Marquez and leave him buzzed even upon beating the count.
Ever the warrior, Marquez not only avoided disaster and survived the storm, but punched himself right back into the fight by rounds end. It wasn’t enough to avoid losing a two-point round – thus evening things up on the scorecards – but certainly enough for Marquez to remind people while he’s still among the very best in the sport today.
Whereas other punchers would’ve wilted at the sight of an opponent surviving the best they had to offer, Katsidis never stopped gunning for a knockout. The fight had already come under emotional circumstances, with the all-action slugger fighting in honor of last month’s death of his older brother. In that vain, he continued to apply heavy pressure on Marquez in the ensuing rounds in hopes of catching lightning in a bottle.
Instead, Marquez – high among the most complete fighters in recent boxing history - used his opponent’s aggression to his advantage to regain and expand upon his lead on the scorecards.
But that doesn’t mean Katsidis was done – or even close to it. The two-time title challenger continued to apply pressure in the sixth, forcing a war in a fight that threatened to get away from him. Marquez proved his willingness to trade as much as he boxed, targeting Katsidis’ body in hopes of breaking down his younger foe as the fight went on.
Score one for the seasoned veteran. The action hardly let up as the two continued to trade in the next couple of rounds, though Katsidis finally showed signs of wearing down towards the end of the eighth despite managing to drag Marquez into a toe-to-toe brawl. The difference came down to Marquez investing early for a late-round surge, while Katsidis punched for the present.
Marquez’ investment reaped major dividends in the ninth. An uppercut had Katsidis momentarily stunned, with bad going to worse as Marquez unloaded. The fight would end with the courageous Katsidis still on his feet while under siege from Marquez’ two-fisted attack, but didn’t protest what was an excellently timed stoppage by top referee Kenny Bayliss.
The official time was 2:14 of the ninth round.
Marquez improves to 52-5-1 (38KO) in scoring his second win of 2010. It’s highly possible that he lands on the favorable end of the Fight of the Year for the second straight year; coincidentally enough, he also earned honors with a ninth round knockout last year, in his first win over Juan Diaz.
Katsidis falls short in his second crack at the lineal lightweight championship, as his record drops to 27-3 (22KO). The Aussie had won four straight after suffering back-to-back losses to Joel Casamayor and Juan Diaz in 2008.
That Marquez is still able to compete and win at the highest level and give the fans a thrill in the process is enough of a bargaining chip to demand any fight he wants.
That he has history with pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao perhaps gives him enough credit to race to the top of the list of desired next foes.
The hard sell will come at deciding a wait for a third fight, if he is granted one. Marquez looked none too impressive in showing up at a career-fattest 142 lb in his one-sided drubbing at the hands of a then-comebacking Floyd Mayweather Jr last September.
It’s doubtful that Pacquiao – who has campaigned at 140 and above for each of his past five fights - will grant his old rival a single concession at the negotiating table, least of all a fighting weight that in any way shape or form suggest a level playing field.
That hasn’t stopped Marquez from being persistent on making one more fight happen.
“Michael Katsidis is a great fighter, but we know that Pacquiao has been avoiding us,” Marquez insisted after the bout. “We've put a lot of work into it, and the third fight is what the public wants to see.”
Marquez survived three knockdowns in the opening round of their first fight in May 2004 to rally back and fight to a disputed draw. Four years later, a third-round knockdown proved to be the difference between a second draw and the split decision outcome that would land in Pacquiao’s favor, though in a fight that many felt should have went to the Mexican legend.
Their second fight came less than a year after Golden Boy and Top Rank ended their feud long enough to make several big fights together over the course of the next two years.
However, the two industry-leading promotional outfits are once again at odds, which drives a wedge into plans for a Pacquiao-Marquez reunion.
If those plans happen to fall through, there’s the possibility of turning to another candidate who appeared on the undercard.
Andre Berto didn’t appear for very long, making quick work of overmatched Freddy Hernandez, A left hook and right hand was enough to stop and drop the fringe contender at 2:09 of the opening round.
The bout was Berto’s first since his sparsely-attended knockout win over Carlos Quintana earlier this year. It’s been a frustrating 2010 campaign for Berto, who hoped to have fought Shane Mosley (scheduled for January 2010) and Miguel Cotto at some point this year, but instead spending most of it on the sidelines.
In improving to 27-0 (21KO), Berto plead his case for a crack at the sport’s richest prize that is a payday against Pacquiao. “I’m done with appetizers, I’m ready for the main course… Mosley, Cotto and Pacquiao” is what the 2004 Haitian Olympian proclaimed afterwards.
Hernandez falls to 29-2 (20KO) with the loss, snapping a five-plus year, 13-fight unbeaten streak.
The televised portion of the show, which aired live on HBO, began with a huge upset as 13-1 underdog Jason Litzau scored a shocking split decision over Celestino Caballero in their 10-round non-title bout.
Caballero moved up in weight for the sake of staying busy while in pursuit of higher profile bouts against top featherweights Juan Manuel Lopez, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Chris John.
Those fights are still on the table, though his asking price has considerably plummeted after delivering a career-worst performance.
It was clear from the opening bell that the beanpole Panamanian underestimated his opponent, one who has always fallen short whenever stepping up in class.
The first sign of a real fight developing came in the third round, when Caballero’s face reddened as Litzau took the best his opponent had to offer and kept coming forward.
The two traded rounds midway through the fight before Litzau assumed the role of bully down the stretch. The late surge by the former-prospect-turned-clubfighter proved to be the difference between a draw and perhaps the biggest upset of the year.
Both fighters won by scores of 96-94 on opposing cards, with a surprisingly wide tally of 97-93 made it official for Litzau, who improves to 28-2 (21KO) in picking up the biggest win of his career.
Caballero falls to 34-3 (21KO) with the loss, his first in more than five years. Gone is a 15-fight win streak, and presumably future high-profile showcases on HBO or Showtime. Unclear for the moment is whether or not he will be stripped of his alphabet featherweight belt, with this bout taking place at the junior lightweight limit.
The show was presented by Golden Boy Promotions, in association with Marquez Boxing and DiBella Entertainment, and aired live on HBO.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com and an award-winning member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Contact Jake at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @JakeNDaBox.