By Cliff Rold
Will he or won’t he?
One of the big questions as 2013 develops is whether December 8, 2012 ended one of the great rivalries or simply turned to page to a fifth chapter. Mexico’s Juan Manuel Marquez, after years of playing the hunter, is enjoying being the prey. He’s playing coy, saying out of one side of his mouth that he isn’t interested in another showdown with Manny Pacquiao.
And saying he’ll weigh all his options out of the other.
In boxing, weighing options is often another way of saying, “it’ll cost ya.” This is, after all, prizefighting. Marquez has waited a long time to be able to demand the cash prize outside the ring his win over Pacquiao in December could bring him.
Inside the ring, he’s accumulated more than his share of prizes in a career that began just shy of twenty years ago. While boxing waits to see how the 39-year old craftsman chooses to close his brilliant run, it’s as good a time as any to ask…
How good has Marquez been, measured against all-time?
In answering the question, five categories will be examined:
2) Competition Faced
3) Competition Not Faced
4) Reaction to Adversity
5) What’s Left to Prove
It begins with…
The Tale of the Tape
Born: August 23, 1973
Hails From: Mexico City, Mexico
Turned Professional: May 29, 1993 (LDQ1 Javier Duran)
Record: 55-6-1, 40 KO
Record in Major Title Fights (Including Lineal Title Fights): 10-4-1, 4 KO (13-4-1, 6 KO including interim title fights)
Lineal World Titles: World Lightweight (2008-12, 3 Defenses)
Other Major Titles: IBF Featherweight (2003-05, 4 Defenses); WBA Featherweight (2003-05, 3 Defenses); WBO Featherweight (2006-07); WBC Super Featherweight (2207-08, 1 Defense); WBO/WBA “Super” Lightweight (2009-12, 2 Defenses); WBO Light Welterweight (2012-Present)
Current/Former Lineal World Champions Faced: 4 (Manny Pacquiao D12, L12, L12, KO6; Marco Antonio Barrera UD12; Joel Casamayor TKO11; Floyd Mayweather L12)
Current/Former Alphabet Titlists Faced: 11 (Julio Gervacio KO8; Agapito Sanchez UD12; Alfred Kotey UD12; Freddie Norwood L12; Daniel Jimenez RTD7; Robbie Peden RTD10; Manuel Medina TKO7; Derrick Gainer Tech. Dec. 7; Orlando Salido UD12; Chris John L12; Juan Diaz TKO9, UD12)
Sometimes, even the finest careers stumble out of the gate. In the Marquez family, it happened twice. Both Juan Manuel and little brother Rafael, who would also go on to world titles in more than one division, lost their pro debuts. Unlike little brother, Juan Manuel finished on his feet and wouldn’t suffer defeat again until his first title opportunity.
Marquez rode six consecutive stoppage wins into a September 1999 crack at the WBA Featherweight titlist Freddie Norwood. They traded knockdowns in an awkward affair and Marquez fell short on the cards. Winning ten in a row, he earned his second major title opportunity in February 2003.
This time, the judges would be no issue. Marquez dominated veteran Manuel Medina, finishing him in seven for the IBF belt at 126 lbs. His first defense would come in his first unification fight, a forgettable cut-shortened decision over WBA titlist Derrick Gainer in November 2003. Gainer set the stage for the beginning of an epic, defining saga.
Marquez valiantly rose from three first-round knockdowns to earn a draw against Pacquiao in May 2004, retaining his alphabet titles but falling short of capturing Pacquiao’s lineal Featherweight crown. Marquez would defend the IBF and WBA belts twice more before being shorn of his belts by boxing politics. Without losing his title in the ring, Marquez was forced to play the challenger on the road to Chris John for the WBA title in March 2006. Marquez dropped a debatable decision, losing two points for low blows along the way.
Marquez would stay at Featherweight two more fights, winning the interim WBO belt with a seventh round stoppage of Terdsak Kokietgym in August 2006 and defending it once. The title was then elevated to full status but Marquez was done in the class. In his next bout, he would step up to 130 lbs. for a long sought showdown with fellow Mexican Marco Antonio Barrera. Marquez, unofficially, suffered a knockdown in the seventh round but did more than enough on the cards to merit a unanimous decision for WBC honors. He would defend once before suffering a narrow defeat to Manny Pacquiao in March 2008. The fight was decided on the critical scorecard by a knockdown suffered in the third round.
Electing to move up the scale once more, Marquez challenged reigning lineal Lightweight king Joel Casamayor in September 2008. In an exciting encounter, Marquez became the first man to stop the Cuban, ending matters in the eleventh for history’s crown at 135 lbs. In his next fight, he would pick up two vacant major titles, WBO and WBA, with a scintillating February 2009 knockout of Juan Diaz. He would defend twice more before concentrating permanently above the Lightweight limit.
In December 2011, he fell short just short in a crack at Pacquiao for the WBO Welterweight title. An April 2012 decision win over Serhiy Fedchenko gave him an interim WBO title at 140 lbs. later bumped up to full recognition when Timothy Bradley vacated his claim in the division. Marquez still holds that belt at this writing, his fourth major title in four weight classes. It ties a mark set for Mexican fighters in 2011 by Erik Morales.
While it was a non-title affair, Marquez’s sixth-round knockout of Pacquiao at Welterweight in their fourth encounter is an accomplishment as well, arguably more memorable in a single punch than any single belt in the years before it. The involvement of the previously PED-linked Memo Heredia with Marquez’s training camp for the fourth Pacquiao fight has caused various levels of speculation, but as of now that’s all it is. All official drug tests were passed.
And Marquez was hardly the only fighter in the ring that night for whom PED speculation has run rampant in recent years.
Along with the titles and defenses collected by Marquez from 126 to 140 lbs., Marquez has been named in, or as, the:
• BWAA/Ring Magazine Fight of the Year: 2009
• BWAA/Ring Magazine Fight of the Year: 2012
• Ring Magazine Knockout of the Year: 2012
• Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year: 2012
• #25 – BoxingScene Top 25 Featherweights of All Time: 2009
If all he had were the four fights with Pacquiao, Marquez’s competition would look pretty good. Sometimes, a single great foe can enhance an otherwise average dossier. Heavyweight Riddick Bowe’s trilogy with Evander Holyfield is one example.
Marquez is no Bowe and there is, to his credit, much more than Pacquiao. Much didn’t come until Marquez had left his prime, and best weight class, behind. A Featherweight for most of his first thirteen years and change as a professional, Marquez struggled to stand out from the crowd and get the biggest fights for a long time.
The men he did fight at 126 made up a solid core. Norwood, while a loss, was undefeated and the bout could have gone either way. Knockout victim Robbie Peden would go on to win a belt at 130 lbs. Medina and Gainer were both serviceable veterans and regarded as top ten fighters in class, with belts in tow. Pacquiao was entering his prime. While not then widely regarded as a top-ten Featherweight outside sanctioning body ratings, Orlando Salido was already a veteran when he faced Marquez in 2004 and went on to win three belts at Featherweight (though one would be lost a “No Decision” when he tested positive for a performance enhancer). Victor Polo had been regarded as fringe contender for many years. John, like Norwood a debatable loss, was and remains today an undefeated and skilled titlist. John won his ‘regular’ WBA title as a circumstance of Marquez holding the ”Super” distinction as a unified champion in class.
While there were, technically, fights at Jr. Lightweight over the years before he moved up to face Barrera, his notable stint in the class began with that title victory. The competitive win over the man regarded then as the leader in class was followed with a solid defense against rated former U.S. Olympian Rocky Juarez. The loss to Pacquiao was close but, in a span of three fights, he faced the two best available fighters in the division.
At Lightweight, timing helped to illuminate Marquez’s first major victory. Casamayor was pilloried in late 2007 for receiving what was inarguably one of the worst decisions of the 00’s, against Jose Armando Santa Cruz. However, the Cuban followed that by coming off the floor to win a classic affair against an undefeated Michael Katsidis in 2008. The Casamayor who squared off with Marquez was rehabilitated by the Katsidis win and he foughtfought with distinction.
Marquez’s first of two Lightweight defenses against Juan Diaz would be the Fight of the Year in 2009. The younger Diaz entered with only a single loss the first time and was a former unified titlist at 135 lbs.
Marquez followed Diaz with his first test of the Welterweight waters, skipping over Jr. Welterweight to face Floyd Mayweather in September 2009. Mayweather, who retired in 2008 as the lineal Welterweight champion, was making his comeback start. The fight was originally slated for a catchweight of 144 lbs. but, when Mayweather decided he couldn’t make the weight the week of the fight, Marquez was given additional purse money and the event went forward. Marquez was dropped early and lost a lopsided decision.
Returning to Lightweight, the rematch with Diaz was less exciting than the first affair and held less luster with Diaz entering off a controversial win and decision loss to Paulie Malignaggi. Marquez came off the floor to stop Katsidis in a scorching final Lightweight affair. Katsidis was a consensus top ten fighter in the division having previously lost only to Casamayor and Diaz.
Since the Diaz loss, Marquez’s quality competition has come entirely against Pacquiao. Their third fight took place at a catchweight of 143, their fourth at the full division limit of 147 though Marquez still only scaled 143. In three Welterweight fights, Marquez has faced the two men regarded as 1 and 1A in the division over the last five years or so.
Competition Not Faced
As always, this section is concerned with the fact that fights did not occur. Why is not what matters.
That doesn’t mean examining some of the timeline that went with his ascension to contention isn’t merited. It helps to contextualize when the competition missed really merits consideration.
Marquez didn’t begin appearing in the top ten’s of the various sanctioning bodies until around 1997, rising to #2 in the WBC ratings by early 1999 while hovering in the middle of the class in the Ring ratings of the day. When Cesar Soto bested Luisito Espinosa for the WBC belt, Marquez was elevated to the number one contender spot only to be removed from their ratings when he took the shot at Norwood’s WBA belt.
Despite the loss, Marquez emerged as the WBO’s top contender to Naseem Hamed. Hamed vacated the belt in 2000 and they never squared off. Barrera and Morales battled a division below him until the early 2000’s. When they rose in weight, neither contest developed at Featherweight. The titlists Marquez didn’t face in the class from 1999 to his exit from the division in 2007 include:
• WBC – Guty Espadas, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, In-Jin Chi;
• WBA – Antonio Cermeno;
• IBF – Paul Ingle, Mbuelo Botile, Frankie Toledo, Johnny Tapia, Valdemir Pereira; and, WBO – Naseem Hamed, Istvan Kovacs, Julio Pablo Chacon, and Scott Harrison.
While Featherweight may have been his best weight class in terms of physical prime, Marquez was on the outside looking in for years. Of the men who held titles, clearly the notable misses at Featherweight were Hamed, Barrera, and Morales. Worth noting, Pereira was a mandatory to Marquez who ended up with a title when no one entered a bid to promote a showdown and Marquez was forced to give up the IBF belt.
At Jr. Lightweight, Marquez’s timetable was effectively a year. In that year, the other major titles were held by:
• WBA – Edwin Valero;
• IBF – Mzonke Fana; and
• WBO – Joan Guzman.
In considering misses from this crop, Valero and Guzman stand out as intriguing what ifs. Valero wasn’t able to fight in the U.S. at the time due to a head injury but competed abroad. Guzman was a skilled fighter who, like Marquez, struggled for attention for years. Given that the only logical place either fight could have happened was in place of Juarez, sandwiched between Barrera and Pacquiao, it’s hard to call them concrete misses. They were there though.
At Lightweight, Marquez had a lengthy lineal reign on paper but was done with the division by late 2010. From the time he defeated Casamayor through the Katsidis defense, the other Lightweight titlists were:
• WBC – Manny Pacquiao, Edwin Valero, Humberto Soto;
• WBA – Yusuke Kobori, Paulus Moses, Miguel Acosta; and,
• IBF/WBO – Nate Campbell.
Pacquiao’s stay at Lightweight was all of one fight and doesn’t count as a miss. All of the WBA titlists were ‘regular’ while Marquez was the “Super” titlist, a product of silly belt proliferation by the WBA. They were little more than potential mandatories that didn’t happen. Valero, competing by 2009 in the U.S., is again more an intriguing what if, emerging as a titlist in the class after the first Diaz fight and flaming out tragically in 2010.
The concrete miss at Lightweight is Campbell. While Casamayor was the lineal titlist, it was Campbell who was regarded by most as ‘the man’ in the class following his March 2008 upset of Juan Diaz. Campbell would lose his titles on the scale two weeks prior to Marquez-Diaz I, but on ring merits was more deserving of the Marquez opportunity Diaz received when that fight was signed.
Marquez, still active, may yet take fresh fights at Jr. Welterweight and Welterweight. His limited profile in both classes leaves it hard to call anything a miss. Given his age, it’s unlikely anything he doesn’t take at either would merit much consideration in the future.
Reaction to Adversity
For Marquez, when the question is asked of how he handled adversity, he will always have the ultimate trump card to pull from the time capsule. With hints of Archie Moore against Yvon Durelle, Marquez went to the deck three times in the first round against Manny Pacquiao.
Then he got up.
He didn’t finish the way Moore did, but Pacquiao was no Durelle. The draw he earned that day was as deep an example of will to win as one could ask for. It wasn’t the only time Marquez showed it.
Over the years, fans have seen Marquez rocked, dropped, and cut. They’ve never seen him stopped. They’ve never seen him quit. They have seen him frustrated.
There are different types of adversity. Marquez proved, against Pacquiao, Katsidis, and Barrera, the ability to fight through physical adversity. He showed he could come off the floor to outfight another man, or at least fight him to even. He endured lengthy, protracted battles where he stayed off the floor against Casamayor and Diaz.
Marquez has also shown the ability to endure through mental adversity. It’s not an easy thing to play the waiting game in boxing. Many a fighter has fallen apart waiting for big chances or the recognition they feel they’re due. While some of the adversity Marquez faced was self-inflicted, it likely didn’t feel any less real. He was a poor negotiator sometimes, most notably in efforts to make a 2005 rematch with Pacquiao. Those failed talks set the table for the mess that led to Marquez losing both his belts and being forced to go to Indonesia for relative pennies to face John. After the John loss, a lesser fighter might have faded away. Marquez let a chip build on his shoulder and used the weight of it as inspiration. Marquez kept going. As a fighter, it was a credit, a remarkable professionalism in his preparation for combat.
He also adapted in the ring to a critical complaint that dogged the first half of his career. While often overstated, Marquez could be so technically proficient as to be dull to watch for some. His style didn’t build him an audience the way Barrera and others did at the old Los Angeles Forum, even with plenty of knockouts scored. He answered the complaint by subtly adjusting his style to become more exciting. When age slowed him, it got even better.
The one thing he’s never quite done is shown able to master certain types of technical adversity. Norwood, Gainer (to some extent), and Mayweather are all fighters who forced Marquez out of his comfort zone. While he beat Gainer, and some thought he deserved the nod against Norwood, he’s never seemed comfortable with men that force him to lead the way they did.
Win or lose, all made him appear ordinary on those nights. Few others in his time could say the same, but it makes for an interesting point in considering how he would have fared against historically great technicians from Featherweight to Lightweight like Willie Pep, Bennie Leonard, and Pernell Whitaker.
What’s Left to Prove?
Marquez, in stopping Pacquiao, gave his career the exclamation point he’d sought since surviving round one in 2004. Sure, there were plenty who thought he won at least one, if not all three, of the Pacquiao fights before December 2012. That’s not the same as the sort of official, emphatic win he now holds. The first three fights were arguments. The fourth was a statement. It doesn’t inherently prove he was superior all along, no matter slave to the moment emotions. It does confirm, along with the sum of his other career accomplishments, his standing as more than just Pacquiao’s historical foil.
So what now? Given that Marquez says he will continue his career, will he take and win a fifth Pacquiao fight? And what, if any, additional young guns will he add to his ledger before he’s done? Will there be a Brandon Rios? A Timothy Bradley?
We’ll know when we know.
Marquez finds himself in a place akin to where Bernard Hopkins was, then only a measly 41, following his win over Antonio Tarver for the Light Heavyweight title in 2006. It’s all gravy from here. Marquez is nearing 40. How much longer can he, how much longer will he desire to, maintain himself as one of the elite fighters in the game? Nothing he does in the ring can really hurt him. A loss to a quality foe at 40 or beyond will be judged on its competitiveness and the memory of what he was at his best. Wins over quality foes will enhance what is already obvious.
Measured Against History
And, really, isn’t it obvious?
Returning to the original question, how does Marquez’s career measure up against all time?
In comparing the fighters he’s faced versus those he has not from Featherweight to Lightweight, the pocket that counts most in his career, he comes out ahead. It’s fair to say Hamed ducked him, though Hamed ended up taking on an equally difficult assignment in Barrera when the money was there.
It’s harder to say Barrera or Morales ducked him. Barrera and Morales both faced stiff fields at 122, 126, and 130. They fought each other three times across three weight classes and both fought Pacquiao more than once. Marquez simply wasn’t invited to the party right away and the public demand for the invitation was low enough in the early 2000s to allow for it. Barrera fought Marquez when it made economic sense. Morales and Marquez could have happened a few times. In recent years, if beyond Featherweight, it was Marquez shot down the contests in favor of fighting softer fare while waiting for Pacquiao fights.
Because he didn’t get those fights at Featherweight, it could affect where some rate Marquez in the 126 lb. pantheon. While one can make a case based on what he did do at 126, and above, to list him among the Featherweight greats, it’s not as strong a case as one would have with a few more notable wins in class. It requires speculation where evidence in the specific division lacks.
The biggest other miss in his career is Campbell, a win it would be nice to have but one that is only relevant to a relatively short window at Lightweight. No one fights everyone and Marquez wouldn’t likely rate with the great Lightweights even with Campbell on his record. In this case, it qualifies as a footnote amidst a manifesto.
If Marquez is difficult to rate at Featherweight, or any single weight class, he is easier to judge as a great fighter in a ‘pound-for-pound’ sense given scale climbing in his later years. What he did after Featherweight is where he moved from evident talent to thoroughly battle tested.
For years, hardcore aficionados asked how 105 lb. great Ricardo Lopez would have fared had he been a bigger man. Marquez might be the answer. Marquez, like Lopez, was schooled throughout his career by trainer Nacho Beristain. Their styles and technical proficiency were similar enough at peak to provide a window into the question.
Lopez proved plenty great from his place on the scale. Marquez will go down even greater. And that’s not just in comparison to Lopez. After the Pacquiao win, Marquez has crafted his case as the greatest Mexican fighter ever.
He’s shown a greater longevity at the highest level then Ruben Olivares, Chavez, Carlos Zarate, or Miguel Canto. In contrast, those fighters, along with Lopez and Salvador Sanchez, had greater sustained periods of divisional dominance where they defeated most if not all the best around them. Chavez had great title reigns in two classes, at Jr. Lightweight and Jr. Welterweight.
Marquez’s competition and conquest of multiple weight divisions outweighs Lopez’s notable dominance of the lower scale. In Pacquiao, he has the sort of fellow all-time great rival Julio Cesar Chavez never quite had as a foil.
The points for and against can go back and forth. The question of Mexico’s finest is merely that: a question. Marquez is a possible answer with strong bond fides for the claim. It’s the most he could have asked for when he began his career against the backdrop of one of boxing’s most storied national legacies.
Then there were his most storied contemporary rivals, two from Mexico and Pacquiao. While Marquez-Morales has never happened, and is unlikely to now, they are four fighters who will be forever linked.
Every once in a while, the boxing gods deign to bless their chorus with a set of fighters to play out a memorable, violent round robin.
Barney Ross-Jimmy McLarnin-Tony Canzoneri.
Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier-George Foreman-Ken Norton-Larry Holmes.
Sugar Ray Leonard-Marvin Hagler-Thomas Hearns-Roberto Duran-Wilfred Benitez.
Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez-Marco Antonio Barrera-Erik Morales.
Their rivalry, their 13 (soon to be fourteen?) fights, stand up to any great multi-man rivalry that ever occurred. Pacquiao was the leader of the pack by a lot before the fourth fight with Marquez. Determining the best of the four in the wake of Marquez-Pacquiao IV is now a livelier debate.
In his entire career, Marquez has only been soundly beaten once, by Mayweather. All of his fights with Pacquiao were competed stiffly from bell to bell and the first three outcomes will always be debated. His other two defeats, Norwood and John, can find detractors for the official scores.
Marquez has beaten everyone else he was asked to.
One day he will retire. Before he gets there, Marquez has already done more than enough to be fairly argued as one of the best 5-10 fighters of his era, one of the top 50-100 fighters of all time, a lock first ballot Hall of Famer, and of course…
Verdict on Juan Manuel Marquez: All-Time Great
Author’s Note: This is an occasional series that will examine the most accomplished of modern fighters in seeking to establish how their careers stack up with history’s finest.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transanational Boxing Ratings Board, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org