It’s a real joy to see Rocky again for the first time through someone else’s eyes.
Earlier this week, on one of it’s infinite replays on the tube, a few early minutes caught the attention of someone who had never seen it or knew the story beats. Suddenly, questions like what going the distance meant, and is he going to win, were fresh again.
While the training montage, “Adrian!,” and pounding raw meat are all burned into the public consciousness, the best scene in the movie might be the exchange between Sylvester Stallone and Burgess Meredith in Rocky’s apartment. Mickey is there, just days after embarrassing Rocky in front of the gym for his life choices, literally hat in hand with a proposal.
Rocky has been offered a lottery ticket chance at the heavyweight crown.
Mickey wants to manage his opportunity.
What plays out is a terse exchange between an angry Balboa, hurt pride and fear simmering off of him, and an old man seeing one last chance to dream, selling the story that his misfortunes were because he never had the management.
It works on a human level. It also works on a boxing level.
In boxing, who you’re with can often matter as much as what you do.
Earlier this year, 33-year old Miguel Marriaga (29-3, 25 KO) was on the verge of his fourth major title opportunity in the last six years. COVID-19 eschewed a planned crack at Shakur Stevenson. In a sport where a single title shot can be the pinnacle most fighters can yearn for, Marriaga is living proof of how much the network around a fighter matters.
Beginning with his 2015 loss to an overweight Nicholas Walters for the WBA featherweight belt, Marriaga has gone 9-3. All the losses have come in title fights with the other two coming via decision to Oscar Valdez and by stoppage against Vasyl Lomachenko. Only the Lomachenko fight was lacking in moments where Marriaga looked hopeful.
In that sense, he has been and remains for now the sort of opponent that can help to further a title reign, tease the fans with some solid action, but be unlikely to upset any apple carts. It gives him value, and steady work, as part of the Top Rank fold.
Riding a four-fight knockout streak following the Lomacheno loss, he would have been a good gauge for where Stevenson is early in his career and how much farther Stevenson might have to go on the road to pound-for-pound aspirations.
Instead, he was supposed to settle on Mark Yap Thursday night. Yap missed weight by a division or three and the fight was called off. The show will go on with Felix Verdejo in the main event but the frustration expressed by Marriaga, as reported by BoxingScene’s Jake Donovan, is easy to understand. Marriaga will have to wait to see if he can extend to five straight knockout wins. Stay winning and title shot number four seems inevitable.
That’s the silver lining from the Yap cancellation. Marriaga is currently rated #6 by the WBO at featherweight. Stevenson has vacated their belt but Top Rank has WBO #1 contender Michael Conlan in position for next in line. Marriaga-Conlan somewhere down the line doesn’t sound far fetched. Emanuel Navarrete has vacated the WBO Jr. featherweight belt and will quickly be in line for a new title shot.
Navarrete-Marriaga sounds like good TV.
There are no guarantees in boxing but Marriaga’s affiliations, style, and persistence serve his chances well. The ultimate capper to the story would be to find the right shot, the right combination, to pull off the sort of upset that makes him more than the role of solid challenging foe.
Even if he never gets to add that wrinkle, it’s surely better to be hoping for title shot number four than wondering if you’ll ever get the first one.
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Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org