Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Don't You Know His Name?
On September 19th in Las Vegas, Floyd Mayweather Jr., boxing's returning pound-for-pound titan, will square off against the rich pugilistic history of Mexico's current pride and joy, Juan Manuel Marquez, himself considered one of the top three fighters in the sport regardless of weight class. The bout will take place at a catch weight of 143-144 pounds, which is 8-9 pounds north of the 135-pound lightweight limit Marquez fought at in his last match, a knockout victory over young Juan Diaz. Beyond the questions that arise any time a fighter moves up in weight, Marquez will have to do so against a true 147-pounder who once looked impressive in beating a still game Oscar de la Hoya at 154 pounds and remains unbeaten through 39 professional fights. Such a mountain to climb has understandably cast Marquez into the role of underdog. But more than that I feel that he is being treated as an afterthought, and that is a notion that I do not comprehend.
As I have continued my deep foray into boxing over the past two years, Marquez has become one of my three favorite fighters. Once someone I believed to be a refreshing dose of comedy and entertainment, in his comeback and promotion for the upcoming bout with Marquez, Mayweather has come off as just plain angry and unlikable, lashing out at everyone in a way that has made me lose some affinity for him and realize why so many people want to see him lose. With that being said he is a brilliant ring surgeon and a superb athlete, and I cannot help but enjoy his displays of mastery and superiority in the ring. Furthermore, I suppose that it will only take one charismatic appearance from him on the upcoming "24/7" for me to return completely to his corner.
There is nothing to dislike about Manny Pacquiao, for he is a polite and humble sportsman and gentleman, while at the same time being nothing less than a killer between the ropes. He seems to me to be a shining example of a great athlete in his prime. His body looks flawless, defined by muscle with seemingly no trace of fat, and it has only looked better and stronger as he has gone on to the larger weights. He is a smart and versatile fighter now, all the flaws of his youth corrected by Coach Roach and the gift of experience. He is a lean, mean fighting machine and deserving of his current distinction as the top pound-for-pound boxer in the game.
In the shadows lurks Marquez. Mayweather and Pacquiao are the two biggest draws in the sport; Marquez exists in mainstream anonymity. I suppose it is because while Floyd is a character and Manny is spectacular (Floyd is spectacular too but in a much more boring way to most), all there is to Marquez is guts and technique. But those two traits matter much to me, which is why I enjoy watching Marquez so much.
He has been involved in two of my favorite fights to watch on YouTube - his first of two fights against Pacquiao and the fight against Diaz. In the former he recovered from three knockdowns in the first round and managed to salvage a draw by adjusting before the start of the second and proceeding to apply his boxing acumen. In the latter he capped off what Jim Lampley called his "patented mid-round rush" by knocking Diaz down in the ninth round with a barrage of punches, then finishing him off seconds later by going to the body to set up the closing uppercut. Diaz fell to the canvas again and the fight was immediately called to a halt, the professionalism exhibited by Marquez as he went in for the kill worthy of appreciation.
When I think of Marquez I think of the way Bill Simmons once pegged Jason Kidd in an ESPN the Mag installment of his "Reasons I Love Sports" column series. Simmons argues that in order for Kidd to make up for not being able to shoot, the rest of his game had to be perfect. Similarly, Marquez is, unlike his two P4P peers, not a particularly special athlete. He can, as they say, be hit, and he doesn't have strikingly fast hands or any other kind of eye-popping natural blessing. And yet he is able to compensate for his ordinary physical skills by being such an expert boxer and savvy veteran. A disciple of Boxing 101, he is an accurate counter-puncher who puts combination's together extremely well and possesses a textbook stance. Mentally, he is just as sharp as he is physically.
And so I think the question is, How can somebody like this be so overlooked heading into a fight against anybody, no matter what the circumstances? Someone so fundamentally sound with so much heart and determination and knowledge of his craft? A scientist with such a strong resume and impeccable reputation amongst boxing people? He has won championships in three divisions, defeated fellow Mexican legend Marco Antonio Barrera, deserved both decisions over Pacquiao in the opinion of some people and deserved the nod in their second fight in the opinion of more.
He is a well-respected champion who has earned his standing in the fight community, and yet the same people who tout him are the ones who give him no chance of winning this fight. I don't think he will win, either, as I said I understand that sentiment. But at the very least he has a fighting chance, and it should not be ignored.