INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Juan Manuel Marquez was greeted like a king returning to his kingdom by the 12,090 fans who packed The Forum on Saturday to watch him fight Mike Alvarado and the Mexican legend treated his loyal subjects to a very special performance – one befitting the newly renovated venue
Marquez, who dropped Alvarado in Round 8 and had to get up from a knockdown in Round 9, outclassed and outfought his younger and bigger opponent to a lopsided unanimous decision, but the 40-year-old veteran never failed to entertain the live audience or those watching HBO’s broadcast – especially during the second half of the fight.
Ruben Olivares, Carlos Zarate, Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez and other Mexican nationals who regularly fought at The Forum in past decades and are now enshrined the International Boxing Hall of Fame would have approved of the way Marquez fought and thrilled the crowd on Saturday.
“My body felt good tonight,” said Marquez, who won by scores of 117-109 (twice) and 119-108. “I felt strong. Mike Alvarado is big and strong and fast. I expected a hard fight. He took everything that I gave him.”
Marquez (56-7-1, 40 knockouts), who turned pro 21 years ago, still has a lot to give and he heaped it on Alvarado from start to finish, outlanding the 33-year-old Denver native in 11 of the 12 rounds, according to CompuBox stats. Marquez also out-jabbed Alvarado and dominated the game boxer-brawler in power punches thrown, connecting on 163 of 287 (57 percent).
However, Alvarado, who entered the bout with something to prove having lost his last bout by brutal 10th-round stoppage to Ruslan Provodnikov, never gave up and even appeared to turn things around when he dropped Marquez with a short right in Round 8.
“I made a big error when I was knocked down,” Marquez said. “I dropped my hand and he caught me. I put him down in the eighth and I was going to try to stop him in the ninth but I made an error.”
The fans didn’t mind the mistake. It added to the drama of a fight that started slow but gradually heated up during the middle rounds when Alvarado made the decision to stop trying to feint and box an expert counter-puncher and began to press the older man.
Marquez welcomed the pressure and answered with beautifully timed right hands that gradually chopped up Alvarado’s left eye, punishing lefts to the body and pin-point combinations. Marquez methodically moved around the ring while slipping punches and stepping around Alvarado, but when he planted his feet, he fully committed to his offense, igniting the crowd every time he did so (which was often).
Marquez first made waves in the U.S. by fighting regularly at The Forum in the mid-to-late 1990s, but he didn’t come close to attracting the number of fans he had in the building on Saturday back then. The Mexico City native was a near-perfect technician in those days when he campaigned in the featherweight division. In fact, he was so flawless he was often boring when he wasn’t able to stop his opponents with a clean punch.
However, in the 15 years since his last appearance at The Forum, Marquez has done more than establish himself as one of sport’s elite fighters and accomplish enough to be considered one of Mexico’s greatest boxers by winning world titles in four divisions while facing the best of this era. Marquez has also evolved into one of the more reliable action fighters of the past 10 years – provided he’s sharing the ring with an aggressive opponent.
Lucky for the fans, Alvarado earned his stripes in the game with diehard aggression. He may have delivered too many action fights in the past two or three years, having engaged in fight-of-the-year type battles in his last five bouts against the likes of Brandon Rios, Mauricio Herrera and Provodnikov.
Some fans viewed Alvarado (34-3, 23 KOs) as shopworn because of those wicked give-and-take brawls. Those same fans will say he’s definitely a spent bullet after Saturday’s bout, but Alvarado showed that there’s still a lot of fight in him down the stretch against Marquez, landing his share of clean punches – some of which stunned the crowd favorite.
“I put that (Provodnikov) fight behind me,” Alvarado said. “I believe tonight’s fight was a lot closer than the scorecards. At the end of every round the crowd cheered and swayed the judges. I saw his gloves touch the canvas (in Round 11) and I moved in to finish him but he referee got in the way. I’m going to regroup, come back and keep moving forward.”
So will Marquez, who may have earned a lucrative fifth bout with his arch rival Manny Pacquiao with the Alvarado victory even though he was noncommittal about the fight when asked about it.
“I’m not even thinking about Pacquiao right now,” he said. “I’m going to rest and I’ll think about it in a few weeks. It’s possible if it makes sense.”
Of course it makes sense. Their four-bout series and strong performances in their last bouts – Pacquiao outointed Tim Bradley to regain the WBO welterweight title last month – will sell the fight to the public. The fact that Marquez will have a shot at becoming the first Mexican fighter to win five titles in five divisions if he wins is added incentive.
However, one can’t blame Marquez for wanting to bask in the glory that he earned immediately after besting Alvarado. He fought in the shadow of countrymen Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales during his prime years at The Forum. He’s outlasted both fellow future hall of famers and now he’s putting on the kind of performances they did 15 years ago.
Doing it at The Forum only makes it sweeter for Marquez, who clearly appreciates being embraced by the fans.
“I wanted to give the public here a gift, a gift that dignifies the history of the event and history of the Forum,” he said. “I wanted to make this fight a gift to the fans.”
Photo gallery by Naoki Fukuda
Email Fischer at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @dougiefischer