Thursday, June 08, 2023  |


Marquez finally getting recognition

Fighters Network

Juan Manuel Marquez (right) celebrates after knocking out Joel Casamayor to win the RING lightweight championship last September. The victory, which earned the 35-year-old veteran his fourth title in a third weight class, solidified his status as an elite fighter and future hall of famer. Photo / Tom Hogan

The presence of Chris John on Saturday’s HBO-televised double-header from Houston is a reminder of the dark days of Juan Manuel Marquez’s career and of how far the masterful Mexican technician has come in recent years.

Three years ago, against the advice of just about everyone but his trainer/manager Nacho Beristain, Marquez traveled to Indonesia to fight John, an unbeaten but unheralded featherweight titleholder, and lost.

The unanimous decision loss was disputed, but not by many, because it was not televised in the U.S.

Some fans and members of the media thought Marquez deserved what happened for A) turning down a rematch with Manny Pacquiao, who he had held to a dramatic draw two years earlier; B) for playing the sanctioning organization game by chasing after the WBA title that was unfairly stripped from him; and C) for traveling to Indonesia to fight an Indonesian hero for a paltry $30,000.

Whether or not the loss was deserved it has become a distant memory for Marquez, who will defend his RING world lightweight title against No. 1 contender Juan Diaz in the main event of the Golden Boy Promotions card from the Toyota Center.

In the co-featured bout, John will defend his 126-pound belt against Rocky Juarez. However, should John extend his impressive record (42-0-1, 22 knockouts) against Juarez don’t expect Marquez to seek revenge against the talented Indonesian boxer.

Marquez (49-4-1, 36 KOs) has bigger fish to fry, like the winner of the Ricky Hatton-Pacquiao showdown in May. That’s the level he’s on these days.

In three years time Marquez has evolved from a featherweight contender trapped in boxing limbo to a three-division titleholder who is regarded as the second best boxer on the planet behind his rival Pacquiao.

He did it by getting right back into the ring after the loss to John and winning four bouts in a row, including a unanimous decision over Marco Antonio Barrera that earned him a 130-pound title and instant respect from his countrymen that was followed by a lopsided title defense against Juarez.

All four fights were entertaining bouts where Marquez, who had the reputation of being a cautious counter-puncher, exhibited more offense than defense and just as much heart as skill.

He said the style modification was one of the many lessons he learned in Indonesia.

“The loss to John taught me that I have to be strong mentally, not only physically,” Marquez said. “I learned that I have to win convincingly.”

Last March, Marquez carried that new mentality into his long awaited rematch with Pacquiao and took the fight to the Filipino icon. Although he lost his junior lightweight title in a scintillating, razor-thin split-decision loss, he gained more fans – particularly those from Mexico – than he ever had previously. He added to his growing fan base last September when he became the first fighter to knockout Joel Casamayor in the 11th round of a tactical battle that earned him THE RING’s lightweight title.

His recent accomplishments have established him as Mexico’s premiere fighter.

“Juan Manuel Marquez is undoubtedly the No. 1 Mexican fighter in the world,” Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, which promotes Marquez, said on a recent media conference call. “(Marco Antonio) Barrera has come and gone. (Erik) Morales has come and gone. (Antonio) Margarito has come and gone. Marquez is the last Mexican warrior left standing.”

These days Marquez is so respected that he’s favored to defeat the once-beaten Diaz (34-1, 17 KOs) despite being 10 years older than the relentless 25-year-old pressure fighter.

Despite the fact that Diaz is a Houston native, Marquez is expected to have equal representation among the near sell-out crowd at the Toyota Center.

For those who have covered Marquez’s entire career the newfound popularity and respect seems long overdue.

“God’s honest truth, I thought he was something special from the first fight I called of his,” said broadcasting veteran Rich Marotta, who did the TV commentary for Marquez’s first fight in the U.S. back in 1994. “He knocked out a journeyman named Israel Gonzalez in four rounds in the walk-out bout of the evening and I remember saying ‘Let’s see more of him’.

“I was immediately taken with Juan.”

As the house commentator for Forum Boxing, Inc., Marquez’s first American promoter, Marotta covered the next 21 bouts of the young Mexican fighter’s career.

“About nine fights into his run with the Forum, he fought Darryl Pinckney,” Marotta said. “Pinckney didn’t have a good record but he had a big punch and was dangerous enough to have knocked out Junior Jones and Guty Espadas Jr.

“He dropped Marquez in the seventh round of their fight and Juan, who had controlled the fight before getting knocked down, got up and dominated the rest of the bout and won a decision.

“About a year after the Pinckney fight, I thought he was ready for all of the top-notch featherweights at the time.”

By the late 1990s, the biggest name in the featherweight division was flamboyant KO artist Naseem Hamed, who held the WBO title for most of his run as an elite fighter. Unfortunately for Marquez, Forum Boxing, which did an excellent job of developing him from a prospect to a contender, was able to maneuver him to the WBO’s No. 1 featherweight position but was unable to make the Puerto Rico-based sanctioning organization enforce its own mandatory ranking rules.

Marquez was Hamed’s mandatory challenger for almost two years, but never got a crack at “the Prince”.

Marco Antonio Barrera, a top 122-pound titleholder in the late 1990s, was also promoted by Forum Boxing, but that meaningful and potentially lucrative all-Mexican showdown never happened. Ricardo Maldonado, Barrera’s manager at the time, didn’t hide the fact that he had no intention of risking his cash cow against Marquez.

Marquez encountered the same road block after he signed with Top Rank at the start of the decade. Although the Las Vegas-based company kept him busy, moved him up the alphabet rankings, and eventually got him shots two major titles (the IBF and WBA belts), which he won, a showdown with Top Rank’s popular featherweight king Erik Morales was never seriously discussed despite repeated overtures from Beristain.

Barrera fought Morales in 2000 and Hamed in 2001; both fights were among the most memorable of those years. Marquez, who in 1999 dropped an ugly decision to Freddy Norwood that hurt both his credibility and marketability, appeared out of luck and out of the featherweight picture.

“I would have loved to have the opportunity to prove myself (against those three),” Marquez said during Tuesday’s media conference call. “But (the promoters and managers) always kept me down, or something always happened that prevented those fights from happening.

“Had I fought them, I feel I would have excelled (against them). I think I would have beat them. There’s a reason Hamed avoided me. There’s a reason Top Rank never allowed a fight with Morales.”

Marotta agrees with Marquez and believes that even without Morales and Hamed’s names on his ledger, the Mexico City fighter is one of the best of his generation.

“If you toss out the fluky first-round disqualification in his first pro bout, I think a case can be made that he’s never been decisively beaten,” said Marotta, an unapologetic Marquez fan. “I thought he won both Pacquiao fights, and I thought he beat both Norwood and John.

“Now, imagine if his record was 53-1 or 54-0? We would all be talking about him as one of the all-time greats. Even with the losses, I think he’s a great fighter. However, I know that most fans just see him as being a really good boxer. I don’t think he’s ever going to get credit for his ability because of a few slip-ups here and there.

“He made a wrong turn here, lost a point there, suffered a few knockdowns, made a couple stupid decisions, and sadly, I think that’s going to cost him in terms of his legacy. Circumstances have mitigated his getting the full public recognition of what he can actually do in the ring.”

Schaefer believes it isn’t too late.

“Juan Manuel Marquez is a legendary fighter and we at Golden Boy Promotions are proud to have been the ones who gave him the opportunity to prove it,” said Schaefer, who promoted Marquez’s breakthrough victory against Barrera in 2007. “I believe in giving our fighters the opportunities they want. You see it with (Saturday’s) fight as well. Marquez is one of the best fighters in the world. Diaz is a very good young lightweight. If Diaz wins, he becomes an elite fighter. If Marquez wins we will look at making the best possible fight for him in his next bout.”

Schaefer said the biggest fight for Marquez is “obviously” the winner of Hatton-Pacquiao junior welterweight championship. “But there are a lot of good lightweights and plenty of interesting matchups that can be made in the 135-pound division,” he added. “With our older fighters, we proceed on a fight by fight basis, and try to make the right fight at the right time.”

That plan has worked well for Marquez for the past three years.

The setbacks, mistakes and bad luck he experienced in the late 1990s and the first half of this decade must seem like a lifetime ago to the 35-year-old marvel.

Marquez, who shows no signs of slowing down and describes himself as a “kid at heart”, remains remarkably upbeat about his past and his future.

“It’s better late than never,” he said of his recent success and recognition. “The most important thing is that it finally came.”

Doug Fischer can be reached at [email protected]