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Marquez arguably a great fighter

01
Mar

Juan Manuel Marquez left no doubts as to whom the best lightweight in the world is when he knocked out Juan Diaz in the young lion’s hometown of Houston on Saturday.

Marquez’s ninth-round KO of Diaz – his 50th victory in a professional career that began in 1993 – punctuated his hall-of-fame credentials and even begged the question whether the world lightweight champion can be considered a great fighter.

Rich Marotta, the award-winning broadcaster who has been one of Marquez’s most ardent supporters among the media, believes the word “great” belongs in front of the 35-year-old veteran’s name.

“I say the same thing about Marquez that I say about Bernard Hopkins – and it’s the ultimate compliment one can give a fighter these days – and that is that he could have competed at the highest level in any era of the sport,” Marotta said.

Tony Rivera, a veteran cutman who has been in the camps and worked the corners of numerous Latino legends, including Roberto Duran and Marco Antonio Barrera, concurs with Marotta.

“Saturday night Marquez joined an elite group of Mexican fighters – Barrera, (Erik) Morales and Julio Cesar Chavez – and he did it in a way that there can be no question, no debate, no two ways about his victory. That’s how you cement your legacy.

“For him to be able to go from featherweight to lightweight and knock out two guys – Joel Casamayor and Juan Diaz – who nobody knocks out, that tells me that he’s one of the best featherweights of the last 30 years. I think he would have fit right in with the top featherweights of the late '70s and early '80s: Danny “Little Red” Lopez, Salvador Sanchez, Eusebio Pedroza, Wilfredo Gomez and Juan LaPorte.

“Sanchez is thought to be the best of that group,” Rivera continued, “and he gets a lot of credit as a great fighter, but while I think he was very good, I don’t think he was an all-time great. I don’t think he was better than Marquez. I can see Marquez beating Sanchez. I think Marquez would have beat Lopez worse than Sanchez did, and that’s saying something because Lopez was a dangerous puncher.

“I’m not sure Marquez could have competed with Alexis Arguello at 130 pounds or with Roberto Duran at lightweight, but he’s got to be considered one of best featherweights to come along in a very long time.”

Marotta thinks Marquez would have been a threat to the best featherweights, junior lightweights and lightweights of any era.

“It’s hard to compare fighters from different eras,” Marotta said, “but Marquez has shown us over his career, especially in recent years, that he can do it all. I always get agitated when he’s described as a great counter-puncher. Hey, wake up, folks! He’s a great everything! He’s not just a boxer, he’s a fighter. Look at his face after his recent fights. You know that he’s been in some wars, and he doesn’t mind the cuts, the swelling and the blood. Many of the top fighters – including Diaz and even Manny Pacquiao – lose focus or become unraveled when they get cut, but not Marquez. He might be the toughest fighter out there, but he doesn’t get credit for it.

“Yes, he can box, he’s got excellent technique, but he’s also a warrior. He was knocked down hard in his fights with Marco Antonio Barrera and Manny Pacquiao. He was hit while he was down in the Barrera fight, but he always gets up and fights to the end. He’s got heart, he’s got a chin, and he can punch. He’s shown it all in the last two years – from his decision over Barrera to his split decision loss to Manny Pacquiao that many, myself included, thought he won, to his 11th-round knockout of Joel Casamayor to taking out the relentless 10-years-younger Juan Diaz in Diaz’s hometown. I think he’s pretty much accomplished it all. There's nothing more that can be asked of him now.”

Based on what he’s seen of Marquez, Marotta, a diehard fight fan since the early 1960s, believes the Mexico City native could have fought the best of three divisions going back to the 1920s.

“Does he beat Sandy Saddler? I don’t know, but I know it would have been a fight,” Marotta said. “Does he beat Julio Cesar Chavez? I think so, but I know that win or lose, Marquez would have given Julio hell.

“Does he beat Salvador Sanchez? I’m not sure. But I know that he would have been right there with him, for 12 or 15 rounds, every step of the way. Does he beat Benny Leonard, a legendary fighter known for his slickness? I don’t know, but I know he would have made him work and would have put on a great fight with him.”

Even fans who don’t believe that Marquez could have competed with the best of yesteryear have to admit that he’s currently one of top three fighters in the world – every bit as talented and accomplished as Manny Pacquiao and Bernard Hopkins.

The only difference between Marquez, his Filipino rival and the former middleweight champ is that Pacquiao and Hopkins have made considerably more money in recent years.

Both Hopkins and Pacquiao received an eight-figure payday when they fought Oscar De La Hoya.

Hopkins, who was reportedly guaranteed $10 million to defend his middleweight crown against De La Hoya, was paid $2.5 million-$5 million for his high-profile bouts against Felix Trinidad, Antonio Tarver, Winky Wright and Joe Calzaghe.

Pacquiao, who reportedly was guaranteed $11 million for his December showdown with De La Hoya, was paid $2.5 million-$5 million for his high-profile bouts against Erik Morales (third fight), Barrera (rematch), David Diaz and Marquez (rematch).

Marquez was guaranteed $1.5 million for his second bout with Pacquiao. It remains the biggest payday of his career. While it is not chump change, it’s less than a pound-for-pound-level champion who has repeatedly produced exciting and dramatic fights deserves.

Pacquiao will challenge THE RING world junior welterweight champ Ricky Hatton on May 2. Both Pacquiao and Hatton are guaranteed to make in the neighborhood of $12 million for the fight. It would be nice if Marquez could one day make half that much.

On a media conference call last week, Marquez’s promoter Richard Schaefer said that the Hatton-Pacquiao winner was definitely a target for the lightweight champ, but the CEO of Golden Boy Promotions also brought up the winners of four 135-pound matchups that are part of an up-coming Golden Boy-promoted tournament-style card as potential challengers to Marquez.

While it’s likely that a dynamic young KO artist like Edwin Valero or a wild rugged brawler like Jorge Barrios – both participants on the April 4 pay-per-view card – would produce a fight-of-the-year candidate battle if matched with Marquez, neither contender would bring in the kind of mainstream attention that would earn the lightweight champ the $2.5 million-$5 million payday he deserves.

And after beating the likes of Barrera, Casamayor and Diaz, what would beating Valero or Barrios prove?

The only fight that matters to Marquez – and the only challenge for the lightweight champ that his fans and his promoter should push for – is the winner of the Hatton-Pacquiao fight.

Like Marquez, the winner of that May 2 showdown is a real champion. And unlike Floyd Mayweather, who is constantly mentioned as the “reward” for the Hatton-Pacquiao winner despite his being retired, Marquez would actually make for an entertaining scrap with either fighter.

Hatton-Marquez would probably be a 140-pound version of Marquez’s barnburner with Diaz. Fans already know what happens when Pacquiao and Marquez are in the same ring. Fireworks. Fighting at 140 pounds shouldn’t change a thing about that magnificent matchup – except one.

A third Pacquiao-Marquez bout would be that rare matchup between two fighters who have earned the right to be called “great” while they are still at the top of their game.

And it would finally garner Marquez that “great” payday that he’s more than earned.

Doug Fischer can be reached at [email protected]

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