We keyboard tappers have no problem getting indignant, and pointing out the wretched ways and means of the suits that broker power in the fight game. But never let it be said that we aren’t as ready with a sentence laden with compliments and hurrahs when the situation calls for it, OK?
On Saturday night, fight fans used to being asked to absorb altogether too frequent raids on their wallets (cough cough last Saturday¹s $45 confidence building session for Cotto and Pavlik) if they want to catch their favorite pugilist in the prime of their fighting life will be able to give the wallet a break, and tune in to see the world’s two (or three or four) best lightweights have it.
OK, the wallet doesn’t totally get the night off; you need to be a subscriber to HBO to watch Juan Manuel Marquez, the Ring magazine/Golden Boy Promotions titleholder, take on the IBO’s champ, Juan Diaz. The WBA and WBO crowns will be up for grabs, as well.
The not yet grizzled Marquez is 35, but he hasn¹t yet seen the need to dial back on the caliber of foe, or switch to the role of trialhorse, which is the fate of his contemporaries, Marco Antonio Barrera (age 35, four months younger than JMM) and Erik Morales (age 32). His record says he has lost four times, and won 49 outings, but you have to go back to 1999, and a fight against Freddie Norwood, to find a loss that isn’t hotly disputed. JMM fans plug up message boards to this day, saying he deserved better than a draw and loss in his 2004 and 2008 tussles with Manny Pacquiao. His in ring work says that he really hasn’t lost anything from his fastball, as compared to the JMM of say, 2002/3, when he could’ve been jostling for P4P status in the eyes of the devoted Mexican fight fan, but was instead kept on a back burner, fighting the likes of Robbie Peden and Manny Medina. Questionable management and promotional decisions kept the technically adept hitter from reaching our P4P top 20 radar before 2005 or so, but that situation has been remedied.
As a Golden Boy fighter, Marquez (49-4, 36 KOs) is well positioned to maximize his earning power in these waning days of his career arc. The fighter himself betrayed no worries that his late-inning resurgence will come to a grinding halt against the volume punching Texan Diaz. Not even though the fight takes place in Houston, in an arena packed with 75% Diaz fans?
“It’s better late than never,” he said Tuesday about his recent emergence, through interpreter Eric Gomez. “I’ve proven I can compete very well at high levels. I would’ve loved the opportunity to fight (the other Mexican legends). Something always kept me down. Something always came up. Against Marco Antonio, it would have been the same ten years ago as it was two years ago (he won an easy UD12 in March 2007 vs. MAB). There was a reason Prince Naseem didn’t want to face me, a reason Top Rank always protected Morales.”
Regarding Diaz (34-1, 17 KOs), “I feel no worries,” said Marquez, “with neutral judges, as long they do their job, and score what they see in the ring. As for his foe’s chops, “Diaz’ style is probably the most difficult style I’ve faced.”
Marquez’ trainer Nacho Beristain also spoke glowingly of Diaz. “He fights every minute of every round, and if he could fight during the rest period he would,” Beristain said. “It will be a very difficult, very violent fight.”
Quite right Nacho; TSS agrees and is hoping to see a FOY contender, with the ultra-busy Diaz forcing JMM to be more of a trader than he’d typically like to be.
Marquez said that he’ll exit Houston with some Diaz fans aboard his bandwagon after he displays his wares and that he’ll take some of the lessons learned in his losses into the ring with Diaz. His 2004 loss to Chris John taught him to “be strong mentally,” he said, and to “win convincingly, score convincingly.”
Looking beyond Saturday, if and when he wins, Marquez might be able to take on the winner of the May 2 Hatton/Pacquiao beef, said Schaefer, and the same goes for Diaz. JMM also said he’d be open to meeting John again, though John seems destined to stay and defend his turf at featherweight for the foreseeable future, especially if his Saturday title defense against Rocky Juarez on the JMM/Diaz undercard goes to plan.
JMM took his cap off to Diaz, who he described as a “very smart fighter, a strong volume puncher.” Listeners who were on the call checking to see if perhaps Marquez wasn’t distracted by another crack at Pacquiao, instead of the task at hand, were probably assuaged that he is focused on Diaz.
“Hopefully there is a future for a third fight with Pacquaio,” JMM did allow.
A win over Diaz will give Marquez a pretty strong hold—arguably--on the No. 2 spot, pound for pound, and will elevate him too on the P4P Mexican Fight Icons list. He said he wants to make his Mexican fans proud, and feels that the dearth of marquee Mexican warriors is merely a phase.
Diaz, who will obtain a BA in May, and is looking forward to law school, then chatted with the press. He says this bout is the one he’s been waiting for. TSS agrees; Diaz has been put off track with promotional woes, as a pairing with Don King didn’t go smoothly. King and Diaz parted ways after Diaz lost to Nate Campbell in what could’ve been his signature win in September 2006. Diaz, at age 25 ten years younger than Marquez, said he learned tough lessons from that loss to Campbell.
“I’ve definitely learned,” he said. “The difference is, I’ve matured. No one’s perfect. I learned that no matter what’s going on outside, the circumstances shouldn’t let that distract from the way I fight. The difference is, in Cancun, against Campbell, everyone expected me to win. This time there are a lot of doubters. I’m the opponent, I’m the challenger.” Bottom line, he got caught up in the promotional goings on, and contracts, and money, instead of the fighting. Also, he didn’t accept Plan B when Plan A wasn’t working against the tricky vet Campbell, and vows neither will be an issue as he counts down to Marquez.
Diaz has been pegged as the student-boxer, and frankly one has to wonder if that news hook as always benefited his career. Boxing isn’t something that can be dabbled in if one expects to be a champion with staying power. Diaz says his head is on straight now, though, 100%. “It’s my time to shine,” he said. “I¹ve been the student and haven’t been considered the top pound for pound guy. With this victory, the biggest of my career, I will graduate from student to teacher.”
Diaz said also that he sees himself as a Mexican, though he was born in the US, though his parents are Mexican natives. A win over Marquez, he said, should put him on the radar screens of Mexican fight fans looking for a new batch of heroes to worship. He’ll be the underdog, though, and TSS thinks he won’t have an easy time making his voluminous tosses stick to Marquez.
Matchmaker/analyst Johnny Bos, who is once again doing what he does best, making matches, now in Florida for Starfight Productions (they have a card on March 27th in Tampa), thinks Marquez will be too technically sound for Diaz.
“I think Marquez is too much for Diaz, unless he turns into an old man overnight,” Bos said. “It’s a case of, Marquez is too much for Diaz. Pacquiao is the best P4P in world, and I thought Marquez beat him twice. If Diaz was big puncher, I’d give him a better shot. The question is, if he finds him or not, can he take Marquez’ shots? He’s a tremendous volume puncher but does he hit hard enough to hurt him. He’s a game son of a gun, with good boxing ability, and he might switch up, switch to the boxing, he could fool everyone, and outhustle Marquez on speed. It’s not like I don’t give him a prayer. Make me pick, it’s Marquez by TKO.”
SPEEDBAG Count JMM among those who didn’t expect to see Pacquiao force Oscar into a No Mas moment. JMM thought Oscar would be too big for Manny.
---Please allow me to belabor this point. Only in boxing do you have a situation like this...where a card is deemed less than prime, and isn't bid upon by a network. So instead of scrapping the card, or switching the participants so the card is deemed more marketable, promoters choose to keep the card afloat, and put it on pay per view. Compare it to a sweater that the Gap offers...the sweater is cut weird, and people don't dig the color. No one buys that sweater. Instead of putting it on the sale rack, marking it down, the Gap jacks up the price, in bullheaded fashion, and asks Gap fans to buy the unpopular sweater. I guess the analogy isn't perfect, and doesn't get into why we get saddled with crappy PPVs. Fight fans are addicts, I guess, and will pay dearly to get their fix. But c'mon..throw us recession ravaged addicts a bone, and lower the price of the PPVs, will ya???
Who will win #HOPKINSKOVALEV