No other sport or entertainment industry compares to prizefighting. When its participants retire it’s a time for celebration of their noble contributions.
Every year a few even give their lives for the sport.
Across the globe three professional boxers hung up their gloves this past week, two from the island nation of Japan and one from Mexico. Two countries that when mixed together in the prize ring seem to produce nitroglycerine.
Juan Manuel Marquez (pictured), Takashi Uchiyama and Takashi Miura announced their retirements almost simultaneously. All three provided some of the most spectacular prize fights seen in the past 20 years.
Japanese warriors have long shown a willingness to engage against the best of the best. One of the first professional bouts I ever witnessed in person was in the late 1960s when a fighter out of Tokyo traveled to Los Angeles and defeated a local fighter. It set a high standard for me to this day.
Two recent Japanese warriors deserve to be honored for their contributions.
Uchiyama, 37, began fighting at the late age of 25 in the famous Korakuen Hall arena in Tokyo. By his third fight the tall super featherweight was already engaged in eight round bouts. The fighter from Kasukabe, Saitama showed an early ability to end his fights with finality and earned the name “KO Dynamite.”
The rangy fighter spent his entire career fighting in his native land and by his second pro year he fought Nedal Hussein for the OPBF title and won by knockout. Three years later, in January 2010, he challenged WBA champion Juan Carlos Salgado of Mexico for the world title. It took 12 rounds but Uchiyama emerged the victor by knockout in a battle of undefeated super featherweights that night in Tokyo.
Uchiyama would hold on to the title until April 2016.
Among those challengers defeated by Uchiyama were fellow retiree Miura, Bryan Vasquez, and Jaider Parra. The only fighter who could defeat Uchiyama was Panama’s Jezreel Corrales who currently holds the title. They met twice and twice Corrales emerged the winner.
Also retiring is Takashi Miura, 33, who reigned as the WBC super featherweight titlist. His first professional bout took place in Yokohama in 2003. But he soon moved to Tokyo. Things weren’t always rosy for Miura who endured defeats in 2007 and 2011. The real beginning was in 2013 when WBC champion Gamaliel Diaz of Mexico arrived. Miura overwhelmed Diaz and knocked down the Mexican fighter four times before the fight was stopped. Miura was finally a world champion.
In his first defense Miura faced another Mexican slugger in Sergio “Yeyo” Thompson in Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico in August 2013. It was the hometown of Thompson.
It was a hot humid day in Cancun and even hotter inside the bull ring where the championship fight was held. The bull ring was located in the middle of the town and had a shell covering on the top of the arena. Despite air being able to flow inside it seemed to trap the moisture and heat. It was stifling heat and difficult to breathe.
Miura was facing a fighter in Thompson who was accustomed to the climate and had the entire crowd rooting for him. It was Miura against the world.
Thompson never tried to be cute with defense and came firing away from the opening bell. Miura obliged and the pair swung away ignoring the intense heat. In the second round Miura dropped Thompson. Both would not quit but Miura caught Thompson again in the sixth round, and the fight continued. After expending so much energy trying to end the fight in earlier rounds Miura slowed. Thompson mounted a strong rally for the next two rounds and the Mexican fighter floored Miura. It really looked like the end for Miura. But somehow Miura found energy in that intense heat and clawed his way back to hear the final bell. Both looked exhausted and completely spent. Miura was the winner by unanimous decision in an intense almost death match. The Japanese warrior was taken out of the arena by stretcher with an oxygen mask over his face. It looked dire but he was simply exhausted. The fight was seen by many including our own publication as the “Fight of the Year” for 2013.
Miura was not done.
On November 2015, the Japanese southpaw accepted the challenge of Mexico’s Francisco “Bandito” Vargas at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Thankfully the fight was shown on HBO so millions were able to see the epic encounter.
Those in the arena were lucky enough to see in person one of the great battles and another example of what happens when Mexican fighters face Japanese fighters. The memory of it is still fresh.
Miura and Vargas did not need a warm up round; they came out blazing like two battleships trading broadsides. It was spectacular. Back and forth they traded and the momentum swung just as equally. When Vargas was sent to the floor he got up and fought even more furiously. When Miura was downed he got up and opened up even more. The crowd cheered at the end of each round. Around the eighth round Miura connected cleanly and it looked like the end for Vargas. Somehow he made it until the bell and most of the crowd expected the end was near for the Mexican warrior. When the bell rang for the ninth it was Vargas who suddenly caught Miura and down he went. The Japanese warrior beat the count but was looking bad. Vargas mustered up enough energy and unleashed a barrage of blows that forced the referee to stop the fight. A new champion had been declared but Miura was so close to winning. At the end of the year it was voted “Fight of the Year” for 2015. Once again Miura was a part of history.
Miura would fight three more times and win two before losing his last by decision to Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt. He finally decided after 14 years of providing some of the best fights ever seen to hang up the gloves.
The first time I saw Juan Manual Marquez was at the Inglewood Forum in January 1995. It was on the undercard of Melchor Cob Castro vs. Miguel Martinez. Cob Castro would win a light flyweight tournament final that night.
Many in the Mexican press had touted Marquez, who was making his California debut in a place famous for showcasing the best Mexican fighters. In the past the Forum had staged Ruben Olivares, Chucho Castillo, Chiquita Gonzalez, Julio Cesar Chavez and many others.
Marquez was different in many ways.
My first glimpse of Marquez: I saw this technical, almost machine-like fighter who fired precise punches and displayed flawless technique. But once I saw his trainer it became plain that it was the Nacho Beristain influence. All of Beristain’s fighters practice precision and timing.
Marquez was seen as a sure thing when he fought for the world title against WBA featherweight champion Freddie Norwood on September 1999 at the Mandalay Bay ballroom. It was on the same card Floyd Mayweather made his fourth defense of the WBC super featherweight title after taking it from Genaro “Chicanito” Hernandez.
The battle between Norwood and Marquez was a good intense battle that lasted the distance. Any time a Marquez fight went to a decision it was controversial. This fight ended with questions as the southpaw Norwood kept the title in a very close but slow moving battle.
That loss didn’t stop Marquez of course. In 2003, against fellow Mexican Manuel “Manteca” Medina, the Mexico City craftsman defeated Tijuana’s Medina to lift the vacant IBF featherweight title.
In 2004, the Mexican sharpshooter would begin one of the world’s most famous duels against Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao. All of their four encounters were mesmerizing and controversial except for the finale when Marquez stopped Pacquiao with a one-punch knockout.
It was the only one of their four fights to end before 12 rounds. Marquez fans in Las Vegas erupted in partying for hours and hours after that clash in December 2012. Nobody wanted to sleep that night.
Marquez always displayed a cool method of analyzing and adapting whenever he fought or sparred. I remember once running into him at Maywood Boxing Gym in Maywood, Calif. He sparred with several veterans and prospects that morning including one in particular who enjoyed inflicting pain on others.
At first the other fighter (who will remain nameless) was connecting with vicious body and head shots that caught Marquez flush. The Mexico City fighter was taking it easy until getting his face reddened by a right cross. For two rounds the other fighter was punishing Marquez with speedy combinations and vicious blows. Marquez then made a slight adjustment with his feet and suddenly those firing lanes were closed for the other fighter and opened for Marquez. The Mexico City boxer had discovered an angle and began busting up the other fighter with impunity. It was amazing to see the sweet science at its best.
That was Marquez.
He wasn’t the strongest nor the fastest but when it came to intelligence and fundamentals, Marquez was among the best there ever was out of Mexico. He was one of the trio of Mexican fighters that arrived around the same time. He, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales were the triumvirate that performed on a high level. Sadly, he never faced Erik Morales. And now his long career that spanned 24 years has ended as he nears 44.
“Today is a special day and a sad day for me because I am announcing my retirement. The injuries pushed me to make this decision. It hurts but I believe the right moment to put an end to my career has arrived,” Marquez told ESPN Deportes. “I have to listen to my body and it was telling me that the right moment to stop boxing is now.”
It’s a perfect statement that could be said for all three great boxers.
Thank you all Miura, Uchiyama and Marquez.
Marquez and Miura photos courtesy of Al Applerose
Uchiyama photo courtesy of WBA
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