What's there not to like about Juan Manuel Marquez?
Heading into last Saturday night's HBO double header, the Mexican great Marquez - despite being a 38 year old blown up lightweight - was considered to be one of the absolute best fighters boxing has on offer. Nothing has changed. While his opponent, Sergiy Fedchenko, was considered a good fighter with good skills, he was not considered to be of any real threat to a genuinely great fighter. This proved to be the case as Marquez - competing at 140 pounds - secured a wide, unanimous decision by using his vast array of skills to dominate his younger challenger. Marquez is now the interim WBO junior welterweight champion. Because Juan Manuel is held in such high regard, many were disappointed that he did not close the show and finish the fight within the distance. Despite the bout not being thrilling, Marquez still did what he was supposed to do - he kept himself in the winners bracket, and looked good doing it.
The same however, cannot be said of Brandon Rios, who not only failed to make the lightweight limit before his contest with Cuban-born Richard Abril, but also failed in showing anything in the ring that backed up many experts claims that he was one of boxing's best prospects. In all honesty, I believe Brandon Rios failed to win the fight. There have been mixed reviews of Rios' performance - which is reflected across the three scorecards handed in by the judges. Adelaide Bird had it 117-111 for Abril, while judges Glen Trowbridge and Jerry Roth both scored the fight for Rios - 115-113 and 116-112 respectively. How on earth three "experts " can share such contrasting opinions is almost beyond belief. Remember, judges are thought of as being better than you and I at analysing fights. It's times like this when something objective needs to be introduced into round scoring, as opposed to leaving round scoring to be the subject of opinion. But that's a debate for another time].
It won't be too long before we start hearing that Rios' lackluster performance was a result of him being dehydrated, or that the official should have deducted points from Abril for holding. Nonsense. The weight didn't beat Rios, nor did the referee. Rios was simply beaten by a better practitioner of the sweet science.
It was evident from the start that this was going to be a bad night for Brandon Rios; he had an opponent that was not going to just stand right in front of him. Abril used his superior height, reach and better footwork to control the pace and distance throughout the fight. Rios had no answer for Abril's jab or good defense in close. The reason Abril was not deducted points for holding was because Abril wasn't holding. Take a look at the fight again, Abril neutralized Rios' left hook in close by giving him nothing to hit apart from his left shoulder - standing side-on with his right elbow protecting his torso and his right hand protecting his chin, a Floyd Mayweather dynamic. There were occasions when the crowd seemed to be yelling for the official to pull them apart. Again, take a look at the fight. On those occasions, Rios still has one arm free which means there is no need for Vic Drakulich to get involved in the action - the ability to tie up is an important part of boxing. Besides, there was no more holding in this fight than there was in the second and third Ali-Frazier bouts. I've never heard anyone ever complain about Ali's tactics and excessive holding in that fight, have you?
Richard Abril was not only better from the outside, but he was better than Rios on the inside too.
In the end, the fight was somewhat reminiscent of Gene Tunney's winning effort over Jack Dempsey in 1927 - the swarmer kept at a distance and then neutralised in close. But make no mistake, Richard Abril is no Gene Tunney, and Brandon Rios is no Jack Dempsey - this bout was not so much about Richard Abril's skills, but about Brandon Rios' lack of. And this is why I have no interest in seeing a fight between Brandon Rios and Juan Manuel Marquez. Don't get me wrong, Richard Abril is a clever fighter, who managed to frustrate Rios. Marquez on the other hand, is a great fighter, who would likely knock Brandon Rios out.
Let's think about styles for a moment, and in particular how Juan Manuel Marquez operates. A lot has been discussed with regards to Manny Pacquiao's stylistic transformation. While it is impressive, he is still in essence, the same offensive fighter - just a more refined version. Marquez on the other hand, has gone full circle - once a cautious defensive minded fighter who relied almost exclusively on his counterpunching ability, Marquez is now possibly the best offensive fighter in the sport as a result of his near-perfect combinations and boxing acumen. Watching Marquez in full flow - placing his punches around an opponent’s guard with precision and accuracy is one of THE best sights in boxing. I'm of the belief that he, along with Joe Louis and Julio Cesar Chavez, is the greatest combination puncher in boxing history. Sure, others have been faster like Meldrick Taylor and Hector Camacho, but none come close to matching those three in terms of the effectiveness and variation of punches. Marquez mixes them up - hooks, uppercuts and straights to the body and head just about better than anyone. Marquez' style would be a recipe for disaster for Brandon Rios.
Brandon Rios can only fight one way - straight ahead without applying head movement or utilising a jab. Against Richard Abril, who mainly threw single shots as a way to maintain distance, Rios was able to avoid heavy fire. This would not be the case against Marquez. Take a look at Marquez' most destructive nights where he has inflicted the most punishment on his opponents - Terdsak Jandaeng, Juan Diaz and Michael Katsidis. They were all fighters who applied relentless pressure on Marquez by attempting to walk him down. Fighters who come in looking to get Marquez into a brawl all suffer the same fate - they get knocked out. Marquez has never been stopped in 61 fights, because of his superb combination of offense and defense. The fighters who have success against Marquez are fighters who can make Marquez take the lead. Take a look at Floyd Mayweather. Apart from being much bigger and faster, Mayweather never really pressed the attack until late in the fight, he allowed Marquez to press the attack. Even this past weekend against Fedchenko, Marquez was not at his absolute best as a result of his opponent not getting into a firefight with him. Marquez gets the better of most exchanges [even against Pacquiao] because of the correctness of his technique when punching. When other fighters become ragged during exchanges, Marquez stays neat and precise - his 65% knockout ratio, which is higher than Manny Pacquiao's, is a testament to his punch accuracy.
I could see Rios probably touching Marquez more than he did Abril, because Marquez would be putting more emphasis into his offense, but ultimately, this would be his downfall. I believe during the exchanges, Marquez' straighter punches would override Rios' wider punches. Even at 38 years-old, Marquez would be the more dangerous fighter in the fight. Every punch is placed with maximum effect from Marquez.
Marquez would be too methodical and clinical for a crude, one dimensional fighter like Rios. Rios' inability to cut off the ring effectively, and move his head on the way in would cost him dearly in a fight with Marquez. This type of plodding pressure fighter plays directly into Marquez' counterpunching hands.
Consequently, at least there would not be any controversial decisions in the end between Rios and Marquez. The judges would be made irrelevant long before the final bell.
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Who will win? Wladimir Klitschko or Tyson Fury?