By Ivan G. Goldman
Me, I’m not the suspicious sort. So when Juan Manuel Marquez is miraculously transformed at age 39 into a polished man of steel who can laugh off tremendous shots to the head, leap tall buildings at a single bound, and punch harder and faster than he did a dozen years ago, I applaud his accomplishments.
When I see Marquez trained by a man with a history of peddling PEDs (and ratting out his associates when the feds close in) I see no reason to surmise that maybe something in the medicine cabinet ain’t kosher. But alas, we live in a cynical world, one in which suspicious minds maintain that the ravages of time and biology can’t remarkably transform athletes into unassailable specimens of speed, power, and conditioning at such an advanced age unless unsavory methods are embraced. And I fear that the cruel, insidious weapon of malicious gossip may seek to diminish Marquez’s fantastic accomplishment.
Yes, human beings have lost significant lung capacity at age 39 and can no longer run as fast or as far or jump as high or recover from physical exertion nearly as quickly as they used to. But when Marquez, obsessed with defeating Manny Pacquiao, hired Angel “Memo” Heredia, a banned-chemicals merchant who escaped prosecution by informing on those close to him, I admired Marquez for rehabilitating a guy that trainer Freddie Roach cruelly labeled a piece of something I won’t repeat.
It’s really sweet that Heredia, who now calls himself Hernandez, has been welcomed back into the world of big-time sports after supplying steroids to track stars Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery, and Austin Gatlin and then working as an undercover informant to ensnare track coach Trevor Graham. What a nice guy he must be to stand up for justice like that by squealing on his pals. That was my reaction. And I see no reason to believe that the name change was a shady subterfuge. Why, it was no more questionable than Samuel Clemens calling himself Mark Twain.
But not everyone is quite so trusting and kind. In this wary age of ours, quite a few observers believe Lois Lane, for example, knows more than she’s saying, and that when oil companies hire third-rate scientists to tell us there’s no such thing as man-made climate change, well, maybe their findings ought to be looked into a little further, just, you know, to make sure.
There was no blood testing for this particular bout. Marquez said he would gladly submit to a test, but nasty critics note that Heredia had previously proved himself adept at having his athletes’ bloodstreams test pure as driven snow. (Can anyone define driven snow? How does it differ from undriven snow? But I digress.)
My policy is to believe what people tell me. When Mitt Romney said there was nothing wrong with a presidential candidate hiding money in Bermuda, Switzerland, and the Cayman Islands, I figured he knew more about it than I do. If anyone had asked me though, I wouldn’t have let him anywhere near Pacquiao’s dressing room. If you’ve been reading the papers, you know the guy’s luck has been running like the Titanic.
Backbiting observers noted it seemed a little odd that at his age Marquez could perform squats with weights the size of Volkswagens and not have to lie down for a week afterward. They took note that that first solid left hand from Pacquaio didn’t snap Marquez’s head back more than a millimeter or two. His neck seemed forged from the fires of metallurgy. Miraculous, I said. I won’t even repeat the comments of these relentless naysayers when they noticed the same phenomenon. And then of course that knockout punch at the end of round six that dropped Manny like a falling safe came quicker and harder than anything he threw in their previous 41 and a half rounds.
We live in a litigious age, one in which it’s safer, smarter, and easier to be open and credulous. Accept the tooth fairy. Embrace Santa. Congratulate fighters for their hard work and exemplary victories.
But allow me to point out that the world of boxing won’t be quite as unsuspecting. Even though we take Marquez at his word that his magical transformation was all on the up and up, fight guys won’t necessarily be quite so trusting. They now believe they have to cheat or lose. Expect the dogs of chemistry to run unleashed.
Ivan G. Goldman’s critically acclaimed novel The Barfighter is set in the world of boxing. Information HERE