Boxing, like politics, televangelists, and used car salesmen, inspires a healthy mix of cynicism and contempt. It is not always a justified reaction. But when Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Juan Manuel Marquez meet Saturday night at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, skeptics might find their pessimism spectacularly vindicated.
Nothing in boxing is a sure thing. Cuts, disqualifications, point deductions, injuries, lunatic judges, and one well-placed blow to the temple can change the course of a fight in a nanosecond. Unfortunately for Marquez, who as recently as three years ago was hitting the scale under the featherweight limit, it looks like he might need some kind of divine intervention to upset the odds against Floyd Mayweather Jr. If not for the fact that Mayweather has been out of the ring for nearly two years, this bout would be a travesty. Is it possible that Marquez can win? Yes. Is it possible that a skydiver whose parachute malfunctions in midair can survive a fall of 8, 000 feet? Yes, but there is not a skydiver in the world willing to take action on that prop.
A 3½ to 1 underdog on most books, Marquez will have to use every ounce of his considerable ability to overcome a talented opponent with a pronounced physical advantage. Marquez is a highly skilled technician who, at 36, appears to be slowing down. In recent fights he has taken serious punishment from Juan Diaz and Joel Casamayor before scoring dramatic knockouts, and was dropped early by Manny Pacquiao in their thrill-a-second shootout last year. It is a testament to his incredible resilience, guile, and skill that Marquez was able to defeat Diaz and Casamayor and go twelve rounds with Pacquiao on even terms. Still, Casamayor appeared to be at the end of the road when he fought Marquez and Diaz did not have the firepower to follow up on some of his advantages.
Since posting a virtual shutout against Rocky Juarez in 2007, Marquez, 50-4-1 (37), has been even or behind on points in each of his last three fights, or 6 out of 9 possible scorecards. In addition to being dropped by Pacquiao, he was unofficially floored by Marco Antonio Barrera in a bout marred by the officiating of accident prone Jay Nady. Marquez has also suffered cuts with increasing frequency over the last few years. At this point he might be past his peak.
On the other hand, Marquez has been active while Mayweather has been shooting dice in his gaudy Las Vegas mansion. By far the biggest concern for Mayweather, Sin City via Grand Rapids, Michigan, is his absence from the ring. But if you are going to come back from an extended layoff, it might as well be against a fighter whose best days were at featherweight and junior lightweight.
For his part, Mayweather will have to shed three pounds in order to reach the arbitrary limit of 144 pounds. Marquez, who has weighed in over the junior lightweight limit three times in his career, is the much smaller man and bulking up might slow him down or make him stronger or affect his stamina or give him the punching power of Rocky Marciano or make him speak in tongues. No one will know until fight time. These days Manny Pacquiao, by virtue of his TKO over Oscar De La Hoya last year, is the measuring stick for fighters who spring over weight classes like pole-vaulters. But Pacquiao is a speed demon with the added advantage of being a southpaw, and De La Hoya certainly miscalculated the entire affair, coming into the ring nearly two pounds under the welterweight limit in a folly that sent the smart money pouring in against him come fight night. Pacquiao is also younger than Marquez is and it is probably fair at this point to consider “Pac Man”
Marquez, who has won titles in three divisions, is as good as any fighter who has come along in the last decade or so. Ditto Mayweather. If two fighters are roughly equal in skill then the determinants are almost exclusively intangibles: heart, will, size, etc. The biggest intangible going into the fight appears to be size. But Mayweather is also a gifted fighter. An obnoxious blowhard with uncommon talent, Mayweather, 39-0 (27), has seen many of his accomplishments overshadowed by his radioactive personality. It is true that he has bypassed, for one reason or another, select challenges along the way, but his biggest wins–against Genaro Hernandez, Jose Luis Castillo, Diego Corrales, Oscar De La Hoya, and Ricky Hatton–are legitimate achievements. He has also beaten a slew of solid pros like Jesus Chavez, Carlos Hernandez, Angel Manfredy, and Goyo Vargas.
A prime Mayweather is faster, stronger, and more athletic than Marquez. The question here is whether the Mayweather who enters the ring on Saturday night is in top form after nearly two years away from boxing. Even before his recent hibernation, Mayweather appeared to be slipping a bit. Since moving up to welterweight, Mayweather, formerly a defensive whiz kid, has appeared easier to hit. This trend favors Marquez, a pinpoint combination puncher who wastes little and sees every opening when on the attack. Mayweather has, however, shown a solid chin over the years when he has been hit. The lone official knockdown scored against him came when he collapsed from agony after hurting his hand against Carlos Hernandez. Sharmba Mitchell landed flush shots from his southpaw stance in 2005, but Mayweather shook them off on his way to a violent 6th round TKO. Zab Judah appeared to drop Mayweather early but Richard Steele was in the middle of a catnap and
ruled it a slip. Otherwise, only “Chop Chop” Corley has managed to rattle him.
In other words, it is hard to imagine a scenario where Marquez knocks Mayweather out unless a sudden chin short-circuiting takes place. Marquez is a good puncher, at least at lightweight and below, but if Jose Luis Castillo could not stop Mayweather, it seems unlikely that Marquez, based on power alone, can. In his prime as a lightweight, Castillo had sledgehammers for fists, and Mayweather took dozens of his punches in a fight Castillo appeared to edge out. To his credit, Mayweather gave him an immediate rematch and won a clear unanimous decision. Twenty-four rounds with Jose Luis Castillo seems like a fair barometer with which to judge an ability to absorb punishment.
It is also hard to imagine Marquez outboxing Mayweather over twelve rounds. With a 5″ reach advantage to go with quicker hands and feet, Mayweather would only seem to benefit from a deliberate chess match. That leaves the option of outworking Mayweather, which is possible given how much time Mayweather spends on defense looking for counterpunching opportunities. Marquez may try to apply steady pressure, especially to the body, in hopes of simply being busier than his opponent. But Marquez, originally from Mexico City and now fighting out of Anaheim, California, may be in for a surprise if Mayweather decides to open up or exchange punches. Despite his reputation as a safety first practitioner, Mayweather, 32, has occasionally come out primed for mayhem over the years; Philip N’Dou, Sharmba Mitchell, and DeMarcus Corley all took significant thrashings from a revved up Mayweather. Against a smaller fighter, one he feels cannot do much damage, Mayweather might try to make a similar kind of impression on Saturday night. If so, he should be able to outpoint Marquez clearly or possibly force a late stoppage via cuts. Marquez appears to be terribly outgunned, but he is a professional fighter of fierce determination and pride. He will be one of the few to earn his millions at the MGM Grand Arena.