Juan Manuel Lopez-Rafael Marquez highlights
Two veterans, two different expectations, two very different results.
Glen Johnson, 41 years old and with 66 professional fights in his ledger, was the betting favorite to upend relative youngster Allan Green.
Rafael Marquez, a mere 35 years old and with only 44 bouts to his credit, was a huge underdog in his title fight against Juan Manuel Lopez.
Johnson, at 168 pounds, was fighting seven pounds lighter than he had fought in a decade; Marquez, at 126, was eight pounds above his bantamweight glory days, and four pounds heavier than he was for the epic first three fights in his incredible series with Israel Vazquez.
Those Vazquez fights were arguably the principal reason why many fight week observers at the MGM Grand figured Lopez would retain his featherweight belt. Few modern fighters have engaged in the debilitating wars Marquez has experienced, let alone three in succession; and although he dominated the fourth and final contest against Vasquez, the feeling was that, faced with a younger, stronger opponent, the Mexican would not have enough left in his arsenal.
Johnson, legendary for his conditioning and dedication, was in contrast facing an opponent who had faltered, and badly, each time he had been in the spotlight. And so it proved again on Saturday, Green initially circling and jabbing, keeping Johnson away from him until the Road Warrior began landing hard right hands over Green's slightly lazy jab, cracking him behind the ear and wobbling him. From that point on, Green began throwing punches with no greater intent than to prevent Johnson from hurting him, while Johnson ripped punches to Green's head and body.
To the amazement of journalists ringside, the official scores were just about even after seven when Johnson, who seemed to be landing his right hand at will, did so again at the beginning of the eighth, and Green dropped to the canvas, helped by another right hand that brought the bout to a definitive conclusion.
The excitement of that finish had pulses racing in anticipation of another exciting clash in the main event, but after three rounds it appeared that Lopez was in complete control of his more accomplished opponent. It wasn't that the Puerto Rican was doing anything of particular note, but he was doing enough, and Marquez seemed unable to do anything. Each punch he ate seemed to shake him, his balance seemed not quite as it should be, his reflexes appeared a beat too slow.
And then, in the fourth round, a booming right hand threatened to turn it all around. Lopez looked shaky as Marquez turned it on, and the champion was arguably saved by referee Tony Weeks' decision to take time out to admonish him and deduct a point for hitting on the break. In the fifth, Lopez looked diminished; his punches had lost their snap, and Marquez kept coming. But by the sixth, the younger man had recovered, and from then it was one-way traffic, Lopez pounding Marquez mercilessly until, after the eighth, the older man retired, claiming an injured shoulder but looking for all the world like a Hall of Fame fighter who had reached the end of a well-traveled road.
The Nevada State Athletic Commission refused to allow Marquez to attend the postfight press conference, sending him instead to the hospital. Johnson, in contrast, still perspiring slightly from his exertions but unmarked by combat, was smiling broadly.
"All I do is work hard, stay dedicated and do my best," he said humbly to ESPN.com. "Allan Green is a friend of mine. I didn't want to hurt him any more than I have to."
Presented with an opportunity, Johnson -- conqueror of Roy Jones, loser of far too many close and controversial decisions on his opponents' home turf -- had seized it with both hands, and specifically a booming overhand right. For Marquez, despite the calls from his camp for a rematch, there is a sense that the journey is almost over.
For Johnson, it feels as if the journey has barely begun.