Marquez feeling privileged to fight on Mexican Independence Day weekend

Cue the band: Juan Manuel Marquez, center, hopes to make beautiful noise and delight his fans on Saturday. Tom Hogan/Golden Boy

In the United States, Americans celebrate the 1776 Declaration of Independence from Great Britain on Fourth of July weekend. Fireworks are usually the highlight of a fun, relaxing holiday.

Mexicans celebrate their 1810 independence from Spain -- Grito de Dolores -- every Sept. 16. That weekend also traditionally includes fireworks, but usually of the fistic variety.

Year after year, you can count on an important fight to take place on the second weekend of September, and it almost always will involve a Mexican star.

"It was an honor for me to fight on this weekend because I knew that all Mexican fans were watching very closely," said Marco Antonio Barrera, one of Mexico's greatest fighters. "It has always been an important date that belongs to most important Mexican fighters."

It will be no different Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET) when Juan Manuel Marquez, one of Mexico's most decorated active fighters, moves up to lightweight to challenge world champion Joel Casamayor of Cuba in an effort to win a title in his third division at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Mexicans and Mexican-Americans celebrating the holiday are expected to descend on Vegas for the weekend with thousands coming especially for the fight. Marquez, who long fought in the shadow of more famous countrymen Erik Morales and Barrera, can join them as three-division champions by defeating Casamayor. Morales, Barrera and Julio Cesar Chavez, Mexico's greatest champion, are the only fighters from Mexico to win titles in three divisions.

Marquez is motivated to join that elite group, but he's also aware of the importance of fighting on the weekend of his country's national holiday.

"It is an honor and privilege to fight on a date that is so special for all Mexicans," said Marquez, who defended his featherweight title on the holiday weekend in 2004. "All Mexicans, Mexican-Americans and boxing fans in general are eagerly awaiting this fight and I look forward to fighting with pride for all of them."

Although Marquez is coming off a controversial junior lightweight championship loss to Manny Pacquiao on March 13 and Casamayor scored a 10th-round knockout of Michael Katsidis a week later to retain the lightweight championship, Casamayor is almost a 4-1 betting underdog at the MGM.

The Cuban star likes it that way. He figures it will make a victory on Marquez's important weekend that much sweeter.

"Juan's a great fighter. He's won [two] weight class championships," Casamayor said. "It's not only a chance for him, but it's a chance for me mentally because it's also Mexican Independence Day. Remember, we're going in Sept. 13 as the underdog and it's important to a lot of Mexican fans.

"It's going to be a great fight because Juan is a great fighter and everyone knows I'm a great fighter. And not only is Juan a fighter but he's also smart in the ring just like me. It's going to be a challenge, its going to be a great challenge. It's my first pay-per-view [main] event. I feel it is long overdue and I'm very excited to fight on Mexican Independence Day against a great Mexican fighter.

"I'm like a little kid in a candy shop. I'm very, very happy and I'm honored to be fighting with the great Mexican fighter."

Chango Carmona is believed to be the boxer who began the tradition of having a big fight on the holiday weekend when he stopped Mando Ramos in the eighth round to win the lightweight title in Los Angeles on Sept. 15, 1972.

"For me it was very special and so important to fight on Sept. 15 in 1972," he said. "I remember shouting for joy after I beat Ramos and captured a world title in front of all the Mexican fans in the Los Angeles Coliseum. That win wasn't just for me, it was for Mexico as well."

Since then, many of Mexico's brightest stars, including Salvador Sanchez, Ruben Olivares, Barrera and Morales, have headlined on the weekend. But Chavez owned it for many years. He won his first world title Sept. 13, 1984, stopping Mario Martinez in the eighth round for a junior lightweight belt in Los Angeles.

Each year from 1991 to 1995, Chavez fought a significant championship fight on the weekend. Among those bouts were some of his biggest: a heavily hyped showdown with Puerto Rico's Hector Camacho in 1992, the controversial draw with Pernell Whitaker in 1993, and his 1994 rematch with Meldrick Taylor.

"I feel proud to have been part of fights that gave fans such great memories while celebrating Mexico's independence, such as my fight against Meldrick Taylor," Chavez said. "That night, I was filled with great pride knowing that all of my people were watching and that the fight was taking place as part of the celebration of Mexican independence."

Mexican-American Oscar De La Hoya, whose Golden Boy Promotions is putting on Saturday's card, assumed the mantle from Chavez as the fighter who would take over the weekend beginning with his 1997 domination of Camacho in a welterweight title defense.

The following year, De La Hoya took the weekend from Chavez for good by stopping him in the eighth round of their rematch.

De La Hoya would go on to headline the weekend many times in some of his biggest fights, including against Felix Trinidad, Fernando Vargas, Shane Mosley (in their rematch) and Bernard Hopkins.

Always proud of his Mexican heritage -- he held up both American and Mexican flags when accepting an Olympic gold medal for the United States in 1992 -- De La Hoya said the weekend has special meaning to him.

"I have always felt great pride fighting during Mexican Independence Day weekend," De La Hoya said. "It gave me extra motivation because of the importance of this date for Mexicans and those of Mexican descent all over the world. There is extra pressure to perform on this weekend and I know Marquez is going to want to prove he's the best on Sept. 13. I know he's going to come out strong and show he's tough, just like Chavez and I did when we fought on this special day."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.