It takes a lot to silence a Mexican fight fan and cause his flag to waver ever so slightly. But that was the case after Manny Pacquiao sent one of Mexico's finest to the canvas three times in a highly anticipated Las Vegas prizefight.
Almost unfathomably, the Filipino dervish scored knockdown after knockdown with effortless precision, and his countrymen roared while the Mexican contingent audibly gasped.
But Juan Manuel Marquez got up. Three times down, three times up, and when the bell sounded to end the first round at the MGM Grand on May 8, 2004, the Mexico City native didn't look for the exit. He wanted a chance to reverse his fortunes.
And he did, putting on a counterpunching clinic as he won the majority of the remaining 11 rounds on most observers' scorecards. At the end of 12 rounds, the judges disagreed, ruling a draw in a fight in which Marquez's early deficit was too much to overcome.
That should have been the dawn of a new day for Marquez, a talented technician who had fallen short of the adulation showered upon his countrymen Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera despite his obvious talent and the two world featherweight titles to his name (Marquez kept the WBA and IBF belts after the draw).
But it wasn't. His trainer/manager, Nacho Beristain, wound up losing a $750,000 payday for a rematch with the "Pac Man," and then Marquez went on to win two dreadfully boring 12-round title defenses before being inexplicably stripped of his IBF belt in August 2005 when a minimum $50,000 purse bid wasn't reached for a mandatory title defense against Phafrakorb Rakkiatgym.
Marquez's own promoter at the time, Top Rank, didn't even bid on the bout. With the IBF title gone, the WBA removed Marquez's status as "super champion," leaving him without that belt as well and forcing him to travel to Indonesia in March to fight "regular" WBA champion Chris John to regain the crown. Marquez would eventually lose a controversial decision to the hometown hero for little over $30,000. For Marquez, his whole career was captured in those two lost years.
"In a way, it does frustrate you," Marquez said Monday morning through translator and co-promoter Jaime Quintana. "But I've been through many things and they made me mature. At the beginning, they didn't give me the chance to fight [then-WBO champion] Naseem Hamed and there were many things after that -- changing promoters, having my two belts taken away for no reason -- and I overcame those things and it made me get stronger physically and mentally. You've got to take it, but you also have to learn from those experiences."
Apparently, at 33, Marquez has finally learned what it takes to make it at this level. He signed with Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions and Quintana's Romanza Promotions, got some traction by impressively dispatching tough Terdsak Jandaeng in seven rounds to gain the interim WBO featherweight championship, and on Saturday he will headline an HBO Boxing After Dark bout against Filipino Jimrex Jaca at the Dodge Arena in Hidalgo, Texas.
"A lot of things made me think and made me prepare a lot better," Marquez said. "You have to learn from these things and now this is a new beginning for me. I would like to take things differently and what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and that's the way I see life. Every day, I learn new things and now I know I can't take any chances or give any advantages to anybody. I'm gonna do my job in that ring every time I go out there."
"Pacquiao is being told that he's the best, but to prove that, he needs to fight me because I am also the best, and I think we need to fight each other."
-- Juan Manuel Marquez, on Manny Pacquiao
Marquez has only seen one tape of the 27-2-1 Jaca, who he describes as "a pretty strong boxer," but frankly, what happens on Saturday is only of importance if Jaca can pull of the upset. In the great scheme of things, Marquez is favored to win, and if he wins impressively, talk will inevitably center on a rematch with Pacquiao, who sent another Mexican standout to the canvas three times -- Morales -- on Saturday, winning via a third-round KO.
"Manny Pacquiao, right now, is at his best and he's on a roll now," said Marquez (45-3-1, 34 KOs). "Erik Morales got in good condition, but what I can tell you is that the body is like a machine and you need to take care of it right. He paid the price of doing whatever he did to his body -- losing 40 pounds or whatever he lost. The body can't take that and you saw that this weekend. Pacquiao is being told that he's the best, but to prove that, he needs to fight me because I am also the best, and I think we need to fight each other."
Former editor of The Ring magazine and current Showtime boxing analyst Steve Farhood agrees.
"Marquez has to beat Barrera or Pacquiao. Is he the best featherweight in the world? Yes. Can he become a superstar or be thought of in the same light as the other two Mexicans [Morales and Barrera]? Not without fighting Barrera or Pacquiao."
And therein lies the problem. At 126 pounds, Marquez has already beat recently stripped IBF champion Orlando Salido (in excruciatingly boring fashion) and lost to WBA titlist John (who has only strayed from his native Indonesia twice in his career -- to Japan and Australia), with WBC boss Rudy Lopez not only unknown but a fighter managed by Beristain. As for the true champion at 126 pounds -- WBO beltholder Scott Harrison -- his out of the ring issues, which included a recent jail stay in Spain, make it fairly obvious that he won't be ready, willing, or able to fight Marquez anytime soon. So the only big fights for Marquez are at 130 pounds, though he insists that he will remain at 126 until those fights materialize.
"Is [Marquez] the best featherweight in the world? Yes. Can he become a superstar or be thought of in the same light as the other two Mexicans [Morales and Barrera]? Not without fighting Barrera or Pacquiao."
-- Steve Farhood, Showtime boxing analyst
"My priority right now is to fight at 126," he said. "But if my promoters, Romanza Boxing and Golden Boy Promotions, offer me big fights at 130 against Pacquiao or Barrera, I would definitely move up. But as of right now, there's no reason to move up -- I'm fighting at 126."
Barrera is also one of the partners in Golden Boy Promotions and the leading candidate among fight fans to take on Pacquiao next in an attempt to avenge a 2003 stoppage loss to the Filipino superstar. He's also where the money is. Fighting Marquez will be nowhere as lucrative for Pacquaio, and much more risky, as he has given him more problems than any fighter in recent memory. Sure, Pacquiao lost a close decision to Morales in 2005, but that was a fight which split fight observers. There was little question in the Marquez-Pacquiao bout that without losing the first round 10-6 on two scorecards and 10-7 on the third, Marquez would have won. So what's the secret to stopping the "Pac Man"?
"There's a secret, but I can't tell it," Marquez said with a chuckle. "What you need to do is just come prepared for a fight and do that 24 hours a day -- be a fighter, be a professional, train hard, and do great work in the ring to get those results."
It sounds simple enough, but everything that happens outside the ropes isn't so easy to explain, and it can be perplexing as to why Marquez doesn't have a place with his fellow Mexicans in the hearts of fight fans.
"If you go by just results, especially the fights with Pacquiao, why shouldn't Juan Manuel be considered in the same class as Barrera and Morales?" Farhood asked. "And he's not. He's clearly not. I would go as far to say that they're superstars, and he's barely a star. Did it hurt him that he got knocked down three times by Pacquiao? Yes, because that's all everybody ever remembers from the fight. No one remembers Rounds 2 through 12, which he dominated.
"Some fighters are doomed to be remembered as much for the fights they don't have as they do have," Farhood continued. "I often think of what a fight with Riddick Bowe would have done for Lennox Lewis' career. Did he ever really recover? I don't think so, as great as we now think of him. Mike McCallum's another perfect example. He never fought [Roberto] Duran or [Thomas] Hearns. Great fighter? Yes, but you remember him as much for the fights he didn't get. Marquez seems destined for the same thing."
And that's unfortunate, because many simply overlook Marquez's talent and see him as the fighter who lost what appeared to be boxing's golden lottery ticket. He takes it all gracefully, though.
"Life without problems is no life," Marquez said. "Being happy all the time, I don't consider that life, and it's impossible. You have to learn from the negative experiences and try to be happy. There's nothing else you can do. I'm positive and I'm gonna keep boxing because it gives me a lot of satisfaction. Maybe it hasn't given me the money I was expecting, but I have a family, I got what I need, and there are a lot of things to come."