Marquez delights fans by dethroning Casamayor in 11 rounds

A view from below: Joel Casamayor, right, found himself looking up moments before being stopped by Juan Manuel Marquez. AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

LAS VEGAS -- On Mexican Independence Day weekend, Juan Manuel Marquez finally supplied the fireworks the heavily Mexican crowd was looking for.

He and Joel Casamayor had fought 10 relatively uneventful rounds, and the MGM Grand crowd of 7,882 was growing restless as the bout was looking more and more like a dud.

But Marquez, with some thunderous right hands, knocked Casamayor down twice in the 11th and scored a TKO to win the lineal lightweight world championship.

If anyone was on the fence about Marquez's Hall of Fame credentials, this victory ought to seal the deal.

Despite often being overshadowed by the more famous Mexican fighters of his era -- namely Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales -- Marquez need not take a back seat to them again.

He beat Barrera convincingly last year and, by gaining the lightweight championship to go with his previous reigns as junior lightweight and featherweight champion, he joined Barrera, Morales and the great Julio Cesar Chavez as Mexico's only three-division champions.

Casamayor started quickly and was effective with his left hand, but Marquez, a superb technician, was able figure him out and negate his left.

All the while, Marquez was steadily building steam. He cut Casamayor over the right eye in the fifth with a hard right. In the sixth, he landed more right hands and Casamayor was bleeding from the nose when the round was over.

Marquez (49-4-1, 36 KOs) had a big 10th, landing a clean right followed by a sharp left as the pro-Marquez crowd came to its feet. It was one of the few exciting moments of a tactical fight.

But the most exciting moment was yet to come. It happened in the 11th, when Marquez landed a right flush on Casamayor's chin and he went tumbling to his backside.

Casamayor (36-4-1, 22 KOs) beat the count, and the former 1992 Olympic gold medalist from Cuba and two-division champion used all of his savvy to try to survive.

He held on to Marquez for dear life, but he was able to push Casamayor off and go on the offensive again. While Marquez was throwing another flurry against a retreating Casamayor, another right hand landed on the chin and he went down as referee Tony Weeks immediately stopped the fight at 2:55.

"I figured this would be a tough fight to the end, but I was the more intelligent fighter," Marquez said. "I was watching out for myself and I knew how to neutralize his left hand. I threw a lot of combinations because I knew I couldn't win with just one punch at a time."

The victory set off a frenzied celebration among the Mexicans in the crowd as Marquez, 35, was carried around the ring on the shoulders of one of his handlers.

"We were prepared and we did what we had to do to win," Marquez said. "I wanted to fight for all my Mexican people, and I did it."

The victory also enabled Marquez to one-up rival Manny Pacquiao, the pound-for-pound king who eked out a controversial split decision against Marquez in March.

They had also fought to a controversial draw in a 2004 featherweight championship fight. After two brutally difficult fights with Marquez, Pacquiao would not give him a third.

Instead, he moved up to lightweight and beat David Diaz for a title in June, but Diaz was clearly the easiest mark of the various titleholders.

When Marquez elected to move up, he went after the recognized champion in Casamayor, a man who had withstood the best blows of heavy punchers Diego Corrales and Acelino "Popo" Freitas during his career and had never been stopped.

Marquez was proud to be the first.

"We moved up to get Pacquaio, but we'll fight whoever my promoter [Golden Boy] wants," Marquez said. "[Casamayor] was the best lightweight in the world, and he had strong counterpunches. Joel is a great fighter, so I wasn't surprised by how good he was."

Marquez ending the fight the way he did surely helped avoid controversy. Heading into the 11th, two judges had it 95-95, while the third had Marquez ahead 97-93, the same score as ESPN.com.

In each of Casamayor's defeats, as well as his draw, there were always questions about the decision. Entering the fight, Casamayor and his supporters could make the argument that he should have been undefeated.

But finally, there would be no controversy at the end of a Casamayor defeat. At 37 and with 400 or so amateur bouts on his odometer, as well as all the pro fights, perhaps this was the end.

At least he was finally able to admit defeat.

"I fought as a champion, but Marquez was the best this night," he said. "He knew how to control my punches. Honestly, I am very emotional right now. Marquez is a hell of a fighter."

Casamayor knows it.

So does the rest of the world.

Dan Rafael covers boxing for ESPN.com.