GOOD things come to those who wait and Lord knows Juan Manuel Marquez has been waiting to announce himself to the world.
He had, of course, held Manny Pacquiao to a draw in 2004, but then lost on points two years later in Indonesia to WBA featherweight champion Chris John.
However, his unanimous and deserved 12-round points win over Marco Antonio Barrera before 8,127 fans at the Las Vegas Mandalay Bay Hotel on March 17, 2007 made up for those disappointments.
Victory crowned Marquez not just a two-weight champion (WBA/IBF feather and now WBC super-feather) but clinched a unique and extraordinary double, younger brother Rafael having won the WBC’s super-bantamweight crown two weeks previously.
Remarkably, these Mexican siblings (married to sisters) achieved the same feat within a fortnight in 2003 (though in reverse order), when Juan Manuel won the IBF featherweight belt and then Rafael the same organisation’s bantam crown, perhaps making them serious rivals to Leon and Michael Spinks as the most accomplished and talented brothers the sport has known.
Although Marquez has been champion before, what he has lacked is recognition. But while this triumph has certainly earned him the right to seriously dispute supremacy in the division, Juan Manuel is still going to require several more victories of this magnitude if he is to join the aristocracy of Barrera and Erik Morales.
The future offers Marquez the possible immediate opportunity of a return with Barrera or a contest with WBO champ Joan Guzman.
The most compelling match would be against Pacquiao, but his promotional status makes the fight less accessible, if not impossible.
At 33 and having scored his 47th win in 51 fights, though, Marquez must be at his peak or beyond it.
So I fear the possibility of him ever joining the ranks of other Mexican greats is somewhat remote just as Steve Collins, despite two wins over each of Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn, never received quite the same recognition as the men he conquered. At worst Marquez will be remembered as the man who toppled and perhaps retired Barrera.
Marquez (9st 3lbs) ran away with the decision in the end by winning the final three rounds for all judges.
That merely made certain an outcome already on the cards. Because after nine rounds Marquez led for all three judges, helped by a point deducted from Barrera in the dying seconds of an amazing seventh when, after being badly rocked, Marco Antonio came back to drop his challenger (though it was ruled a slip) and then ludicrously struck him while he was down and defenceless.
However, although it felt like a close fight, there was never a time any of the judges had Barrera in front.
It was an exciting, though not continuously thrilling contest as in the case of Barrera’s first and third battles with Morales or Marquez’s heated encounter with Pacquiao. But in short, explosive, back-and-forth barrages in almost every round it was stirring enough to have the crowd upstanding and cheering wildly.
Richard Schaefer and Bernard Hopkins for promoters Golden Boy both claimed it was a strong contender for fight of the year and that might well be so. But much of the excitement came in the final 10 seconds of each round, when they would suddenly let fly with everything in a bid to sway any undecided judges.
Usually it was Marquez, slightly quicker, who got the better of these exchanges, and that the judges’ scores tallied in seven rounds, of which six went to Marquez, surely rubbishes Barrera’s claims (see Fighting Talk) that it was a terrible decision.
Doug Tucker’s 118-109 tally suggested Marquez had a far easier time than was the case and even the 116-111 scores for Patricia Morse Jarman and Paul Smith appeared generous to the new champion, who I had winning 116-113.
But Barrera (9st 4lbs) could never exert control behind his jab as he had against previous challengers, though that was clearly not his sole intention on this occasion.
Ricky Hatton, Barrera’s friend and who led the champ into the ring, told me Marco Antonio had made up his mind to have a battle, as if it was his wish to make up for the lack of action he provided fans in his previous victory, over Rocky Juarez.
But Barrera’s tactics represented a mix of what he is capable of: smart boxing and rugged confrontation. Maybe that led to confusion that Marquez was able to exploit with his quick hands and faultless technique.
Barrera was always dangerous with his left, be it as a hook or uppercut counter to body or head. He thumped Marquez cleanly with it twice late in the second, though by the fifth he was falling short with punches more and ‘paying the price. Marquez scored with a fabulous right uppercut in the fifth, though by the next his left eye was looking sore.
Until then, though, each had cancelled the other out for periods when defensive work prevailed over attack as one, and then the other, would miss until the end-of-round fireworks.
But the seventh proved a turning point as Barrera was seriously wobbled by a right to the jaw yet, typically, tried fighting back, even though he shipped more punishment. Then, in the heat of this pressure, Barrera beat his opponent to the punch as both tossed rights and floored Juan Manuel.
He was on all fours when, at least a second or two after he was put there, Marquez received a swipe to the ear that was about as deliberate as Tiger Woods placing a golf ball on a tee and swinging at it.
I remember Britain’s former world welterweight title challenger Colin Jones getting disqualified for something similar back in the 1980s, but these days it’s unusual to receive your marching orders for a first offence, even if it was as blatant as Barrera’s.
Absurd was Barrera’s suggestion that referee Jay Nady was at fault for not jumping in quickly enough after Marquez had gone down. Barrera tried to justify the cheap shot, saying something to the extent that he wasn’t in there to play around.
Barrera may have a good-guy image out of the ring, but in it he can be plain nasty.
Though Nady messed up by not noticing the knockdown, in the official’s defence I’d say most of us would have too had we not seen replays flashed up at the end of the round on big screens.
Effectively, what happened cost Barrera three points, but thankfully it had no bearing on the outcome.
And though by flooring Marquez it suggested Barrera was over the rocky moments he’d experienced earlier in the round, the champion never quite seemed quite so commanding again even if he did cause the challenger’s nose to bleed and left eye to begin closing in the ninth, when both were letting punches fly.
Marquez’s face was now a mess – fat lip and swollen eyes – yet his obvious hunger and drive forwards proved decisive. He smashed Barrera with a hefty right in the 10th, nicked the champion’s left eye and chased victory in the 11th, producing the more solid work.
And in the last Marquez ignored a serious cut to his right eye to punish Barrera, 63-5 1ND (42), as if he still had everything to fight for. Two jarring hooks to the head forced the tired champion to hold until the final 10 seconds, when they went at it wildly.
Everyone was upstanding, cheering and clapping. Hopkins said, “These guys were putting wear and tear on themselves for your entertainment. Even the winner’s career, when it comes to longevity in boxing, is shortened [in fights such as these].”
Spoken like a man addicted to the thrill of his trade in spite of the risks, the 42-year-old added: “Now you know why I’m coming back, because you can’t watch a fight like that and not get the itch.”