Monday, October 29, 2007

The Big Little Fight Nobody's Talking About Could Be A Scorcher

Across the ocean this weekend, they're on the verge of hosting a fight that might -- might -- break the all-time attendance record for an indoor boxing event. So it's no wonder that the boxing world is paying closer attention to the super middleweight (168 lbs.) battle scheduled in Great Britain between Joe Calzaghe and Mikkel Kessler than they are the meeting this weekend in the U.S. of A. between junior lightweights (130 lbs.) Juan Manuel Marquez and Rocky Juarez.

Don't get me wrong, I've got a tingling feeling in the pit of my stomach about Calzaghe-Kessler, and it's still days away. I'll get to that fight soon enough. But let's not overlook Marquez-Juarez. The most important thing about it is that its outcome could decide whether we get one of the most meaningful fights in all of boxing, a rematch between Marquez and Manny Pacquiao. But Marquez-Juarez could be a scorcher in its own right.

Marquez is probably my favorite fighter. He basically has every tool in the toolbox -- he throws astonishing combinations, has enough power to win by pretty knockout, looks good even when he's playing defense and has established his badass bona fides. His tendency to play it safe on defense has vanished entirely, silencing one of the most common criticisms of Marquez. The other most common criticism, which came in the form of a question about whether he had a boxing heart to go with his undisputed boxing brain, disappeared following his exciting 2004 brawl with Pacquiao. Pacquiao bum-rushed him in the first round, knocking Marquez down three times and making anyone watching think, "Man, this Pacquiao is something," and "That settles it -- Marquez isn't even in the same league" with contemporary Mexican legends Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera. Then, Marquez cooly and brutally began dissecting his faster, harder-hitting, more limited foe. Lots of those rounds after the first were pretty close, and the result at the end is still hotly disputed, but by the time it was announced as a draw, there was no way you could question Marquez' guts and unflappability. Some bad business decisions led to Marquez' team dismissing a rematch, then taking a bad fight overseas against Chris John that was scored as a victory for John but that most everyone thought Marquez won. But Marquez began scratching his way back up the mountain, and by the time he beat Barrera this year, finally, he had cemented his position as one of the five best fighters around, if weight class is ignored -- third best, according to The Ring. And he did it in a victory over Barrera that is a legitimate candidate for fight of the year in 2007.

Rocky Juarez, a former Olympian and highly-touted up-and-comer, was left for the vultures after he was upset in 2005 by Humberto Soto. But then he beat the tar out of the aforementioned Barrera in a 2006 fight first scored a draw, then a win for Barrera after some strange "calculation error," but many -- myself included -- thought it should have been a victory for Juarez. Since then, though, Juarez has failed to capitalize. He was thoroughly outboxed in his rematch with Barrera, then won a yawner against Jose Hernandez this year. But before we again banish him to the desert, let's meditate on the fact that Soto has proven since the upset that he's a far better fighter than his five losses at the time suggested, and that Juarez was a youthful underdog against Barrera. At this point, though, he is what he is: a dangerous puncher who can change a fight with one blow, as he did in 2003's consensus knockout of the year; a guy who can take a hellacious punch himself; someone with fast hands; but a plodder who just doesn't punch enough, a fact that sometimes gets him in trouble from a judging and entertainment standpoint.

If Juarez wins, he will have toppled a pound-for-pound great and proven his critics wrong. If Marquez wins, he will have cleared a path to the biggest money fight of his career. But if Juarez loses, he may not get another chance at a big fight, Pacquiao moves on to something else and an aging great will likely have trouble climbing once again to the top. I do think this will be a good fight -- both men have a lot on the line, and there will be intrigue in whether Juarez can land something big when Marquez takes risks to do damage.

MY PREDICTION: Marquez by decision. If Barrera beats Juarez, and Marquez beats Barrera, that stands to favor Marquez. Marquez has the same attributes Barrera had that troubled Juarez, but Marquez has faster hands than Barrera, one of Juarez's original advantages over Barrera.
CONFIDENCE: 80%. The stand-and-trade strategy of Marquez we've come to know and love the last few fights could backfire against the powerful Juarez, who also has the edge in age, 27 years young to Marquez' old-for-130 pounds 34. But I suspect if Marquez gets into a bind, he'll stick and move his way to a win to preserve the millions he might win vs. Pacquiao.
MY ALLEGIANCE: I already gave it away, didn't I? Marquez for his style and skill, over Juarez' power and plod. But even if I didn't like Marquez so much, I'd want him to win to make that Pacquiao rematch happen.

As good a fight as it was when Marquez and Pacquiao met, I only want to see one of these warriors raising their hands in victory in a rematch early next year. So I don't want to see any hijinks from Mr. Juarez Saturday.


BOB said...

I am going out on a limb and saying Juarez by KO

Tim -- said...

Wuh-oh. Now I'm scared about my pick.