Boxing: Juan Manuel Marquez

Still KO demons to slay for Pacquiao

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
3:55
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It was one of the longest minutes I can recall as a boxing fan.

As millions around the world held their collective breath, exactly 62 seconds elapsed between the time Manny Pacquiao fell face-first to the canvas and ringside doctors completed the process of reviving him from a frightening state of unconsciousness last December.

Watching an ending as dramatic as Juan Manuel Marquez's sixth-round knockout of Pacquiao in their brutal fourth fight creates a Molotov cocktail of emotions for any fight fan. Warm from the celebration of such a historically significant war, yet chilled by concern for Pacquiao's health, all anyone could do was exhale at the first sign of movement from the Filipino icon.

Thoughts flash through the mind at a rapid pace during moments of shock, making a minute feel infinitely longer. But like most, I wasn't contemplating whether Pacquiao would ever be the same as a fighter or whether his prime had been taken with one punch as he lay motionless in the ring.

I wonder whether he would wake up.

The only person not privy to the same inner conflict was Pacquiao himself, who could only later view a replay of the knockout -- and did so with the emotional disconnect of watching an actor, dressed up as him, stand in to endure the fall.

In some ways, I wonder if that act has only continued during the promotion of Saturday's bout between Pacquiao and all-action slugger Brandon Rios in Macau, (HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET).

It's no secret that Pacquiao doesn't reveal much of his true self to the public. He can be an excruciating interview. And as questions about his physical and mental state have built over the past 12 months, Pacquiao has fielded media inquiries with one of two scripted personalities.

There is PacMan, the jovial celebrity who replies to queries with an intoxicating smile and a thunderous laugh, often deployed to mask a lack of depth to his answers. And then there is Shy Manny, who isn't above concealing his full understanding of the English language if he feels the need to withhold a fitting response.

I saw a little of both when I got a few minutes to sit down with Pacquiao during the fall media tour for the fight, with the transition from Shy Manny to PacMan eased by my admission to sharing a love for his Boston Celtics, prompting questions of whether the team would ever be the same without Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

But just as pleasant small talk at the doctor's office can be merely a precursor to a penetrating exam, the inevitable questions about whether Pacquiao -- like his beloved Celtics -- would ever be the same soon followed.

Trying to get inside Pacquiao's head is a lot like trying to trade punches with him in the ring. He has the muscle memory to instantly parry the true meaning of your question before countering from an awkward angle, forcing you to take a step back.

For the most part, Pacquiao was direct and consistent, firing back variations of the same responses:

"I am not thinking about my last fight."

"This is part of boxing."

"That's not my first time to lose like that."

By no means was I expecting an emotional admission of any fear or doubt he was battling inside. Yet with each response, I couldn't help but shake a feeling of understated heaviness behind his prodigious brown eyes.

Manny Pacquiao has done a great job throughout the promotion of the fight playing the role of Manny Pacquiao. But the one person I believe he has yet to fully convince is himself, and that won't happen until he finally steps into the ring and regains his comfort level in an actual fight.

This goes deeper than any superficial fear of facing Rios, or even Pacquiao doubting his own punch resistance after such a brutal knockout. This is more about overcoming the loss of his invincibility, something Pacquiao had been able to maintain even through multiple defeats.

Pacquiao is quick to mention that he has come back from a knockout defeat twice before. But those fights came in the 20th century, when Manny was still a teen, and in both cases he was depleted after missing weight. In fact, his most recent KO loss, in a 1999 flyweight title fight against Medgoen Singsurat, came on a body shot.

The knockout loss to Marquez holds significantly more meaning. Pacquiao is now a worldwide star and a not-long-deposed pound-for-pound king who has redefined what's possible for a fighter his size by successfully making unprecedented climbs in weight. Moreover, before last December, he hadn't suffered a legitimate knockdown in nearly 10 years.

Moreover, history has been unkind to fighters Pacquiao's age -- he turns 35 next month -- and particularly those attempting to regain top form after such a brutal defeat. Having to deal with the realities of suddenly feeling mortal is a heavy burden for anyone, but it carries a special sting for a fighter: It means he's frighteningly close to his scariest opponent -- the end.

Pacquiao may have built himself a life of royalty as an international celebrity and humanitarian who moonlights as a congressman in his native land. But in his heart, he's a fighter. It's his identity and has been his profession and craft for more than half his life. Without that foundation, he might think, what is he really?

After listening to Manny dance and feint around more questions with typical deftness -- "That's just boxing" and "It comes with the territory" -- I closed my time with him by asking whether he hopes to someday avenge the defeat to Marquez. He told me about how he was convinced, after watching the replay of their fourth fight, that he was one round away from finishing JMM.

"Before that accident happened ..." Pacquiao said, before stopping in his tracks to catch himself mid-sentence.

It was the way he said "accident" that was startling, and we locked eyes with the same surprised look. It was as if the word snuck out from behind his tight defense -- a rare moment of honest clarity during an otherwise forgettable stop on an infinite journey of standard-fare interviews.

Pacquiao paused, prompting members of his team to break free from their own conversations, as if a record playing in a club had come to a screeching halt. He looked at them. They looked back at him. And just like that, the curtain revealing the man closed. Pacquiao began again, as if the moment had never happened: "Before the knockdown happened, the fight is very good."

But Pacquiao will find that he can't dodge or slip any lingering self-doubt he carries into the ring on Saturday. He'll have to face it just as he does a come-forward brawler in Rios: head on.

Rios' perceived slight a blessing in disguise

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
9:12
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Every big-time fight could benefit from a marketable hook or back story associated with each fighter. A pair of marketable names, dominant personalities and exciting in-ring styles wouldn't hurt the number of potential pay-per-view buys, either.

When it comes to Saturday's welterweight showdown between Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios from Macau, China (HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET), the fight itself essentially features all of the above. But at its core, the fight promotion is still driven by the central themes surrounding each fighter: Will the veteran Pacquiao rebound from a devastating knockout loss against Juan Manuel Marquez, and can Rios, the all-action fighter with the crowd-pleasing style, establish himself as a star in the making?

The narrative to the fight has been pretty cut and dry without too many changes (the recent fight between camps notwithstanding), except for the fact that each time Rios has opened his mouth in recent months, the same sequence of quotes continue to surface.

Rios doesn't like being labeled as the opponent. He doesn't appreciate being considered a one-dimensional slugger for whom few are giving a legitimate chance. And most of all, he's none too pleased with the assertion that Pacquiao's team handpicked him due to his straight-ahead style.

Wait a second ... are we missing something here?

Any issue Rios might have with the perception of his talent, style or chances in Saturday's fight should probably be taken up with the person most responsible for getting his career to this point as a headlining fighter in an international pay-per-view: himself.

Rios is only in this fight because of how perfect his qualifications and in-ring characteristics matched up as the ideal opponent for Pacquiao, who enters fresh off two straight defeats for the first time in his career. Not only has this not been a secret to those close to boxing about how cleverly wrapped of a "get well" fight it was intended to be from the start, it was Pacquiao's camp themselves who have been transparent from the start about why Rios was chosen.

If he were any more dangerous as a technician or one-punch slugger, Rios simply wouldn't have been in position to cash in on the biggest opportunity of his career. Moreover, if he hadn't built his name in recent years on the provocation of violence and his caveman fighting style, he wouldn't have had the brand name to hold up the other side of the marquee.

Rios' one-dimensional style of straight-ahead brawling is the perfect compliment to Pacquiao's counterpunching from multiple angles, not just from the standpoint of giving PacMan the best chance to bounce back by playing to his strengths, but also from a marketing perspective for a fight expected to be entertaining regardless of how it plays out.

"If [Pacquiao] thinks that I'm going to be the same as [Antonio] Maragarito, he has something else coming," Rios told ESPN.com. "I'm not the same fighter like Margarito was. I'm totally different. I'm younger, I'm more experienced, I have a lot of amateur background. So I'll be ready."

There was a time Rios was considered more of a well-rounded prospect, offering a bit more boxing ability to offset his love for mixing it up. But it has come down to Rios being the one all too willing to simplify his own style to that of a go-for-broke pressure fighter looking to turn every single fight into a war.

Whatever the shift in philosophy has done to stunt his growth as a complete fighter (along with potentially shortening his career), it has provided him faster glory and a higher immediate ceiling thanks to his standing as one of the sport's top must-see attractions.

Although I don't begrudge Rios the opportunity to use the perceived slighting as motivation to, in his words, become the fighter who "retires Manny Pacquiao," a bit of proper perspective does need to be in order.

"People are always going to criticize and say I'm just a walking punching bag," Rios said. "It doesn't bother me. I just keep proving them wrong.

"I want to be a star in boxing. I want to be the new guy. I want to get paid like these guys are getting paid. I want to be like what they are. I want that. I want to experience all that."

Regardless of how he got here, Rios will have his chance to make that leap on Saturday. Now it's just up to him to take advantage of his opportunity.

Marquez leaning toward Bradley rematch?

October, 25, 2013
10/25/13
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Juan Manuel Marquez, Timothy BradleyAP Photo/Julie JacobsonJuan Manuel Marquez, right, may seek out another shot at Timothy Bradley Jr. -- this time in Mexico.

The notion that Juan Manuel Marquez is weighing a Ruslan Provodnikov fight seems to be a misconception. According to promoter Fernando Beltran, Marquez is instead interested in a rematch with Timothy Bradley Jr., and would prefer for the bout to be scheduled on Mexican soil.

In an interview with ESPNDeportes.com, Beltran said that he has had informal conversations with Marquez, and all of them have focused on Bradley and not Provodnikov, who last Saturday stopped Mike Alvarado to claim a junior welterweight title.

"A lot of people saw Juan Manuel defeat Bradley," Beltran said, although the official fight judges saw it differently, finding a split decision for Bradley. "It was a close fight, a true war filled with strategies. Juan Manuel nullified the age difference and proved he is both a great athlete and a great person.

"That's why Juan Manuel would seek the rematch against Bradley, and also the fact that he would get another shot at becoming a five-time champion in five different categories, an opportunity that Ruslan can't provide."

Marquez, whose family has urged him to retire in recent years, and who has lately hinted at it himself from time to time, at the moment seems to be leaning toward attempting to secure that elusive fifth title in as many divisions, a feat that would be a first for a Mexican boxer.

But with many of his recent fights in Las Vegas having been embroiled in controversy, Marquez and his promoter seem keen on ensuring more favorable terms for his next (and final?) attempt.

"If Juan Manuel wants to step away from boxing," Beltran said, "there's no better way of doing than in front of your home crowd, and having another chance to make history."

Bradley: Marquez's confidence will hurt him

October, 11, 2013
10/11/13
6:36
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In what has been a relatively uneventful promotion leading up to Saturday's welterweight title bout between Timothy Bradley Jr. and Juan Manuel Marquez, the one thing that has stood out is the high level of respect shown by the fighters toward each another.

This simply isn't the fight for those attracted to the sport by taunting and braggadocio. In its place has been a steady stream of each fighter talking up the other's ability and warrior spirit.

The careers of both Marquez and Bradley have been marked by their professionalism, and both men are keenly aware of how evenly matched they are in a bout that's as close to a pick-'em bout as you'll find between top-10 pound-for-pound fighters.

But if there's one thing that might rub Bradley the wrong way -- even just a little bit -- it's the belief that Marquez could potentially be overlooking him just a hair.

"Confidence is everything when it comes to fighting. The more confident you are, I think the better you perform," Bradley told ESPN.com last week. "And Marquez's confidence right now is through the roof. It's almost to the point where it's pretty damn near arrogant."

Few could blame Marquez for believing so highly in himself, however, especially in the aftermath of his one-punch knockout of career rival Manny Pacquiao in their fourth fight last December. But Bradley says he believes the challenger's recent surge of what he considers overconfidence is something that can play directly into the younger fighter's hands.

"[Marquez] is going to come out and think he's 'Mr. Big Shot,' " Bradley said. "He just knocked out Pacquiao and he's saying to himself, 'Who the hell is this little guy from Palm Springs, California, this Timothy Bradley? This young kid. I just knocked out Manny Pacquiao.' He's going to come out with that on his shoulder."

Because of Marquez's all-time high confidence, and the fact that the 40-year-old legend is giving up 10 years to his opponent, Bradley says he believes he'll be met in the center of the ring Saturday by an aggressive fighter intent on pushing the action and testing his chin early.

Bad idea, says Bradley.

"I hope he presses the action, because it's going to be his biggest mistake," Bradley said. "If he tries to go at my pace, he's going to die out."

In the aftermath of the hellacious beating Bradley took in an all-action March victory over Ruslan Provodnikov, there's a theory about the fighter's punch resistance that he is all too aware of. Naturally, it's a belief that he outright dismisses, pointing to a tremendous training camp in which he felt as fresh as can be.

But the thought is that if Marquez, a technically gifted counterpuncher and finisher, can land anything close to the number of clean shots that Provodnikov connected with to the chin of Bradley, Saturday's fight doesn't have a prayer of going the distance.

"One reporter told me Marquez was at camp breaking bags and busting this and that," Bradley said. "I'm like, 'I don't give a damn what he's doing.' I don't care, man. I'm not a bag. I'm not going to sit there and let this guy just hit on me. It's not going to happen.

"He's definitely stronger. He's probably hitting harder and carrying his weight better. But I think I'm the naturally bigger 147-pounder. I should be the stronger and bigger guy in this fight, without a doubt."

Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s kingdom comes

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
1:01
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Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd MayweatherGabriel Boyus/AFP/Getty ImagesFloyd Mayweather Jr., right, joined Oscar De La Hoya in the "five in five" club with a win over him.
Leading up to Juan Manuel Marquez's bid to win a world title in a fifth different weight class on Saturday, ESPN.com will look back at the elite group of fighters who have already achieved the feat -- we'll roll out a new one each day this week -- in our "Five In Five" series.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. has done it all in the world of boxing. He has beaten everyone he has faced and made hundreds of millions of dollars doing it. On May 5, 2007, Mayweather's official coronation as the king of the ring would take place.

That's the night he faced five-division world champion and reigning pay-per-view king Oscar De La Hoya. The fight was billed as "The World Awaits." De La Hoya was defending his junior middleweight title, and Mayweather was seeking to join him in the exclusive "five in five" club. Mayweather had already claimed world titles at 130, 135, 140, and 147 pounds.

In an action-packed fight that lasted all 12 rounds, the 30-year-old Mayweather scored a split decision victory and took his place among boxing's all-time greats.

He won the fight much as he had all of his others. He was extremely efficient in his offensive attack, landing 57 percent of his power punches (138 of 241). His overall connect rate was 43 percent, just above his career average of 42 percent. That's the best mark among active fighters, in case you were wondering.

The 34-year-old De La Hoya hoped to win rounds by being the busier the fighter. According to Compubox punch stats, the "Golden Boy" attempted 587 punches, 106 more than Mayweather. He landed just 122 of his attempts (21 percent). The strategy almost paid off, as judge Tom Kaczmarek scored the fight 115-113 in favor of De La Hoya. The other two judges, Jerry Roth and Chuck Giampa, saw the fight as most ringside observers did. Roth had it 115-113, while Giampa scored it 116-112, both in favor of Mayweather.

The fight generated a record 2.5 million buys and $136 million in pay-per-view revenue. The revenue record stood until Mayweather's most recent fight, against Canelo Alvarez. That fight produced $150 million from 2.2 million buys.

Mayweather hinted at retirement following the De La Hoya fight. He did step away from boxing for nearly two years following his December 2007 win over Ricky Hatton, then returned in September 2009 in a fight with Juan Manuel Marquez.

--Statistical support from Compubox

Mayweather-Canelo biggest in a decade?

September, 14, 2013
9/14/13
1:50
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LAS VEGAS -- The idea has begun to take hold that Saturday's Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Canelo Alvarez clash at the MGM Grand Garden Arena could be boxing's best in years. The expectations for the bout confirm it: Records already have been broken for live-gate revenue and closed-circuit sales, and it's hoped that the pay-per-view bount for the card will exceed, or at least approach, the total that Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya set six years ago in their blockbuster, also staged at the MGM Grand.

And if you think about it, the Mayweather-Alvarez main event would seem to check every box that we would want in a prizegfight: a confrontation between skilled, popular and undefeated representatives of the sport, fighters who together span cultures and generations.

Mayweather and Alvarez are the yin and yang of boxing. The former has speed, exceptional defensive gifts and ring intelligence that has gone unmatched in the past quarter century, and he has been the standard bearer for American boxers for at least a decade. The latter is young, strong and precocious, having demonstrated his popularity in drawing almost 40 thousand people to San Antonio's Alamodome and specifically connecting with his Mexican countrymen.

And the matching of these fighters, although compelling, is actually trumped by the stakes: Either Mayweather or Canelo is going to lose his unbeaten status on Saturday night. Pondering how that will happen is an interesting enough thought, but take it a step further and imagine how this will affect not only the future of both fighters, but also of boxing itself.

Floyd has the chance to reach the magical mark of 50-0, which would not only surpass the touchstone career record of the legendary Rocco Francis Marchegiano (better known as Rocky Marciano), but would also funnel more millions into his considerable bank account.

Is "Money" going for broke in this fight? If he recognizes any risk in Alvarez, it's also true that he knows -- and, more importantly, knew when it came time to decide on an opponent -- he is the favorite, regardless of any age or weight disadvantages. But the fact remains: The public sees a risk, and in that sense, Mayweather is giving fight fans what they want.

Canelo, for his part, has a chance to begin a new era. His popularity has grown by leaps and bounds in the shortest of spans, and he is convinced that he has what it takes to become the new face of boxing -- a title that he would instantly take on if he were able to upset the reigning P4P and PPV champ.

Speaking of, Canelo is headlining his first PPV event, one that will reach nearly two million homes -- an extraordinary figure that he stands to gain greatly from, even in a loss. In that sense, this fight is enormous -- and, yes, perhaps the biggest in a decade. The exploits of Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez last year were nothing to scoff at, but considering what hinges on this fight -- one star adding another win to his record and the other adding a "1" to the other side of the ledger -- the hype of "The One" figures to hold up over time.

Mayweather's 'home' floor: MGM Grand

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
2:13
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Boxing Ring Al Bello/Getty ImagesFloyd Mayweather Jr. has made the ring mat at the MGM Grand a canvas for his greatest masterpieces.
After Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s victory over Robert Guerrero in May, fans were treated to an updated version of a quote that has become a Mayweather staple: "Forty-four have tried and 44 have failed." Although that number should technically be amended to 43 (Mayweather fought Jose Luis Castillo twice), it's all academic for Canelo Alvarez, who on Saturday will try to avoid becoming the next number on Money's ledger.

Earlier in the week, our Stats & Information Group gave you several important fight factors for Mayweather, including experience, speed and defense. But there's one more element to be taken into account: the venue. Since a unanimous decision win over Gregorio Vargas in 2000, Mayweather has compiled a 10-0 record -- and fought all of his past seven fights -- on the grounds of Las Vegas's MGM Grand (including the Garden Arena). Canelo has fought there on three occasions, but Las Vegas is Mayweather's adopted hometown and the MGM Grand is his home court, despite numerous opponents having had the crowd in their favor.

Mayweather's greatest triumph at the MGM Grand came in 2007 when he fought Oscar De La Hoya for a junior middleweight belt -- the same title, in fact, that he will be fighting for on Saturday. In that fight, De La Hoya threw 106 more punches and 100 more power punches, but it was Mayweather who was the more accurate fighter. According to Compubox, Mayweather landed 43 percent of his punches (compared to De La Hoya's 21 percent), while also landing 57 percent of his power punches. The officials scored it 116-112, 115-113 Mayweather, 113-115 De La Hoya in what many consider to be Mayweather's toughest victory. Attendance for the fight was listed at 16,200 (15,432 paid). The live gate of $18.4 million remains the largest in boxing history.

Mayweather vacated the junior middleweight title to defend his welterweight title against England's undefeated Ricky Hatton later in the year. Mayweather overcame a large, raucous contingent of U.K. fans in the crowd and, in the early rounds of the fight, a very aggressive Hatton. Mayweather adjusted, landing 39 percent of both his power and total punches, according to Compubox, compared to just 17 for Hatton. Mayweather hit Hatton with a left hook in the 10th round that put the challenger on his back, and when Hatton tried to regain his composure and the fight resumed, Mayweather attacked and knocked him down again, prompting a TKO stoppage from referee Joe Cortez. Despite the pro-Hatton crowd of 16,459 (15,488 paid), Mayweather improved to 5-0 at the MGM Grand. The live gate came in at $10.3 million.

With no titles upon his return in 2009 from a nearly two-year retirement, Mayweather defeated Juan Manuel Marquez ($6.8 million live gate) in front of 12,009 paid fans to go 8-0 against Mexican fighters. He would then defeat Shane Mosley ($11 million live gate) before winning back his welterweight title from Victor Ortiz ($9 million live gate) in September 2011.

Miguel Cotto was next, the prize being a junior middleweight title. Before a crowd of 16,047 (14,612 paid), Mayweather landed his lowest percentage of punches (26 percent) that Compubox has tracked in any of his fights, while Cotto landed 21 percent. Mayweather outlanded Cotto in 11 of 12 rounds and held a 179-105 advantage on punches connected en route to a unanimous decision, 118-110, 117-111 and 117-111. The live gate for the fight was $12 million, ninth-largest in history.

Mayweather defended his welterweight title against Guerrero in May ($9.9 million live gate), and on Saturday he will face Canelo Alvarez in a fight that has sold out the approximately 16,800-seat MGM Grand Garden Arena, with a rumored 65 percent of those sales coming from the Mexican public. According to Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer, the live gate for Mayweather-Canelo will surpass $20 million, which would be an all-time high in the state of Nevada.

-- Attendance and live gate numbers courtesy of Nevada State Athletic Commission
-- Statistical data provided by Compubox

Mexican Independence Day fight tradition

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
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Pernell Whitaker and Julio CesarThe Ring Magazine/Getty ImagesJulio Cesar Chavez, right, fell short against Pernell Whitaker but helped establish a fight tradition.

LAS VEGAS -- It was exactly 20 years ago this past Tuesday that Julio Cesar Chavez headlined the main event in a Mexican Independence Day celebration at San Antonio's Alamodome, before 60,000 fans, on a mission to become the first Mexican fighter in history to become a four-time champion.

Chavez was unable to achieve the feat, of course, and his draw against Pernell Whitaker in a welterweight title bout that night initiated a series of mishaps for Mexican boxing in the month of September -- although it didn't stop the country's top fighters from becoming staples at stateside shows celebrating the national holiday.

After the Whitaker draw, Chavez went on to star in four more major events around the annual September festivities. He bested Meldrick Taylor in 1994, defeated David Kamau in '95 and fell to Oscar De La Hoya in '98, all in Las Vegas, before bowing out in a technical defeat to Grover Wiley after suffering a fracture hand in 2005 -- Chavez's final fight.

In a gradual, symbolic passing of the torch, it was De La Hoya who took over as the ringleader of boxing's Mexican Independence Day celebrations. He outpointed Hector Camacho in Las Vegas in 1997, the year before his clash with Chavez. And in a blockbuster that remains one of the most significant editions in boxing's Mexico-Puerto Rico rivalry, De La Hoya saw his September winning streak ended by Felix Trinidad in a majority decision in Las Vegas.

"The Golden Boy" renewed his participation in the September ritual in 2002, defeating Fernando Vargas in a battle between Mexican-Americans, but in 2003 he dropped a decision to Shane Mosley in their rematch, and a year later was knocked out by Bernard Hopkins -- all in Sin City.

In 2005, Erik Morales took up the mantle from De La Hoya, but on a night of surprises, 'El Terrible' lost to Zahir Raheem in a duel that was supposed to be a tune-up Morales' second war with Manny Pacquiao. He bounced back with a September triump in 2010, knocking out Willie Limond in Mexico City, and a year later won an interim junior welterweight title by topping Pablo Cesar Cano in Las Vegas.

Also headlining Mexican Independence Day events in recent years, all of them staged on the Vegas Strip, were Marco Antonio Barrera -- against Robbie Peden in 2005 and Rocky Juarez in '06, both unanimous decision wins -- and Juan Manuel Marquez in a spectacular knockout of Joel Casamayor in 2008 and a 2009 points loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr., who has a history of raining on Mexico's Independence Day parades.

And what of the new guard? Last year Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Canelo Alvarez brought Las Vegas to a standstill with fights at the Thomas & Mack Center and MGM Grand on the same night. Chavez came up just short of a thrilling last-minute knockout, but lost his middleweight belt and undefeated record to Sergio Martinez. Alvarez, meanwhile, overwhelmed Josesito Lopez in a hail of body punches for a fifth-round TKO. That performance helped lead him to the doorstep of this year's most important night for Mexican boxing -- and maybe the highest-profile night the sport has seen in a decade.

Canelo won't be the favorite on Saturday, but win or lose, he seems poised to become a mainstay as Mexico's next September superstar.

Expect boxing's banner year to get better?

August, 20, 2013
8/20/13
4:26
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So let's be real with each other about boxing in 2013:

Like a no-hitter through seven innings, this year shouldn't be celebrated too early. Can't be too careful to avoid jinxing anything to do with this cruel and unpredictable sport. But ... this year has been crazy. Amazing. Riveting. Scintillating. And it just seems to keep getting better with every week.

[+] EnlargeGeale-Barker
Courtesy of Alex Ridley.Saturday's fight between Daniel Geale and Darren Barker continued this year's trend of barnburners, stirring something unfamiliar in fight fans: hope.
From the blockbuster cards to the low-profile shows featuring prospects and journeymen, it isn't just that there has routinely been something to talk about at the proverbial watercooler. The talk has even been positive.

Even now, in the midst of a promotional cold war I personally abhor and will never accept as simply "Well, that's just the way it is," we are getting the fights we want -- and they are actually living up to expectation.

Fans have been able to enjoy at least five legitimate candidates for fight of the year (and that was before Saturday's Darren Barker-Daniel Geale scrap), including at least two -- Timothy Bradley Jr.-Ruslan Provodnikov and Mike Alvarado-Brandon Rios II -- that produced enough drama and savage artistry to be considered on par with the best of this century.

But it goes beyond that. We've also seen breakout campaigns from exciting and marketable action fighters such as Gennady Golovkin, Lucas Matthysse, Adonis Stevenson and Sergey Kovalev. We've seen the development of young stars who appear more than ready to be labeled "next." (I'm looking at you, Abner Mares, Adrien Broner and Mikey Garcia.) And we've seen more than the typical number of under-the-radar fights (think Omar Figueroa-Nihito Arakawa and Sakio Bika-Marco Antonio Periban) deliver unexpected fireworks.

What this all amounts to, especially with a jam-packed final five months already on the slate, with fight-of-the-year hopefuls and big-name pairings jumping off the schedule, is two-fold.

First of all, and probably most important, the sport is relatively healthy again. Go ahead, bring on the backlash to that comment. And don't forget to mention the lack of a central governing body, too many titles, far-from-ideal drug-testing protocols and, oh yeah, that whole promotional catfight. But all things considered, boxing appears to be moving in the right direction after such an up-and-down decade.

And it clearly had been a rough ride for the sport since 2004, when a clear and distinct changing of the guard began to take place. There was the sudden crumbling of the heavyweight division, with the retirements of Lennox Lewis and Vitali Klitschko, not to mention the fallout of two knockout losses in a 17-month span for current champion Wladimir Klitschko. You also had a group of fighters who had become the face of the sport over the previous seven or eight years -- Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones Jr., Shane Mosley, Felix Trinidad -- hit career snags as losses and the impact of age began to erode their elite status.

Every valley, however, eventually leads back to another peak, and boxing rebounded in a big way with a banner year in 2007. In fact, it was the sport's last truly great year.

You had the anchor of the highest-grossing fight in history between Floyd Mayweather and De La Hoya. There were marquee bouts between unbeaten fighters such as Mayweather-Ricky Hatton, Kelly Pavlik-Jermain Taylor I and Joe Calzaghe-Mikkel Kessler. There also was a run of memorable action fights: Miguel Cotto-Mosley, Paul Williams-Antonio Margarito, Cotto-Zab Judah, Juan Manuel Marquez-Marco Antonio Barrera and the first two Rafael Marquez-Israel Vazquez wars. (And let's not forget about the Bika-Jaidon Codrington "Contender" finale and the two Michael Katsidis fights with Graham Earl and Czar Amonsot.)

Seriously, take inventory of the past 10 years or so in boxing and you simply won't find a more action-packed and memorable year than 2007 ... until now. And that leads to my second point.

The buzz of excitement surrounding the sport in 2013 has been a virtual runaway train. For the first time in many years, boxing's traditionally cynical group of fans and experts have grown to expect things to go their way. This is a huge departure from just a year ago, when a flurry of injuries and drug suspensions wiped out nearly a complete summer of entertaining fights.

So what was the tipping point? Ironically, it was a date that was supposed to have been representative of the type of greed that continually has plagued the sport in recent years. With both HBO and Showtime airing competing blockbuster cards on Sept. 15 -- which pitted a Sergio Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. PPV against a cable show headlined by Canelo Alvarez -- a night that was expected to further darken the sport's black eye somehow had the opposite effect.

Instead, the fighters on both cards applied the black eyes to each other. The momentum of the evening then spilled into a memorable three months to close out the year, highlighted by Marquez-Manny Pacquiao IV, and it hasn't slowed yet.

The fact that 2013's biggest fight to date -- Mayweather's May 4 win over Robert Guerrero -- featured a poor promotion, lackluster sales and a rather unexciting in-ring result, yet still hasn't killed the buzz, is proof that this will be a year to remember.

And think about this for a second: The next few months, we expect, will bring us continued excitement from the likes of Danny Garcia-Lucas Matthysse, Bradley-Marquez, Alvarado-Provodnikov and Pacquiao-Rios. But what about Mayweather-Canelo? What if this fight -- the one most experts continue to downplay as likely one-sided, with an almost predetermined result -- ends up bringing the kind of action, drama and excitement on par with what we've seen throughout most of 2013? What happens next?

It's crazy to think about, of course. But for a sport that is regularly labeled as cursed to yield a year so sublimely fun to be a part of, I'm not going to bet against it.

I have to admit, it's kind of weird going into a season of big fights and actually expecting them to live up to expectations. Don't lose heart -- this is really how it's supposed to be. Let's savor the flavor while we can.

Canelo to begin training in Big Bear

July, 14, 2013
7/14/13
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MEXICO CITY -- Saul "Canelo" Alvarez departed Mexico last week as a world titlist, and when he finally returns home, it could be as boxing's new pound-by-pound king.

On Monday, Alvarez boarded a private jet bound for Los Angeles, where he is stopping over before setting up camp in Big Bear, Calif. He'll train at the popular high-elevation destination for the next 55 days in advance of his Sept. 14 challenge of Floyd Mayweather Jr. in Las Vegas.

Alvarez was joined by Jose "Chepo" Reynoso, Eddy Reynoso, Canelo's brother Ricardo Alvarez and a trainer for the trip.

"We are really excited, thrilled, and for good reason -- because we are confident about Saul's capacity and quality, besides the hard work that we will do to get the victory," Reynoso told ESPNDeportes.com. "It is the fight of our lives. Not only for Canelo, but for all of us."

Team Alvarez spent the week in L.A. evaluating potential sparring partners who can join the group for sessions in Big Bear and replicate Mayweather's style. When asked about the strategy Alvarez's team is outlining for the fight, Reynoso said that it's Mayweather who should be worried most.

"You'd better ask Mayweather how is he planning to beat Canelo -- that's the more accurate question," Reynoso said. "Because Canelo is not [Juan Manuel] Marquez, [Victor] Ortiz, [Robert] Guerrero or [Miguel] Cotto. He is a different fighter. Ask him how he is going to defeat Canelo, because we already have figured out how to win."

Reynoso believes that Canelo will have extra motivation against Mayweather, in addition to an opportunity to face the world's best fighter: the chance to earn a spot in Mexico's boxing lore, alongside the names of Julio Cesar Chavez, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales. He says Canelo has a chance to become a new national icon.

"It comes at the right time," Reynoso said. "Saul is the top draw in Mexican boxing right now, and he's also earned his spot in the international boxing world, like he did in the United States, because that's where the top boxing material is. Mexico is eager for a new icon, and it's the right time since all the big names like Chavez, [Oscar] De La Hoya, Barrera, Morales are long gone.

"Many people say that Saul needed two or three more fights, but we've known him for a long time, and we are sure it's the right time to show the world that on Sept. 14 there will be a new king. We are looking forward to ending Mayweather's reign and letting Canelo start his own."

Lopez says rivalry has boosted his career

June, 13, 2013
6/13/13
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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Former two-division titlist Juan Manuel Lopez, like many others, has his opinions about boxing's Mexico-Puerto Rico rivalry -- including that it has been extremely favorable to his career.

Nearly half of Lopez's 35 professional bouts have come against Mexican fighters -- fourteen, to be precise. Four, specifically, have had a major impact on his path.

"Fighting against Mexicans has been a huge part of my career," Lopez said. "But I see it more as a competition between two countries with big fighting styles. Puerto Rico fighters move well, they are more technical. Mexico fighters like to clash, there are very few who like to counterattack. Juan Manuel Marquez is one of the few, and we might consider Oscar De La Hoya, since he is of Mexican origin but developed in the United States.

"If we want to talk about the topic, we have to divide it by eras. The [Wilfredo] Gomez era was huge. 'Tito' Trinidad and his 'Fight of the Millenium' against Oscar De La Hoya was huge. [Ivan] Calderon had two big clashes against [Hugo] Cazares. And back in the day, Hector Camacho was a headache to the Mexican boxers. They were all transitions."

Lopez won a junior featherweight title in 2008 when he defeated Mexico's Daniel Ponce De Leon by first-round TKO. He moved up to featherweight in 2010, winning a title in his first bout in the division, and later bested Rafael Marquez (yet another Mexican star) to run his record to 30-0.

But the prestige that came with those wins all but vanished in 2011 when Lopez put his belt on the line against another of Mexico's finest: Orlando Salido.

"Salido is the toughest fighter I've ever faced," Lopez said. "Sometimes, styles define the fights. Salido is a fighter who takes a lot of punches, and that's one of the factors that helped him beat me."

On Saturday, Lopez will face featherweight titlist Miguel Angel "Mikey" Garcia (who, like De La Hoya, is Mexican-American). In January, Garcia mostly had his way with Salido before winning a technical decision and grabbing the belt that Salido had lifted from Lopez.

"Mikey was a huge puzzle for Salido, but that won't be the case for me," Lopez said. "Styles make fights, and Mikey has the perfect style for me."

Marquez: I don't think about Pacquiao

June, 1, 2013
6/01/13
3:56
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Pacquaio/MarquezJohn Gurzinski/AFP/Getty ImagesJuan Manuel Marquez wants the feeling of knocking out Manny Pacquiao to last forever.

MEXICO -- As Juan Manuel Marquez begins training for his Oct. 12 fight with welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley Jr., for the first time in a long time, he won't be thinking about a possible future fight with Manny Pacquiao.

Marquez insists that regardless of what has been reported, he won't participate in a fifth fight with Pacquiao.

Top Rank and Zanfer Promotions have been open about their plans for a fight next year that would match the winner of Bradley-Marquez with the winner of the Pacquiao-Brandon Rios bout on Nov. 23. But when reminded of those plans, Marquez reiterated his stance.

"Speaking sincerely, I don't think about that anymore," Marquez said of the notion of yet another Pacquiao fight. "Anything that was pending was settled, in every way. If he would have knocked me out the way I did to him, how am I going to ask for another fight?

"Keeping that feeling would be grandiose, and to have my Mexican supporters and the whole world enjoy that feeling and say, 'Remember the best pound-for-pound fighter that was knocked out by Juan Manuel Marquez?' -- to me, that is worth more than all the money in the world."

But a fifth fight with the Filipino icon would earn Marquez a substantial sum -- and would mean a lucrative payout for all involved. Might

"We know that the offer will be tempting, but it isn't worth more than the feeling, what was lived, what was acquired after that knockout," Marquez said. "That's worth more than several million dollars. I would rather retire with this feeling than take a risk in whatever happens with Pacquiao [such as another controversial decision]."

Marquez wasn't happy about having to wait for Floyd Mayweather Jr. to make a decision about his next fight before the date with Bradley could be settled. (Top Rank's Bob Arum announced Thursday that Bradley-Marquez would be moved off the original date of Sept. 14 after Mayweather announced his megabout with Canelo Alvarez for the same day.) But that aside, he assured that his training schedule is on track.

"I'm running in the mornings, getting stronger at the National Talent Development and High Performance Center (CNAR) in order to start getting some rhythm," Marquez said. "[I was] only waiting for the date and location to start training harder."

Bradley hoping to land fight with Marquez

April, 13, 2013
4/13/13
7:28
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Timothy Bradley Jr.AP Photo/Reed SaxonTimothy Bradley Jr. believes his best option moving forward is a fight with Juan Manuel Marquez.
NEW YORK -- Welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley Jr., who survived a tough fight against challenger Ruslan Provodnikov in March, publicly challenged Juan Manuel Marquez to a showdown of Manny Pacquiao conquerers.

Bradley (30-0, 12 KOs) told ESPNDeportes.com that the fight he really wants right now is against Marquez (55-6-1, 40 KOs), pointing out that a battle between the two would be more interesting than a fifth meeting between Pacquiao and his Mexican rival.

According to Top Rank CEO Bob Arum, who promotes Pacquiao and works well with Marquez promoter Fernando Beltran, the two options for Marquez are Pacquiao or Bradley. As recently as Wednesday, Arum said the most likely scenario was Pacquiao-Marquez V in September, either in Singapore or Macau.

But this could be a pressure strategy to attract Bradley, who quickly jumped into the fire.

Bradley made his statement a few feet away from Provodnikov, minutes after the Boxing Writers Association of America awards dinner, attended by both fighters.

"To be honest, I want it to be Marquez," said Bradley. "I would like it to be a showdown between the two guys who recently defeated Pacquiao. Why wait? I'm here and would love that shot. To me, Marquez is currently the best option."

Bradley took the welterweight belt off Pacquiao in June 2012 in a controversial split decision that even put the credibility of Las Vegas' judges under the microscope.

Against Provodnikov, Bradley was nearly knocked out several times, but in the end his toughness and conditioning helped him claim a close victory by unanimous decision (another that some questioned).

"If Marquez refuses to fight against me, he is going to lose money," Bradley said. "Listen to my words: He is going to lose money. Right now, the big payout is with me. I would be available to fight anywhere -- Macau or Singapore. To me, Marquez is the only option right now."

Bradley, also said he would have no problem accepting a rematch against Provodnikov (22-2, 15 KOs).

"The first fight against Ruslan was tough. If he wants a rematch, I'm willing to sign up for that," Bradley said. "In a second fight, it would be easier for me to defeat him. I already know how. A second matchup wouldn't be as hard as the first one."

Juan Diaz back after 32-month layoff

April, 13, 2013
4/13/13
6:21
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Juan Diaz, a former unified lightweight champion, will dust off his boxing gloves Saturday in Corpus Christi, Texas, after a 32-month absence to fight Pipino Cuevas Jr., son of the legendary Mexican fighter.

Diaz (35-4, 17 KO), 29, will be trying to get back into the win column after losing his most recent fight, a July 2010 decision to Juan Manuel Marquez.

Cuevas (16-9, 14 KO), 33, hasn't had much recent luck in the ring himself. After trying to establish himself as a mixed martial arts fighter early in his career, he turned to boxing at age 25 and won his first 11 fights. Since losing to Jorge Luis Lopez in 2007, he has lost eight of 14 bouts.

Diaz, who finished school in 2010 and runs a transportation company in the U.S., is looking for another title shot -- probably as a junior welterweight.

Roach: Pac wants Marquez (in Mexico?)

April, 5, 2013
4/05/13
3:12
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Manny Pacquiao's immediate future in boxing will take him down one of two paths, according to Top Rank promoter Bob Arum. But trainer Freddie Roach says Pacquiao already knows his preferred next step: a fifth fight with Juan Manuel Marquez.

And if the bout is held in Mexico, all the better.

Although Arum, in China to promote Saturday's card in Macau, recently said that Pacquiao's next opponent will be either Marquez or Timothy Bradley Jr. (who dealt losses to Pacquiao in his two most recent fights), Roach said that the Mexican fighter is still firmly No. 1 on PacMan's list.

"Manny wants the rematch more than anything," Roach told philstar.com. "That's the fight I want, and it's still the biggest one out there."

Pacquiao has won two of his four fights with Marquez, and the fighters drew in their first bout, in 2004. Pacquiao had the upper hand in disputed rematches in 2008 and 2011.

But Roach's wish, and presumably Pacquiao's, is for more than just a rematch.

"I want that fight in Mexico," said the Hall of Fame trainer. "That's my dream."

Arum has said that Mexico is a possible venue for such a matchup, but lately he also has talked up Asia, where his company is currently promoting former Chinese world amateur champion Zou Shiming's pro debut.

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