Speed, footwork keys to victory
There's an unofficial litmus test I employ to gauge exactly how excited I am for an upcoming fight. It's called "The Shadowboxing Test."
The premise is simple: If you find yourself stopping what you're doing to begin involuntarily shadowboxing at the mere thought of a fight, regardless of whether you're in public, you know it's going to be special. And if you drop everything to purposely seek out a nearby mirror or piece of reflective glass to work on your combinations, well, the fight is going to be an absolute war.
From the moment Saturday's welterweight title bout between Timothy Bradley Jr. and Juan Manuel Marquez was announced, it's safe to say I've thrown enough punches to feel like I've put in a full training camp in preparation.
On an already loaded fall schedule, in a standout year for the sport that already has produced at least five legitimate fight-of-the-year candidates, this somewhat overshadowed matchup has the opportunity to outshine them all.
You don't believe me? Take a look at the specs and reconsider.
This is a true 50-50 fight between two legitimate top 10 pound-for-pound boxers who are both A) rabidly hungry for the spoils, riches and accolades at stake, and B) predisposed to all-out warfare. It's also a fantastic style matchup between the all-time great counterpuncher Marquez and the aggressive boxer-puncher Bradley.
Everyone loves a real barroom brawl when it comes time to make their selection for fight of the year. But what's even better is when that brawl involves high-level practitioners with a strong technical base, especially when the action builds organically over a period of rounds as the intensity rises.
Bradley-Marquez has the potential to be a game of high-level chess played out on a battlefield. And with enough storylines to cloud our judgment -- from the concerns over Bradley's overall health to his advantages in speed in comparison to Marquez's advancing age -- this has been one of the hardest fights in many years in which to predict confidently.
But after much deliberation, I've come up with these truths: Bradley will use his speed and footwork to build up an early lead on the scorecards. Marquez will adjust his timing and surge with hard counter shots in the second half. And despite suffering multiple knockdowns, Bradley's indomitable desire will carry him to the final bell.
The fight will be a classic, with dramatic swings of momentum and, true to the recent history of both boxers, contentious scorecards at the close. But in the end, it will be one that raises the profile of both, while, sadly, taking a good deal out of them in the long term.
It's the latter issue that has rightfully fueled much of the pre-fight narrative. And somewhat lost in the concerns about Bradley's state in the aftermath of a hellacious war with Ruslan Provodnikov in March is the fact that Marquez is coming off one of his own against Manny Pacquiao, the toll it took nearly forgotten due to the stunning nature of his knockout victory.
There's a very good chance both fighters already could be a step down from where some perceive them, which actually lends itself to making the fight even more exciting. But despite what Bradley endured in his previous bout, he's still closer to his absolute prime, with much less tread on the tire, than his 40-year-old opponent.
There needs to be something that separates fighters in a matchup this close and ultimately it will come down to Bradley's quickness and 10-year age advantage. The unbeaten titlist will surely have to walk through fire, just as he did in the Provodnikov fight, if he is to survive against a finisher as tough as Marquez.
Say what you will about Bradley, who has grown to become one of boxing's most polarizing figures, but whatever he lacks in size or power, he makes up for tenfold in desire. And as long as he is still standing once the final bell is sounded Saturday, his straightahead, aggressive style of in-and-out attacks will be the one favored by the judges.
This may not be the fight where Bradley finally wins the full respect of the boxing public and gets his long-awaited due, but it will be yet another one where he exits with his hand raised.
Marquez' power gives him an edge
Boxing is a young man's sport, which would typically give 30-year-old welterweight titleholder Timothy Bradley Jr. an edge against 40-year-old Mexican legend Juan Manuel Marquez in a fight that is otherwise a pick 'em sort of match.
But Marquez is not a normal 40-year-old fighter. He is an all-time great who looks as if he still has at least something left in the tank, especially with the way he so badly knocked out Manny Pacquiao in December in their fourth fight, the first definitive result in their epic series.
Marquez, who has won titles in four weight divisions -- 126, 130, 135 and 140 -- is seeking to become the first Mexican fighter to win world titles in five divisions when he meets Bradley on Saturday night at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Achieving that goal of winning a fifth title drives Marquez, making him even more dangerous.
Marquez also has a résumé filled with wins against top opponents such as Pacquiao, Juan Diaz, Joel Casamayor and Marco Antonio Barrera, not to mention the experience of going 12 rounds with pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a loss. Bradley has a good résumé, too, but it's not as good as Marquez's, and he is not going to show anything Marquez hasn't seen before.
One of the many questions hanging over the fight, however, is just how much do these guys have left?
Marquez has been in numerous physically grinding fights, and even though he got the huge knockout against Pacquiao, let's be honest: Marquez looked very vulnerable and on the verge of being stopped himself in the couple of rounds leading up to his sonic boom of a KO.
Bradley might be a lot younger than Marquez, and he has had fewer rough fights, but he also could be diminished based just on his most recent fight. But let's backtrack a little first. I thought he lost a wide decision to Pacquiao two fights ago; I didn't even think it was competitive. I thought Bradley got the gift of all gifts in the split decision win, and I sure wasn't the only one. Most of the world agreed with me.
In his next fight, Bradley took massive punishment in surviving to win a debatable decision against Ruslan Provodnikov in March. It was a great fight, but it had to have taken a lot out of Bradley, who said that he was messed up for two months after the fight. He believed he had a concussion, and he had trouble speaking clearly. Can he truly be all the way back by now? That was the kind of fight that could have taken his prime away in one night.
I wonder what it's going to be like for Bradley, who is not a big puncher, when he starts getting clipped by Marquez, an underrated puncher who took some punishment in December, but not nearly as much as Bradley did in March. If the fight turns out to be a slugging match, I think you have to like Marquez in that scenario because he's a much bigger hitter, and Bradley seemed so hurt every time Provodnikov touched him.
And if it turns into a boxing match -- well, it's also hard to pick against Marquez there because although he might not be as quick as Bradley, he is still one of the great counterpunchers of his generation.
Marquez and Bradley both have huge hearts, too. This is indisputable. It was incredible to see Bradley survive the way he did against Provodnikov. But Marquez also has shown those qualities. Remember how he got off the deck three times to draw with Pacquiao in their first fight?
So it just strikes me that regardless of the style of fight we see, Marquez probably has the edge or is even in each category with Bradley. That means I'm going with the all-time great to beat Bradley on a decision.
Given the two calls judges have made for Bradley in his fights against Pacquiao and Provodnikov, and the controversial nature of three of Marquez's fights with the Pacman, it would not shock me if we get another result on Saturday that could be debated for years to come.