Eighteen years is a long time away from home, and as the touchstone athlete in his native, boxing-crazy Mexico, Juan Manuel Marquez knows that the wait for his next fight there has been too long. But the countdown has begun, and on Saturday at the brand-new Arena Ciudad de Mexico, Marquez (53-6-1, 39 KOs) will face Ukraine's Sergey Fedcehnko (30-1, 13 KOs) in a split-site doubleheader also featuring the Brandon Rios-Richard Abril lightweight title bout from Las Vegas.
After a disappointing loss to nemesis Manny Pacquiao last November (in yet another fight that many believe he won), Marquez will attempt to grab a title in his fourth weight class on Saturday -- this time in a clash for a vacant interim 140-pound championship. The achievement would qualify as yet another landmark in Marquez's storied career, and although all signs point to his next fight being a summer matchup with fellow headliner Rios, Marquez's most urgent goal is to make a fourth fight against Pacquiao.
Marquez recently found a few minutes in his busy schedule to talk to ESPN Deportes about a variety of topics, including Fedchenko, fighting again in Mexico and the possibility of redemption against Pacquiao.
How was training for this fight?
The preparation was just like always -- a strong preparation, a training camp focused on what the fight would be. We know that Fedchenko is a difficult fighter, a fighter who comes to win, and we got ready without leaving anything to chance.
What does it mean to you to fight in Mexico City again after so many years?
It's a great joy, a great satisfaction to be able to return to my hometown in Mexico City and fight again for my people. To me, it's a great feeling but also a great responsibility, and we have to give our best. Here in Mexico, people are very knowledgeable when it comes to boxing, so coming here and fighting again in Mexico City is a great pride, but also we need to demonstrate that we want to give people a great show.
What do you know about your opponent as a fighter?
It's a difficult opponent, one of those European fighters who are hard to decipher. But I believe that as the rounds wear on, we are going to try to decipher his style and we are going to work with experience and intelligence, and even with a lot of speed. We know that Fedchenko wants to come over and win, and become super lightweight champion. And we have prepared without taking anything for granted, we have prepared and concentrated for this fight and we know that it will be a difficult fight. And I am telling you that we want to give the fans a great show for the fans after 18 years of not fighting here in Mexico.
How hard is it to maintain focus for Fedchenko after fighting the best fighters in the world the past few years?
It's not hard to stay focused because we know that there is no easy or small opponent in the ring, and we have to stay focused on each fight. We are used to fighting the best, and Fedchenko is a good fighter. We are not overlooking him. We know that you have to be especially careful with opponents who are not so good technically, because they come for everything and you can never be too careful. We are getting ready just as hard as we did against Pacquiao.
You will have a lot of guests at ringside for this fight, including Timothy Bradley Jr. Are any of them targets for the future?
No, not at all. To me, first things are first, I don't talk before a fight. We know that we have a commitment on [Saturday] and it is important, and I don't like to look down on any fighters or talk about a future when my present hasn't been fulfilled yet. My next goal is [winning Saturday], and after that, we'll see what happens. Fedchenko is first.
How important to your legacy is it to become a four-division world champion?
It is important, and it is important to have records, but the most important thing for me is to fight the best. To have people know that when they hear the name of Juan Manuel Marquez, they are hearing the name of a fighter who fought the very best. They can say that I won three or four championships, but fighting the best fighters out there is the most important thing right now.
Who would you like to face in a unification fight in order to eventually validate the title?
Well, I believe there are good opponents in the 140-pound division. It may be Bradley; there are also other guys like [Lamont] Peterson. There are a lot of fighters to watch, but like I said, first things first, and the first thing is Fedchenko. And after I win, and when I have that belt on my waist, I will start thinking about an opponent for the future.
Do you believe that you have a chance to make a fourth fight with Pacquiao?
We know that this is the fight that I want, that this is the fight that we won [in our third meeting], and it is also the fight that people is asking to see. But, well, I believe that Pacquiao's team and Pacquiao himself don't want to see me ever again -- not even in pictures. We beat them three times, and I believe I'm a little stone in his shoe that is hurting him and in one way or another is bothering them, because we showed that we can beat him three times in a row. So we'll see what happens, and if that fight comes along for later this year, it will be welcomed.
Is Rios your next opponent? What do you make of him?
Well, we'll have to see about that. Brandon Rios is a good fighter, but I always thought that in order to be the best, you have to fight the best. And if that fight comes along and I beat him ... who did I beat, really? He is not an outstanding fighter with the great name of a marquee fighter. We want to fight a marquee fighter, so I can say "I beat a great fighter," or "I was beaten by a great fighter."
How do you envision the fight and the surroundings in your mind?
I believe the environment will be phenomenal. Returning after 18 years will be awesome, and the environment will be great. And that environment will only grow with a victory. We have to win convincingly. We want to leave November behind and make people get excited and support us again, and also thank them for all their support for the past 18 years.
Diego Morilla is a contributor to ESPNdeportes.com.