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Thursday, March 15, 2007
Can Juan Manuel repeat the feat?

By Dan Rafael
ESPN.com

Little brothers usually are the ones trying to follow in the footsteps of big brother.

There's New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who hopes to someday lead his team to a Super Bowl championship the same way big brother Peyton led the Indianapolis Colts to the title this past NFL season.

There is heavyweight Wladimir Klitschko, who won a world title belt after his big brother, Vitali, already had done it.

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• Junior lightweights: Marco Antonio Barrera (63-4, 42 KOs) vs. Juan Manuel Marquez (46-3-1, 35 KOs), 12 rounds, for Barrera's title
• Junior featherweights: Daniel Ponce De Leon (30-1, 28 KOs) vs. Gerry Penalosa (51-5-2, 35 KOs), 12 rounds, for De Leon's title
• Junior welterweights: Demetrius Hopkins (25-0-1, 10 KOs) vs. Steve Forbes (32-4, 9 KOs), 12 rounds

In the case of featherweight titlist Juan Manuel Marquez, 33, he is in the unusual position of trying to match the rare achievement reached by baby brother Rafael Marquez, 31, just a couple of weeks ago.

Juan Manuel Marquez (46-3-1, 35 KOs) is moving up in weight to challenge junior lightweight champion Marco Antonio Barrera on Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET) at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas in the year's first major pay-per-view fight. A victory for Marquez over his Mexican countryman in a fight many have anticipated for years would make him a two-division champion, just like his brother.

Marquez unified featherweight belts in 2003 and, after being stripped in politically motivated moves by two sanctioning organizations, he claimed another title last August.

That's certainly an impressive résumé, but it does not quite match what his brother recently accomplished.

Rafael Marquez (37-3, 33 KOs) won the bantamweight title in 2003 and made seven defenses in a dominant reign. He moved up to junior featherweight on March 3 and stopped Israel Vazquez in the seventh round of an all-action fight to become a two-division champion.

Now, Juan Manuel has the opportunity to follow in those footsteps against Barrera (63-4, 42) in a match between two of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

Juan Manuel Marquez
Juan Manuel Marquez

Juan Manuel could not attend the his brother's victory against Vazquez because he was in training camp in Mexico preparing for the Barrera fight. But a proud Juan Manuel watched with family members on television as Rafael survived a third-round knockdown and won the 122-pound world championship.

Marquez said he does not feel pressure to match his brother's accomplishment. Instead, he said he feels motivated by it.

"After seeing what he did, it's motivation to be able to be the champ at 130 pounds," Juan Manuel said.

The brothers are close. They even married a set of sisters.

"I am to blame for this," Juan Manuel said on HBO's "Countdown to Barrera-Marquez" preview show. "I was dating my wife, at the time my girlfriend, and Rafael says to me, 'Her sister is very beautiful, could you introduce her to me?' I introduced her to him, and that was how their love story began. Then they got married."

As close as they are, the brothers are for the first time in their careers with different promoters. Juan Manuel signed last year with Golden Boy Promotions and Rafael signed with Gary Shaw.

Rafael Marquez
Rafael Marquez

Whatever rivalry once existed between them as boys is long gone.

"No, there's no rivalry whatsoever," Juan Manuel said. "In fact, we motivate each other. We both work hard and we both want to be champions and we both want to win, but there's no rivalry whatsoever."

As kids, they sparred together, but by the time they reached their teens, the sessions began to get extremely heated and they would give each other bloody noses. Eventually, their father had to step in.

"Each time we would train and spar each other it was war, so my dad kind of had to step in and prohibit us from sparring each other," Juan Manuel said.

Those sessions, however, helped build the foundation for the brothers, whom boxing historian Bert Sugar rates as the best brother combination in boxing history, and that's even if Juan Manuel does not win the junior lightweight title on Saturday.

"It's because these two kids do not really outshine the other brother," Sugar said. "They both bring it to the table. Not only one shines. One doesn't carry the load. You have two brothers virtually equal in terms of their ability, accomplishment and technique. So I think the Marquez brothers are the best. It's the totality of the two."

Michael and Leon Spinks and the Klitschkos never held titles simultaneously like the Marquez brothers do now. It is a very rare accomplishment, although it has happened a few times.

Rafael Ruelas won a lightweight belt and reigned from February 1994 until May 1995. Gabriel Ruelas won a junior lightweight belt in September 1994 before being dethroned in December 1995.

There are also the Galaxy twins from Thailand. Khaosai Galaxy held a junior bantamweight title from 1984 to 1991 and brother Khaokor won two bantamweight belts, the first in 1988 and another in 1989.

In 1909, Abe Attell reigned as world featherweight champion and brother Monte Attell held the bantamweight crown.

"You have two brothers virtually equal in terms of their ability, accomplishment and technique. So I think the Marquez brothers are the best. It's the totality of the two."
-- Historian Bert Sugar

Barrera, who promises to fight Marquez toe-to-toe, said he hasn't given any thought to the historical implications of a Marquez victory because he plans to win anyway.

"It was a very good performance from Rafael, but they're both different fighters," Barrera said. "They're individuals, and they're very different fighters. You can't really categorize me as an Israel Vazquez. I'm a different kind of fighter. I'm in a different league, I feel."

Barrera said what Rafael did has nothing to do with this fight.

"I don't think about that stuff," Barrera said.

Rafael Marquez is widely regarded as the better of the brothers on the pound-for-pound lists. On ESPN.com's list, Rafael ranks fifth and Juan Manuel 18th. Ring magazine has Rafael seventh on a top 10 list.

Juan Manuel, however, does not resent the fact that his brother is considered better, which could certainly change with a victory over the Hall of Fame-bound Barrera.

"I leave that up to the experts," he said. "It's not really for me to judge who's better or who should be higher in the pound-for-pound list. Leave it up to the experts. It's up to them to say."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.