Last night in Las Vegas, Juan Manuel Marquez was fairly dominant in banging out a unanimous decision win over Juan Diaz on HBO pay-per-view, a rematch of the 2009 Fight of the Year that couldn't live up to the hype and anticipation, but nonetheless entertained well enough (in my opinion) and showed that at 36, the old Mexican warrior still has some gas left in the tank.
I don't want to overstate the victory, however. Let's be honest here. None of us were picking Juan Diaz to win this fight. Nobody was picking Juan Diaz anywhere that I saw. Diaz, at 26, was worn out and run over by Marquez in last year's great battle, and last night looked like the same listless, half-there fighter he was in his December rematch with Paul Malignaggi, which was also a wide decision loss. I still rank Diaz in the top ten in my lightweight rankings (that is, if he continues to fight), but that's more a reflection of a shoddy division, plus the fact that Diaz's losses have come to good competition. Two of them have come against the best fighter the division has to offer: Marquez.
It's not as if Juan Manuel Marquez surprised anyone last night. He looked mostly sharp, very anxious at times, and pretty much like Juan Manuel Marquez has looked the last couple of years, the farcical money fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. excluded. These days, Marquez is trigger-happy offensively at times. He is a flat-footed fighter whose defense has really eroded over the years, and whose speed has slipped some, too.
But what makes Marquez still incredibly relevant is that he's adapted to Father Time taking away some of his gifts. We've learned that Marquez is an incredibly fierce competitor, a fact cemented in his outstanding win over Marco Antonio Barrera in 2007. That victory still stands as the signature W on Marquez's record.
Marquez, though, is thinking big. At 36, fighting above his optimal weight, he is still chasing a third fight with Manny Pacquiao. He has been the greatest rival of the Filipino legend's career, drawing Pacquiao once in a blistering fight, and then losing an incredibly close split decision in 2008. Since that loss -- and Marquez still disputes both outcomes -- there has been nothing that Marquez has wanted more than another crack at Manny.
Manny went to lightweight to fight and thrash David Diaz. So Marquez went up to lightweight, fought legitimate champion Joel Casamayor, and became the first man to ever stop the Cuban star. Manny went up to 140 and 147, so Marquez tried his luck against Floyd Mayweather. Say what you will about the fight, but I truly believe Marquez did come to win. The size was just too much for him, and Mayweather, as I've said many times, would have always beaten Marquez. Marquez is too apt to play into Mayweather's game.
As Manny has gone up in weight and chased titles -- some admirable, some ignorable if you're not part of the Top Rank PR team -- Marquez has tried to stay step-for-step with him. Obviously, Pacquiao has had more success. He retired Oscar de la Hoya, may have retired Ricky Hatton, bashed Miguel Cotto and routed Joshua Clottey. Next, Manny will move up to try to win another bogus belt in the junior middleweight division, when he faces disgraced Antonio Margarito with a 150-pound catchweight in November.
Chances are, Marquez will not get to fight Manny Pacquiao again. If I may be Criswell for a moment, allow me to look into the future. First, Pacquiao will thwart Margarito. Then, after more failed negotiations with the camp of Mayweather, he will face Miguel Cotto in a rematch and win again. By that point in time, Pacquiao may well retire into a life of politics in his home country. And Marquez will just be older, too.
Before I move on, let me say this. I agree with Kevin Iole's post-fight article where he says that Marquez deserves a third fight with Pacquiao. I don't think it would be terribly competitive at this stage, to be honest, but I know Marquez would give his all. And I sure as hell think that Juan Manuel Marquez is more deserving of a fight with Manny Pacquiao than an unlicensed fighter that has drawn nothing but negative attention to boxing since January 2009.
But let's count Pacquiao out, because the odds are totally against Pacquiao-Marquez III happening. Where could Marquez go?
Amir Khan: This fight has been discussed a lot this year. There was an attempt to put it together for July 31, but Marquez took the rematch with Diaz instead, which was a wise comeback fight. Khan, meanwhile, totally dominated Paul Malignaggi this spring and wants a fight with Marquez. I figure Khan and his trainer, Freddie Roach, see an old, undersized fighter who won't have the speed to keep up with Amir, plus Marquez would have to move up to 140 to make the fight happen.
The pros center on the fact that it would be a good payday, and outside of something like the Mayweather fight, Marquez is too crafty, too gutsy and too great to be counted out. Khan's chin has not gotten better, and Marquez throws with intent to do damage on just about everything he unleashes anymore. Working in Khan's favor would be the fact that he'd have a significant height advantage, plus that Khan may well have the fastest hands in boxing today. He has done a great job taking advice from Freddie Roach and learning to stay out of the pocket, using his natural skills. In short, Roach has (as he usually does) accentuated the positives and done his best to eliminate the negatives.
Michael Katsidis: God knows Katsidis wants to fight Marquez, and feels that JMM blatantly has ducked him. It is, in my mind, the best fight that can be made at 135 pound. Katsidis has shown true improvement since his disastrously poor performance and gameplan against Juan Diaz in 2008, and looked absolutely savage taking apart Kevin Mitchell in May. My feeling is that Katsidis has earned this fight, Marquez shouldn't fight over 135 if we're simply talking about in-ring benefits and not worrying about possible paydays, and that Marquez-Katsidis is the best fight out there for JMM. It could be a magnificent fight, too. Katsidis loves to come straight forward, and Marquez is best when he gets to throw counters. Could he hurt Katsidis the same way he hurt Diaz last year? Sure, he could. But Katsidis is a much harder puncher than Diaz, too. A lot of people (myself included) feel that if Diaz were a bigger puncher, the 2009 bout and maybe even last night's could have gone much, much differently. Marquez-Katsidis would be a war. A dangerous fight for Marquez, but that's what champions should take.
Erik Morales: This is unlikely, but Morales has said he wants the fight, and Marquez has seemed open to it when it's been brought up. It would do big money with the Mexican audience, perhaps, but I think a lot of that would be sort of a "thank you" in PPV buy form to Morales and Marquez for their excellent careers. Morales is younger than Marquez, but completely shot as a fighter and it would not be competitive.
Ricky Hatton: Another one that seems unlikely right now. This has been discussed as a stadium fight in Manchester, but right now Ricky Hatton is showing no real desire to get back in the ring. He's focusing on Hatton Promotions and doing a good job getting his firm off the ground. I'm not sure there's a great deal of U.S. interest in Hatton anymore, either. It would be a very tough PPV sell here, and probably an expensive fight for HBO to air on World Championship Boxing.
There are plenty of others out there, at 135 and 140, but the truth is, the money options are few for Marquez. It would seem almost a given that Golden Boy would want to make Marquez-Khan. It would make money in the U.S. and in the U.K., which is a big plus for the promoters, and it's the fight that has been most seriously discussed.
Marquez may well deserve a third clash with Manny Pacquiao, but since he's almost surely not going to get it, it leaves him with limited possibilities as he continues his Hall of Fame-bound career. He can still fight, and unlike some, is still ready, willing and able to take the toughest challenge he can think to take.