Jorge Arce, Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez and Erik Morales share a lot of traits.
They're Mexican boxers, of course, and with that comes the kind stereotype that all proudly wear: They're action fighters, determined professionals, and fearlessly ambitious. Over the years we've seen all of them chase glory that seemed unattainable, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing. They are proud fighters -- proud of their careers, proud of the rich Mexican boxing history, and too proud to "go away."
They're also Mexico's four current entrants in the race to become the first Mexican fighter ever to win a major title in four weight classes. And for each of them, it's another goal that seems a little beyond their grasp, even with how many times they've beaten the odds before.
Now let me say this: Alphabet belts are rather meaningless to me, but this is a subject that isn't meaningless, and just so happens to be about title belts, so for a little bit here, I will respect the, uh, "glory" of the WBC, WBO, WBA and IBF belts in current boxing. This is an instance where the belts truly mean something to the fighters we'll be discussing.
Let's start with Jorge Arce, the youngest of our four-man group and the most recent serious candidate for four divison immortality. Arce, 31, recently joined the race with his May 7 win over Wilfredo Vazquez Jr of Puerto Rico, a great fight that netted him the WBO super bantamweight title. His first major title came in December 1998, when he beat Juan Domingo Cordoba for the WBO title at 108 pounds. He held the WBC belt at the same weight in his best run as a pro (2002-04), but wouldn't pick up his next major title until 2010, when he was all but gifted the WBO belt at 115 pounds for a win over Angky Angkota.
When he topped Vazquez, Arce claimed four titles due to a long run at 112 pounds where he permanently held on to the interim WBC title, but that just doesn't count, so Arce is still hunting for four. But he's taken that news well, as he's laughed it off, and as if he doesn't care whether or not he already has four, has started talking about making a run at a featherweight belt. For the record, I will -- ugh, I hate doing this -- have to agree with Jose Sulaiman that Arce's title at flyweight isn't good enough. Ugh. Of course it's probably Sulaiman's fault that Arce held on to that interim belt for so long, but...OK, let's move on.
Arce might have the best shot of the four, something I could not have said before May 7. At 122 pounds, he looked stronger and fresher than he has in years. For the first time in a while, he looked his age instead of 10 years older. Could he win a belt at featherweight? Maybe. Another tough Mexican veteran (Orlando Salido) just did, and stranger things have happened.
Morales, 34, and Barrera, 37, will always be linked for one of the most heated, passionate rivalries in boxing history, and for three great fights against one another. They are both bound for the Hall of Fame and are true stars and true greats of their era in boxing.
Barrera's quest now seems the less likely to find the Holy Grail. Morales was competitive last month with Marcos Maidana, and even if that was in large part smoke and mirrors because Maidana isn't much of a boxer in a "pure boxing" sense, it was far better than Barrera has looked since his most recent run, which followed a listless loss to Manny Pacquiao in 2007.
Barrera seems to be fighting without passion these days. The same cannot be said for his old rival. In their respective returns from hiatus from the ring, Morales has faced better competition and even at his worst, looked more alive than Barrera, who largely seems to be sleepwalking these days.
Both have the same weight classes under their belts -- 122, 126 and 130. Barrera claimed his first title way back in 1995, beating Daniel Jimenez for the WBO super bantamweight title. In 1997, Morales retired Mexican legend Daniel Zaragoza to claim the WBC belt at 122 pounds. Morales would beat Barrera to a featherweight title, picking his up on February 17, 2001, by beating Guty Espadas Jr in Las Vegas. But Barrera somewhat topped that, beating Morales on June 22, 2002, in the second of their three fights.
In February 2004, Morales beat Jesus Chavez for the WBC super featherweight title. Once again, Barrera evened the tally by dethroning Morales that November.
Do either of them have a serious shot at four? Morales might, though I still consider it unlikely. He would be best off if he could still make 135 (where he lost to David Diaz in 2007, a spirited try for the fourth belt), but he may not be able to. Fighting at 140 seems grim on the surface for his chances to claim a title, but there's also the fact that sooner or later, Tim Bradley and Amir Khan will be moving to 147, which could create an opening.
Then there's Marquez. The current king of the Mexican fighters beat Manuel Medina for the vacant IBF featherweight title in February 2003, then four years later took the super featherweight title from Barrera that Barrera had taken from Morales in 2004.
In 2008, after losing to Manny Pacquiao at 130, Marquez moved up to 135 and beat lineal champion Joel Casamayor. No paper alphabet soup trinkets were on the line for that fight, but if you just need one of those (and I'd advise the exact opposite), he also claimed two vacant lightweight titles for his February 2009 Fight of the Year win over Juan Diaz.
Marquez and Morales both might get shots soon. Morales could be looking for a 140-pound title belt in July, while Marquez will be taking a crack at a welterweight title in November against Manny Pacquiao if he gets his wish.
Can any of these fighters do it, or will the quest for four wait for another generation of Mexican stars to make their marks? All of these guys are on the wrong side of 30, and two of them are on the wrong side of 35. They're all closer to the end of their careers than they are the beginning.
When it all comes down to it, including what type opportunities could arise, I still have to give the nod to Juan Manuel Marquez as the most likely. It probably isn't going to happen against Pacquiao, but if he fights on after that, even aged, I think he'd have as good a shot at winning a 140 pound title as Arce does at winning one at 126 given that current landscape. I consider Barrera the longest shot of the four, as I just don't think he's going with the same fire that the rest have been.
In a complete and utter brain fart moment, I forgot the case of Fernando Montiel, who has held titles at 112 (the one I always forget for no good reason), 115 and 118. Montiel is coming off of a bad loss to Nonito Donaire, and I personally don't hold him in the highest regard -- I've just never been a fan of his style. But he's 32, so younger than everyone here but Arce, and his next weight class (122) has some titles to pick off. He's shown a willingness to go to Japan and fight, and in turn his defeat of Hozumi Hasegawa at 118 could make for a nice storyline were he to return. But he could target IBF titlist Takalani Ndlovu if he wants what is on paper the easiest belt to lift. Given that Montiel is not near the star class of many of the great Mexican three-division titlists, it could be an even bigger feather in his cap than it might be for someone else. He might not be as popular or revered as the others, but he's right there in line, and if he were to become the first, his historical status (even as an oddity more than a major star) would be lifted considerably.