Pacquiao vs Marquez IV: Cloud of doubt hangs over series finale of great boxing rivalry

Harry How

Juan Manuel Marquez's body has changed pretty drastically, especially for an athlete his age. With speculation, accusations, and doubts flying around the boxing world, how much of an impact has the recent controversy had on the Pacquiao-Marquez IV fight?

It all really started a year ago, when Juan Manuel Marquez hired Angel "Memo" Hernandez, formerly known as Angel Heredia, a strength and conditioning coach who testified for the U.S. government in the BALCO trial, and was a known supplier of performance-enhancing drugs in the past to athletes.

More recently, everything really went kablamoo and kablooie. Manny Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach outright accused Marquez and Hernandez of using performance-enhancing drugs to make Marquez unnaturally bigger and stronger at an advanced age.

And though the Marquez side has repeatedly denied the allegations, with Hernandez even threatening to sue Roach, the doubters remain. One of them is Victor Conte, the infamous former BALCO boss, who tells Yahoo! Sports columnist Kevin Iole that it's possible Marquez could have done what he's done naturally, but that skepticism can't be brushed off easily.

He pointed out the massive amount of weight that Marquez was shown squatting during HBO's "24/7: Pacquiao-Marquez." Several boxing trainers and conditioning coaches have told Yahoo! Sports that it is highly unusual for boxers to squat such heavy weight.

Conte said there is a reason for that.

"That makes your entire body strong, not just your legs," Conte said of the squats Marquez has been doing. "If you want to stimulate speed, power and strength, you do it using heavy weight and exploding from under that weight with enough on your shoulders in the squat rack.

"But how many boxers do you know who are in the weight room squatting huge poundage? You don't see that. That in and of itself would make you stiff and sore and unable to walk for two or three days unless you are using testosterone or other steroids to accelerate the healing, where instead of it taking three days to recover from that type of workout, you'd recover in one day."

Read the full article at Yahoo! Sports.

There is no doubt that the Marquez we saw face Pacquiao in 2011 and the Marquez we see today is a drastically different man, physically, than the Marquez we saw in 2009, when he faced Floyd Mayweather in a more-or-less welterweight bout. That Marquez looked heavy, bulky, even a little fat (if anyone professional athlete who weighs about 140 pounds can be considered "fat.")

Last year, Marquez was solid, strong, and moved well. It wasn't just about Mayweather's style making Marquez look bad in '09; there was a notable physical difference. And while that can certainly be chalked up to a totally legit, totally legal strength and conditioning program, as compared to the urine-drinking that was a big part of Marquez's Mayweather camp, to deny that there is reason to be skeptical is to live in a sheltered world where you haven't read countless stories of athletes breaking the rules over the last decade.

In other words, it would be foolish to not at least seriously consider the idea that Marquez and Hernandez haven't played by the rules. It's not to say for sure that they haven't, only to say that there's really no way to be sure that they have. And that goes for Pacquiao and any other fighter, too, but few have had a body transformation anywhere near what Marquez has seen happen over the last year and change.

The fighter and his coach say it's pure hard work, a change in philosophy. Everyone would love to believe that and know for sure it's the truth. We would love to imagine that the playing field is always level, that our favorite athletes are on the up-and-up, with nothing shady going on, making them something they naturally cannot be.

But it's 2012, and that's hard to do. Iole figures that a win for Marquez may simply leave more open questions, which could be the case, and would be a shame. Like it or not -- and personally, I hate it -- one of the great boxing rivalries of all-time has a dark cloud hanging over it as it comes close to its series finale.

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