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The Mexecutioner and the Last Mexican Standing: Marquez-Pacquiao II

What you see above is the worst three minutes of Juan Manuel Marquez's career, a career that finally saw him reach the pinnacle of the sport in 2007. When a fight starts the way Marquez-Pacquiao did back in 2004, it doesn't last 12 rounds. It doesn't last five. Hell, most referees would have stopped it after the third knockdown, even without a three-knockdown rule, and even if the fighter doesn't appear to be that shaken up.

Miraculously, Marquez not only survived the 12 rounds, but he wound up spending the majority of the fight beating Manny Pacquiao with superior boxing skills. They fought to a draw on May 8, 2004. It won't happen again on Saturday.

Almost one year ago to the day of Saturday night's much-anticipated rematch with Manny Pacquiao, Marquez decisioned Mexican legend Marco Antonio Barrera in a fantastic fight that announced to the world that, at long last, Marquez had arrived as one of boxing's biggest players.

It's not as if he never had chances before.

Marquez received his first world title shot way back in 1999, when he challenged WBA featherweight titleholder Freddie Norwood, underneath Floyd Mayweather, Jr.'s, win over Carlos Gerena in Vegas. Marquez was a notorious slow starter at the time -- still can be, frankly --and Norwood was able to build a comfortable lead, then managed to hang onto it after Juan Manuel made his charge later in the bout.

Had he not started slow, Marquez would have beaten Norwood. But he did. So he didn't.

Four years later, he won his first world title by defeating Mexican veteran Manuel Medina in a one-sided affair, a night where youth definitely conquered experience. He unified his IBF featherweight title with the WBA title in 2003, when he forced legendary runner Derrick Gainer to expose just how terrified of a real fight he was. The stat of great lore that night? Gainer jabbed 107 times. He landed once. Anyone that ever calls Floyd Mayweather a "runner" should really watch Gainer -- that's a runner.

So, here was Marquez, holding two 126-pound belts, but sadly for him, doing it at a time when his division was stacked. Even though he held two belts and considered by many to be among the world's best fighters, he was competing for cred in his own division. Frankly, it was also a time where you could have made a fine argument that the pound-for-pound top ten had four 126-pounders, which is unreal.

He stood in the shadows of countrymen Barrera and Erik Morales, as well as fast-rising Filipino superstar Manny Pacquiao -- the man he would face after beating Gainer.

Pacquiao's rise to fame in America is well-documented. As a replacement challenger to 122-pound titlist Lehlohonolo Ledwaba in 2001, Pacquiao made his American debut on HBO pay-per-view, part of the undercard to de la Hoya-Castillejo. The fight did around 400,000 domestic buys, and that night, Manny Pacquiao became a star.

He blitzed Ledwaba -- the champ was never really in the fight, overwhelmed by Pacquiao's speed and power right from the get-go.

But let's not totally revise history the way some hype pieces -- such as HBO's Countdown shows -- occasionally will. Pacquiao was not totally unknown. He was known to diehards. And though he was a titleholder and had a good record, Ledwaba was not some great fighter. The fight was mercifully stopped in the sixth round, with Ledwaba clueless as to what had really happened.

Pacquiao's next fight is generally ignored and lost in the annals of time, as tough Dominican Agapito Sanchez gave Pacquiao a good fight before it was stopped on headbutt-caused cuts in the sixth and declared a draw. Scores at the time of the stoppage were 58-54 Pacquiao, 57-55 Sanchez and 56-56. Manny didn't show up and beat the hell out of everyone.

Well, not right away. After the Sanchez fight, he scored four straight knockouts. And signed on to fight Barrera.

What happened next is one of those fights you'll always talk about. Here he was, Marco Antonio Barrera, living legend of the Mexican fight game. A true Mexican fighter -- a trench warrior. A guy that would mix it up with anyone, had a mean streak, and could be positively savage in the ring when momentum was in his favor.

And Manny Pacquiao kicked the shit out of him.

With Pacquiao now a superstar, who would step up for the Mexicans and try to take him down? Marquez.

It was a fight meant to be great, pitting Marquez's deft boxing skills and sometimes overlooked power against Pacquiao's lethal frenzy attack and awkward southpaw style. After one round, it didn't look like it was even going to be a contest. But the heart and determination of Marquez never failed him, even if his legs did three times in the opening stanza. By the end of the fight, it was Pacquiao who was escaping Marquez, and not the other way around.

Within the confines of scoring a boxing fight, a draw was really the best thing Marquez could hope for after the first round were the fight to go the distance. It took a heroic effort on his part just to get there.

But who really fought better that night?

Pacquiao's supporters will point to the fact that he knocked Marquez to the floor three times. Marquez's boosters will say he won the vast majority of the fight.

It was a draw. It was an electrifying, dramatic, epic draw. If ever there's been an epic draw, this was it.

The flame for a rematch has been burning ever since.

Since that night in 2004, Pacquiao has gone 7-1, with his lone loss to Erik Morales in a classic toe-to-toe battle -- a loss he emphatically avenged not once, but twice. Pacquiao also beat a shell of Marco Antonio Barrera again last October, and dropped Mexicans Hector Velazquez, Oscar Larios and Jorge Solis along the way.

That's why Manny Pacquiao is "The Mexecutioner" -- the two best of the generation, Morales and Barrera, both have been essentially retired by Pacquiao. The Mexicans have been lined up, and they've all fallen.

Except for Juan Manuel Marquez. While Marquez once stood in the great shadows of Morales and Barrera, he now stands alone, the Mexican king of the game.

The Last Mexican Standing has the weight of a country on his shoulders this Saturday night. If Pacquiao is going to lose to a Mexican fighter, Marquez is the guy that can do it.

You should order this fight. We're talking about two top five pound-for-pound fighters, who have already proven that they make for a great fight together, fighting for something that's bigger than money, titles and even personal pride. Both of them are fighting for the pride of their nations on Saturday.

This is a huge fight -- as big as any on the calendar. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that this is the most important fight out there right now. This is bigger than Hopkins-Calzaghe, more relevant than Floyd-Oscar II, and it promises great action to boot.

Pacquiao is a better fighter than he was in 2004. Marquez might even be a little better. They took opposite paths to get here -- Marquez got more aggressive, and Pacquiao settled down a little bit and used his speed to his advantage. While 2007 was not Manny's best year, he still won every fight he had, and did it convincingly.

And while Pacquiao is the general public's favorite, there does seem to be a rising tide in support of Marquez winning this fight. I think I'm in that camp. As great as Pacquiao is, it just feels like Marquez is coming in solely focused on defeating Manny Pacquiao, while Manny is looking down the road, even if only a bit.

Whatever happens, this is a fight that will deliver bang for your 50 bucks. Saturday can't come soon enough.

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