• Steve Bunce

Marquez then and now: A Mexican Legend

Steve Bunce May 13, 2014
Juan Manuel Marquez may have missed Prince Naseem Hamed 15 years ago - but he has met the very best since © Getty Images

It was fifteen years ago that a spindly-legged Mexican called Juan Manuel Marquez was made the number one contender for Naseem Hamed's WBO featherweight title.

Marquez had lost his first fight but was unbeaten in 29, with 23 ending in blood and pain for his opponents, by the time that the negotiations turned serious during the summer of 1999. Marquez wanted Hamed, make no mistake and, contrary to popular belief, little Naz wanted Marquez.

The fight never happened and Marquez was given a boxing lesson by unbeaten Freddy Norwood when he fought for the WBA featherweight title in September 1999; a month later Hamed added the WBC title to his WBO belt when he beat Cesar Soto in Detroit. Yes, Naz really was that good.

It looked like the fight was dead for good, but negotiations continued behind the scenes and in early 2000 Marquez was offered $400,000 to meet Hamed. He declined, which is not the same as 'ducking' Hamed.

Buncey's Vaults

Naseem Hamed destroyed Castro © Getty Images
  • Armando Castro was hard, trust me. "Castro, 31, has met eight world champions, challenged three times for the world title and last October survived 12 rounds with Ghana's WBO bantamweight champion Alfred Kotey. His three stoppage losses were because of cuts and he has won 43 fights, 38 by stoppage."
  • In the other corner that night in Glasgow was Naseem Hamed, still only 20. I tipped Hamed to ruin Castro. I wrote: "When it is over the cynics will have to revise their opinion." Hamed was not as kind about his critics: "'It is racism but every time I hear somebody call me a 'little Paki', I just do what I have to do in the ring', said Hamed."
  • It was brutal and Castro was destroyed in four rounds and left the ring in tears. Hamed was getting closer and closer to a world title.
  • As reported in The Daily Telegraph, January 21, 1995

"It is not easy to fight Hamed, he is like a wrestler and he's difficult to beat," said Marquez at the time. "It would be like the Norwood fight and right now they [Hamed's team] have not given me sufficient time to prepare." The fight was dead after that.

Hamed went on a spectacular bender of indecision at that crucial time in his career; there was pathetic preparation for fights and after a bizarre exit fight in 2002, against a Spaniard in London's Docklands, he simply vanished. The great days and nights were over and he is still missed.

Marquez continued winning and in 2003 he won the IBF featherweight title, defending it and adding the WBA version later that year when he stopped Derrick Gainer. It looked like Marquez was desperate to make up for lost time, because at that point he had been a professional boxer ten years.

In May 2004 he defended both belts against Manny Pacquiao in what is the first of their four fights. Marquez was over three times in the opening round, which was scored 10-6 in Pacquiao's favour.

It was a gruesome fight, quite brilliant to watch and at the end of 12 torrid rounds the judges returned their verdict: one went for Manny, one for Marquez and the third had it a draw. Marquez kept his belts but it was the start of the hate. "I won that fight," Marquez screamed.

Marquez continued to dominate at feather and super-feather until 2008 when he met Pacquiao for the second time. It went 12 rounds again and the split verdict went to Pacquiao. Marquez was furious, but kept winning. In 2009 he was offered a non-title fight with Floyd Mayweather and collected a forfeit of over $500,000 when Floyd came in heavy - Marquez was fighting about a stone above his heaviest previous weight and lost on points. Mayweather still receives criticism for the extra weight and the demands he insisted on.

In 2011 it was Manny again; it went 12 and Marquez lost a wafer-thin and deeply controversial decision once again. Marquez was livid, vowing to never fight again. He was at that stage 38, he had been a champion at three weights and there was a very solid argument for him being named as one of Mexico's finest fighters. He was a survivor and had handily beaten another great Mexican Marco Antonio Barrera in 2006.

So, after three fights with Pacquiao a fourth was arranged and it took place in December 2012, back at the MGM in Vegas. What a night it was; Marquez was trailing on all three scorecards after five rounds but knocked out Pacquiao cold in round six. It was a stunning end.

Since that night Marquez has dropped another controversial decision, this time to Tim Bradley. There was nothing in it. This Saturday at the Forum in Inglewood, California, the truly remarkable career of Juan Manuel Marquez continues - he is 40, has fought 63 times and if he beats Mike Alvarado he will be in a big fight or two again. He might have missed Hamed 15 years ago but since then he has met the very best.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
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Steve Bunce has been ringside in Las Vegas over 50 times, he has been at five Olympics and has been writing about boxing for over 25 years for a variety of national newspapers in Britain, including four which folded! It is possible that his face and voice have appeared on over 60 channels worldwide in a variety of languages - his first novel The Fixer was published in 2010 to no acclaim; amazingly it has been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year.