Never before have I had the pleasure or frustration of watching my favorite fighter do combat with my least favorite fighter. The time is nigh this Saturday night, when my beloved Juan Manuel Marquez battles the villainous Joel Casamayor. That’s my stake in it, and so interested am I in seeing Marquez thrash Casamayor that I’m actually buying the pay-per-view, recording it, and watching it when I come back from a wedding in which I am a groomsman. I wouldn’t blame you one bit for passing it by, because in no way should it be a pay-per-view fight at all. But I figured I’d at least give you the pros and cons.
Pros: If you made a list of the most intellectual fighters today, Marquez and Casamayor would surely crack your top five. We’re talking some high-level sweet science here. That might count against them (see below), if it weren’t for the fact that both, in boxing’s historic March of 2008, combined intelligence with naked aggression in their last fights out against separate opponents, each of which are legit contenders for Fight of the Year. Both may be getting too old not to stand and swap blows; think Michael Jordan as he shifted from aerial acrobat to turnaround jump shot assassin. The winner takes what I consider to be the most legitimate of all the belts, the Ring magazine strap that traces its lineage back to the days of the solitary champion, in the sport’s most loaded division, lightweight (135 lbs). The winner may also have fought himself into the Hall of Fame.
Cons: Intellectualism isn’t always the best recipe for violence. See the career of Bernard Hopkins, the other contender for my least favorite fighter. Although Marquez has become more aggressive late in his career, both he and Casamayor are natural counter-punchers. That’s the kind of match-up that sometimes contains the excitement of a really long staring contest, what with one guy standing around waiting for the other guy to get things started. And while HBO is asking for you to shell out $45 for this — the undercard highlight of which is a rematch of a fight nobody much enjoyed the first time around, Sergio Mora-Vernon Forrest (154 lbs.) — Showtime is broadcasting its own compelling lightweight fight for free, Nate Campbell versus Joan Guzman.
Sean’ll break down Campbell-Guzman for you. I’m your huckleberry on Casamayor-Marquez.
I’ve waxed sonnet-y on Marquez before, so I’ll spare you the long version. He’s the best combination puncher in the sport, I think, and great combo punchers are a thing of beauty. Once a distant third in the constellation of great Mexican fighters of this era behind Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales, he toppled Barrera when he finally got the chance, but won over the Mexican fans more for other things he’s done. Those include, first and foremost, being a thorn in the side of Manny Pacquiao, whose record of whupping Mexicans like, well, Barrera and Morales, earned Pacquiao the nickname of, among others, “The Mexecutioner.” Marquez got a draw against Pacquiao the first time they fought, then lost a close split decision in a March rematch that most believe he narrowly won. (I think he lost the first and won the second.) Also of assistance is that he has shed his tendency for occasionally boring, safety-first fights.
Some say age has forced his hand — he’s 35 — but I say he finally got sick of close decisions going the other guy’s way and decided to go for the knockout more often. Marquez, for all of his accomplishments, is something of a tragic figure. He’s beaten one true great in Barrera, along with some excellent fighters and contenders like Derrick Gainer, Manuel Medina, Robbie Peden and Rocky Juarez. But he’s also lost three fights most think he deserved to win, against Freddie Norwood, Chris John and Pacquiao. Ironically, it was over-aggression against Pacquiao that was his undoing, because Pacquiao caught him coming in carelessly and decked him in an early round to pick up a decisive one-point advantage. His resume remains good enough for him to be the consensus third-best fighter in the sport, regardless of weight class, behind Pacquiao and Joe Calzaghe. It might be good enough to get him in the Hall of Fame. But there are a lot of “almosts” on that resume. Casamayor is good enough that beating him could be the push over the edge he needs.
Casamayor has had his share of almosts. The crafty Cuban — a slick, speedy, deceptively hard-hitting cheating machine — has two wins over the late, great Diego Corrales on his ledger, not to mention a win over Campbell and a scintillating knockout in March of young, raw Michael Katsidis. But there are a lot of blips on his Hall of Fame resume. He doesn’t believe he’s ever lost a fight, but the record says he lost to Corrales in one of their three bouts (I say he did, too), he got beat by Jose Luis Castillo and Acelino Freitas (haven’t seen the fights, so I don’t know) and only managed a draw against Kid Diamond (I say he lost that one as well). He also has an absolute gift of a win against Jose Armando Santa Cruz. At 37, he showed by bouncing back from his poor performance against Santa Cruz to defeat Katsidis that there’s still some juice in those old legs, but he’s running out of time. As it is, some think he’s worthy of top-20 pound-for-pound status right now among active fighters.
Did I mention that he was a cheating machine and a stupid-face? Man does Casamayor head butt. I really think, as I said once before, that Compubox needs to start counting his head butts as a stat. And you know, it’s not like there isn’t plenty of arrogance to go around boxing, but his brand of arrogance is of the imperious variety. He sat on his Ring belt for a good year and taunted his nearest competitors, always demanding more money than was even rational. He said nasty things about one of my all-time favorites, Corrales, implying that Corrales had spoken ill of his family when Corrales never even once seemed to go near Casamayor’s family life. His refusal to acknowledge a single defeat smacks of a spoiled child.
The part of this that I haven’t mentioned, and it’s probably the key to the fight, is that Marquez is moving up to 135 for the first time in his life. He’s doing it to goad Pacquiao into a rubber match, since Pacquiao has said he can no longer get down to 130 without straining his body. So far, it hasn’t worked. After one fight at 135, Pacquiao is off busy trying to become a quadrillionaire by fighting Oscar De La Hoya at 147, and I’m guessing he doesn’t come back, because a big money fight against Ricky Hatton at 140 could be in the offing next. Tragic. Anyway, Marquez is the better fighter, in my mind, but Casamayor is indisputably the bigger. How is that going to play out?
My prediction: It’ll play out by making things more difficult for Marquez than they might be otherwise, but it won’t stop him from winning a decision. I don’t think Marquez is a lightweight, truly. He will probably be the more willing aggressor, and that should benefit him come scorecard time.
Confidence: 70%. Of all the lightweights Marquez could’ve picked to start, Casamayor’s knockout ratio is such that Marquez might get knocked down — he sometimes does, and Casamayor clearly knows how to counter aggression — but he probably won’t get knocked out. Casamayor’s hand speed is still potent, but his foot speed, while still there, is diminished. No way should Casamayor have gotten hit as much as he did against Katsidis; Juan Diaz isn’t as slick as Casamayor, but he dodged much more of what Katsidis had to offer. Casamayor, for all of his alleged robberies, does have an unfathomable knack for impressing judges, what with the way he fights going backwards all the time. That is more worrisome for my prediction. I don’t think he was ahead against Katsidis, but that’s how the scorecards read before the knockout, and I don’t think he deserved the draw against Kid Diamond or win over Santa Cruz.
¬My allegiance: Duh.
P.S. I’m picking Mora in the rematch with Forrest, but the whole thing bores me too much to bother giving it much attention. If Forrest had trouble with weight last time, I don’t know why he wouldn’t again, and I think you have to favor the younger fighter who, in their first fight, picked up serious momentum over the second half of the bout.