It used to be not many people loved lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez, even after his thrilling war with Manny Pacquiao in 2004. He wasn’t exciting enough for them, if you can imagine. Fans of beautiful boxing dug him, and there are still few combination punchers in the sport so fluid. But as he became more willing to swap blows over the years, slowly everyone began to appreciate him. Whether it’s sophisticated you want, or simply violence, Marquez is your huckleberry.
It used to be Michael Katsidis was loved by everyone for his pure, undistilled violence. He still is, but he’s taken that excitement and sophisticated it up a little. The brawls with Graham Earl, Czar Amonsot and Joel Casamayor have been replaced with… well, they’re still brawls because Katsidis is involved, but his last fight with Kevin Mitchell was something subtler, featuring Katsidis counterpunching and even defending himself on occasion. His eloquent remarks about the death of his brother last month only added to the sophistication of the Aussie.
Now, Saturday on HBO, these two are meeting in the middle literally as well as stylistically, when they walk to the center of the ring for the second of two Saturday bouts that could be the Fight of the Year. These are the two best lightweights in the world, as Katsidis is ranked #1 by Ring magazine. Marquez also boasts pound-for-pound top-5 credentials. And they’re two of the best action stars over the past five years or so. (We’ll preview the HBO undercard later.)
There is a school of thought that Marquez-Katsidis might be a wipeout. No matter whether Katsidis has gone from one dimension to two, Marquez has always fought in four. He’s been a little to a lot smarter than almost everyone he’s fought, with Floyd Mayweather the only definitive exception. A brawler as crude as Katsidis, this school of thought goes, should get completely outclassed by a sharpshooter as sharp at shooting as Marquez.
I’m in the other school. I think this is a tough fight for Marquez. Katsidis is a much bigger man, physically, since Marquez really was at his best at featherweight. If light-hitting Juan Diaz was able to wobble Marquez last year, the more powerful Katsidis should be able to, too. And while Marquez found the Fountain of Youth in his rematch against Diaz earlier this year, he showed signs of slowing down in the first Diaz fight and against Mayweather. At 37 and with a lot of ring wars over the last few years, he could find his hands full with the prime 30-year-old Katsidis.
Boxers who have recently suffered a death in the family but fought on have either come out unfocused (Daniel Jacobs) or ultrafocused (Buster Douglas). If I had to bet which one Katsidis would come out as, I’d bet ultrafocused. But it’s a variable for this fight that could swing things a bit more Katisidis’ way, too.
Some of the physical advantages go to Katsidis but not by too much, and all of the technical advantages go to Marquez by a wide margin. Katsidis hits harder naturally, but Marquez makes up for his lack of natural lightweight strength with punches that land so precisely that they do tremendous damage. At this point in their careers, Katsidis might be as fast as, or faster than Marquez. And both take a hell of a shot. Only Katsidis has been knocked out, and then only once, by Casamayor (whom Marquez in turn became the first to knock out). Every other time these two have been knocked down, they’ve gotten back up and fought even harder than before.
Marquez has shown more versatility over his career, although at times, as in the Mitchell fight, Katsidis displayed some extra nuance. Katsidis was almost a whole different fighter against Mitchell. But Marquez has a career’s worth of technical acumen to his credit. Counterpunching and moving backward for Mitchell went against Katsidis’ nature; you could almost sense that he felt like a militiaman at an upscale Washington, D.C. cocktail party. But Katsidis showed nonetheless he could fight without getting hit automatically with every punch. Marquez used to be a fairly gifted defensive fighter, but he’s dispensed with that as he’s altered his style and has become more stationary in his age.
Even if this fight ends up being a mismatch — and I don’t think it will — there’s virtually zero chance it sucks. If Katsidis tries to box smartly, he’s still going to engage and be engaged. If Katsidis finds that boxing smartly won’t work, he will sell out and go for the knockout. We’ve seen him do it before, as he did against Casamayor. Then it’ll get really good. And if Katsidis starts out trying to overpower Marquez, bar the door. It will turn into the kind of puncher/counterpuncher duel that has led both men into the Fight of the Year or, at worst, Fight of the Year runner-ups.
I’m not sure which way it will play out. That depends on Katsidis and he’s defied expectations before. I do know that more often than not, in bouts where things are more or less even otherwise, I go with the more skilled man. That’s Marquez. I’ll pick him by knockout, in the 11th, in a bout that could be anywhere from “good” to “omigod did you see that last night?”
[TQBR Prediction Game 5.0 is in effect. Remember the rules.]