Is Juan Manuel Marquez the Best Fighter in the World?
As Ranked by Brandon Estrict for (Mar 6, 2009)  
In stopping “The Baby Bull” Juan Diaz this past Saturday night in Houston, Texas, you could accurately state that Juan Manuel Marquez just about did what the boxing experts and the betting odds expected of him. That does not make it any less impressive, and wouldn’t even begin to tell the story of their epic Lightweight Championship encounter.

Juan Diaz was at the very top of his game early on, and came out guns blazing. He is already known as an
all-action, aggressive beast of a pugilist who doesn’t take a second off when the bell rings, but he looked even sharper than usual. He fought valiantly, didn’t make many mistakes and was able to not only consistently land his shots, but noticeably stunned Marquez on more than one occasion, something that came as a bit of a surprise as Diaz wasn’t known as a very strong puncher. Still, he put his best foot forward and fought the fight of his life and the fact that it turned out not to be enough is no slight or indication of the type of fighter Juan Diaz is, but a testament to the greatness of Marquez. It was an absolute dynamite performance put forth by the man known to fans as “Dinamita.”

Juan Manuel Marquez has made another definitive statement. A beauty of a right uppercut in the 9th round laid Juan Diaz flat on his back and prompted referee Rafael Ramos to forego his count and immediately wave the bout off after the second knockdown. Marquez is now 2-0 (2) since moving up to the 135 lb. limit, the divisions lineal and recognized champion, and both victories have been against the number one and two men in the division(he stopped Joel Casamayor in his first bout to claim the championship). It is an
awe-inspiring accomplishment that is all but unheard of in today’s boxing world of paper championships and mandatories mixed in with clever, big name, big money, least risk involved styled match-making. With no disrespect to Filipino great and pound-for-pound champion Manny Pacquiao, who has a date with Mancunian icon Ricky Hatton in May, Marquez has for now taken the honor, the hard way, of being the best fighter in the sport.

This pick may seem a little unusual, if nothing else, as Marquez and Pacquiao have encountered each other twice in the ring and the official results of those bouts are a draw in 2004, and a Pacquio split-decision victory early last year that could have gone either way. And that’s just it, after both bouts, the boxing world still has no clear winner.

Manny Pacquiao deserves his just due, I must add before I elaborate. Although he was out-boxed most of the way in their first match-up, his 3 first round knockdowns of Marquez are what salvaged the draw for him. Without that round, Pacquiao loses handily on all three official judges scorecards. The situation is similar in their second fight, as Pacquiao scored a third round knockdown of Marquez that proved to be the difference between another draw, and victory. The scorecard that had Pacquaio up 115-112 is also highly debated, but both men have their claims to the fight and that’s another story altogether anyway.

But in this instance, I’m simply not convinced that either man is better than the other. If I was put on the spot and forced to choose, I would have to go with Marquez.

Now before the Pacquiao nation calls for my beheading, let’s pry a little deeper into their two clashes, the first at featherweight and the second taking place at junior lightweight.

Firstly, there is great logic and evidence that support this claim, a claim that I am certain is currently or will soon be made by many others within the boxing community. Of the 24 hard rounds they’ve competed against one another, you can make the case that Marquez has won the majority, which would be 13, and you can even argue that number as high 15 rounds, reasonably, before you begin to stretch the matter. My scorecard had JMM winning 8 of the 12 rounds in their first fight in what was an all-time great performance in not only willing himself back into the fight, but arguably(the word of the day) WINNING the fight after enduring that brutal Round 1. In fight number two, at 130 lbs, besides seeing two men elevate their respective games’ to an even higher level than their previous efforts, amazingly, I saw JMM taking 6 rounds, with 5 to Pac-man and 1 round even. And even if you want to abide by what’s been officially recorded in the annuls of the ‘ole history book, then by that same token we should’ve all demanded a rubber-match between Lennox Lewis and Hasim Rahman to “finally” settle the score.

I simply draw the conclusion that Marquez may very well be the all-around better fighter who’s just happened to have had the luck of a Wrigley Field groundskeeper, walking under a ladder in his home with an umbrella open over his head on Friday the 13th when it comes to those two nights, and further evidenced by 3 more controversial losses. That is not to take anything away from Manny Pacquiao.

For all of Pacquiao’s heroics and a 1st ballot Hall of Fame career full of great accomplishments in the sport, including a shockingly easy domination of Oscar De La Hoya last time out, there is nothing on his recent resume as moving as what Marquez has been able to accomplish at Lightweight. The way he’s been able to win, and against the quality of opposition he’s fought speak immeasurable volumes. Manny did pass through the Lightweight division himself, briefly, and managed to pluck a trinket away from overmatched David Diaz(no relation to Juan) but with all due respect to him, he doesn’t approach the level of the “Baby Bulls” and Casamayor’s of the world. And let’s be honest, though few-to-none picked Pac-man over De La Hoya, the Oscar that showed up for that 2008 clash, who not only fought at his lowest weight in over 8 years but was even the smaller man on fight night, did little more, or maybe less, than imitate a punching bag in what was the worst and possibly last performance of his career. It is Marquez who has fought the tougher, more elite competition over the last 2 years, all the while possibly being a tad removed from his peak at the age of 35, five years Pacquiao’s senior.

In fairness to Manny, prized pupil of famed trainer, Freddie Roach, his upcoming fight with Ricky Hatton will go a long way in sorting things out down the line. A convincing victory over a rugged, powerful, swarming Ricky Hatton at his optimal weight of 140 lbs, a division he’s dominated throughout the bulk of his career and a division Pacquiao will be making his debut in, and Pacquiao would all but automatically resume control of boxing, atop the perch he sat from the retirement of Floyd Mayweather Jr. up until last Saturday. Right now is simply Juan Manuel’s time.

And just like he does in the ring, he took advantage of the opening to offer up a stunning counter to the questions of HBO’s Max Kellerman during the post-fight interview, choosing to call out Mayweather instead of Manny, his rationale being, “They say Pacquiao is the best in the world but he doesn’t want to fight me,” a jab at his rival before adding, “…Mayweather is the best and I only want to fight the best.”

And while that particular match-up may find Marquez a little out of his depth if it were to materialize, boxing should have no problem with him being involved at the top level of the sport. He’s no easy out for anyone near his weight class, and may have to pull out all the stops anyway to get Pacquiao in the ring again for what is guaranteed to be a tough bout and for about half the money Pacquiao would make for his own possible fight with Floyd down the line, if ‘Money” Mayweather so chose to come out of his retirement.

But with or without Mayweather in the picture, and the big money he would bring to the table, there isn’t anything that would be able to justify Manny Pacquiao/Juan Manuel Marquez 3 not happening before one, or both men leave the sport for good. I can see the promotion now, “The War For Boxing Immortality,” for the “lineal pound-for-pound Championship of the World!” There just isn’t a way around it and it would be an absolute tragedy and disservice to the Sweet Science as well as both fighters if, looking back 20 years from now, it never happened.

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