The Argument Over Rafael Marquez
By Victor Garcia (August 10, 2004) 
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'“So what? What does it matter if he’s a champion? He was stopped by Genaro Garcia on his way up. He should avenge that loss if he wishes to gain the respect of his countrymen. If he wants to be a credible champion, this is what he needs to do.” This, from my father, a man who once visited a Mexican curandera—popularly known as a witchdoctor—because he was running through a stretch of bad luck. He wanted to cover himself against the possibility that someone had given him 'the evil eye'. Of course, visiting a curandera does not detract from the credibility of his boxing knowledge. However, when arguing boxing with my old man, you need to attack from every angle. Bringing up 'the evil eye' incident is merely a ploy to increase my standing. This man, my father, sees absolutely no problem with downplaying Rafael Marquez’s accomplishments. Marquez is currently the best bantamweight in boxing. Yet, the fame and respect of a champion continue to elude him.

In his first professional fight, Rafael Marquez was stopped by former WBC titlist Victor Rabanales. Reportedly, Marquez disputes this loss by claiming that the fight was an exhibition and not an officially sanctioned boxing match. This sounds probable. After all, who in their right mind would have a fighter make their professional debut in a ten round contest against a former bantamweight champion who was fighting for the 56th time? Ignacio 'Nacho' Beristain is more intelligent a trainer and manager than that. My father agrees that this is now an insignificant footnote in the career of the bantamweight king. Unfortunately, Rafael Marquez has a total of three losses on his resume. All have been by knockout. Francisco Mateos and Genaro Garcia were the next fighters to defeat the current IBF champion. This is where the argument begins.

Must Rafael Marquez avenge his losses to Francisco Mateos and Genaro Garcia to gain the respect he deserves? My father says, “Yes.” The reasoning is that a modern fighter who has trouble garnering respect in the sport must either increase the level of their opposition or work to undo any losses. As far as competition goes, Rafael Marquez cannot be duly criticized for his level of opposition. He twice defeated the great Mark 'Too Sharp' Johnson who has since moved down a weight division and regained a championship strap. Furthermore, in becoming the IBF’s head bantamweight, Marquez overpowered the previously undefeated Tim Austin. Austin was, in his bout against Marquez, arguably the division’s best. Finally, in his last two fights, he has also done away with the International Boxing Federation’s number one and number two contenders in brutal fashion. My father agrees that the level of opposition is not the problem.

The contention is that despite Rafael Marquez’s accomplishments, he still must defeat the men who have defeated him. Lennox Lewis did it. In defeating Oliver McCall, Hasim Rahman, and to a much lesser extent, Evander Holyfield, Lewis not only helped secure his legacy, but he gained respect. Some parallels appear evident. Marquez was stopped in the third round by Francisco Mateos. Yet unlike Lewis, there has been no rematch, nor has there been talk of one. Perhaps a more pressing match-up would be against the man who most recently knocked him out. On November 12, 2000, Genaro 'Poblanito' Garcia was the WBC’s number nine ranked bantamweight and Rafael Marquez was ranked number six. Needless to say, Marquez was floored in the second round and counted out. The knockout was televised for all to see. In all fairness, Marquez is said to have lost track of the count while looking at his corner for instructions and merely did not rise before the referee reached ten. To his credit, at the end of the fight Marquez protested in vain and asked for a rematch. Yet again, no rematch has ever been set.

The logical counterargument would be to remind my father of fighters like Jose Luis Castillo who have not avenged some of their losses and for whom respect is a constant in their careers. One might even mention that Castillo was beaten in similar fashion by Javier Jauregui twice—never avenging those defeats. Still Castillo has the respect of his countrymen, and with his most recent win over Juan Lazcano for the vacant WBC lightweight title, he has once again gained reverence amongst boxing fans. But arguing by counterexample hardly addresses the heart of the matter.

Instead, I contend that a rematch with Francisco Mateos would prove nothing. His record currently stands at 20-7-4 (11KOs). He has lost three of his last four fights. Marquez has shown tremendous improvement since that encounter and has overcome (better yet, overshadowed) that loss with his current accomplishments alone. A rematch with Genaro Garcia, on the other hand, is warranted. He is the number six ranked bantamweight in the WBC ratings. From most accounts, Garcia is eager to prove that his win over the younger Marquez was no fluke and would welcome facing him a second time.

I also offer my own assessment. Part of the problem is that Rafael has a more talented brother in Juan Manuel Marquez. The elder Marquez is a unified featherweight champion who has put on virtual boxing clinics in some of his bouts. He is a masterful ring technician with power and heart. In his last fight, the memorable ring war with Manny Pacquiao, Marquez survived three knockdowns and a brutal first round beating to officially earn a draw. I say “officially” because my unofficial scorecard reflected a slim Marquez victory. The more polished Juan Manuel is someone his countrymen and boxing fans in general can get behind. He has two losses on his record. Like his younger brother Rafael, he too lost his professional debut. He was disqualified in the first round under shady circumstances. Similarly, this loss is insignificant to his career. His only other loss was by decision against the former WBA featherweight champion, Freddie Norwood.

Here, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a casual boxing fan. We had been discussing the hard hitters of the sport when I asked if he knew who Rafael Marquez was. My friend paused and looked pensively at the floor. When he finally looked up, his face became animated. “Is he related to that Juan Manuel Marquez?” he asked. “I saw that fight between him and that guy from the Philippines.” After these opening remarks, my friend ranted about how good he thought Marquez was. A five minute rant and rave session about Juan Manuel was the reply I received to a question about Rafael. This is the stuff epiphanies are made of. Rafael fights in the long shadow of his older brother. Casual boxing fans are no different from casual fans of other sports. They recognize the names in the media. In boxing supporters tend to gather around a winning fighter who has shown little vulnerability. Promoters and networks have shown the same propensity.

This brings us to the other part of my appraisal. Rafael Marquez makes his admirers and countrymen nervous. His chin has been tested and he has not always passed. As previously mentioned, his losses have all come via knockout. His defense can be lacking, his punches are sometimes reaching, and his balance needs improvement. He often appears to be one punch away from going down. For a salient example one need only view his title bid against Austin. Of course, he fought valiantly to win the title but his vulnerability as a fighter was evident. In a nutshell, Rafael Marquez is susceptible to losing, brutally. This makes it difficult for boxing fanatics to give their full respect to the Mexican warrior. As far as his countrymen are concerned, I gather from the man who believes in the evil eye (my father) that his people want to be reassured. They like the security of Eric Morales (in their hearts they know he will find a way to win), they enjoy the way Juan Manuel Marquez represents himself (coming back against Pacquiao the way he did is representative of what his people respect), and they give deference to the way Marco Antonio Barrera returns from defeats (I suspect they expect him to win the rematch). Boxing fans can be a finicky bunch. With some exceptions, we brag and boast about the guys who look invincible and merely watch the other fighters.

For those who were tuned in On Saturday, July 31, 2004 to the Morales-Hernandez undercard, it is fair to say you witnessed a brutal knockout. Rafael Marquez momentarily paralyzed Heriberto Ruiz with a picture-perfect uppercut. Referee Tony Weeks realized there was no need for a count and waved the fight off as soon as Ruiz landed face first on the ring floor. Marquez looked sharper and more accurate than he has before. He wasn’t perfect, but he was better. He deserves respect and admiration for his efforts. I say watch him when he wins, follow him if he loses, and stay on the bandwagon even when the band stops playing. It is the fact that Rafael Marquez has beaten the best in his division that should earn him reverence, and it is his vulnerability that should make him 'must-see'. Rematch victories over Francisco Mateos and Genaro Garcia should only add to the respect Rafael Marquez already deserves.


Rest in peace Zoey (baby girl). Beautiful dog and companion to Doghouse forum regular, Celticpugilist.

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