Juan Manuel Marquez nearly beat Manny Pacquiao. Twice. Now 38, the great Mexican champion seeks his career-defining victory
The white 2010 Porsche Panamera idles at the top of Juan Manuel Marquez's crowded driveway, his favorite of the seven luxury cars he owns. The vehicles are adornments to the spacious seven-bedroom estate in Mexico City that Marquez bought in 2004. Most mornings the fighter hops into the Porsche, eases out of his gated community and heads for the Romanza Boxing Club, where he works out under Hall of Fame trainer Nacho Beristain. Life is good for the 38-year-old champion. But it could, says Marquez, be better. "I think about how if I had won those two fights," says Marquez, "my life would be different."
The fights he is referring to are his two achingly close and brutal bouts with Manny Pacquiao. In 2004, Marquez, then the unified featherweight champion, was knocked down three times in the first round. He got up, rallied and forced a draw. In 2008, Marquez, then a super featherweight titleholder, lost a narrow split decision. How narrow? Flip one round on judge Tom Miller's card and Marquez gets the win. Beyond those two matches, of course, Marquez has accomplished plenty: He has a record of 53-5-1, with 39 knockouts. He has won titles in three weight classes. He has beaten Marco Antonio Barrera and knocked out Joel Casamayor. Currently he is considered the top 135-pounder in the world and ranks in the top five on virtually every pound-for-pound list. But the memory of his battles with Pacquiao lingers. "It's like a thorn in my side," says Marquez. "I win those fights, I'm at a different level. Everything changes."
On Nov. 12, Marquez will try to change boxing history when he challenges Pacquiao for the WBO welterweight title. The weight—a negotiated 144-pound limit, three pounds below the class limit—is an unfamiliar one: Marquez has fought just once above 138 pounds, a lopsided decision loss to Floyd Mayweather in 2009. To adjust, Marquez has brought in a strength coach, Angel Hernandez, a Texas A&M graduate who has added some elements to the program (intense calisthenics, a third workout a day) and eliminated others (running with rocks in his pockets, drinking his own urine). "The key to moving up is keeping my speed," says Marquez. "We're doing that. I feel strong, but the speed is still there."
Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, claims Pacquiao is a more complete fighter than the one Marquez faced three years ago. Marquez says he sees "minor changes" in Pacquiao but is quick to add that Pacquiao "is not even close to the technician that I am." Says Marquez, "He has problems with my style. He has moved up in weight well. But he can't match my technique or counterpunching."
The magnitude of the moment is not lost on Marquez. A win will vastly increase his profile, not to mention pad his wallet. Most important, after seven years of what-might-have-beens, Marquez will finally find some peace. "My strategy isn't going to change much," says Marquez. "I'm going to move around the ring, counterpunch, be diligent. He better be ready. Once I beat him, it will be my time."