by Kieran Mulvaney
For much of his earlier career, Juan Manuel Marquez was the Cinderella of Mexican boxing, toiling in the shadows while Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales engaged in an all-time-great trilogy of battles and electrified their fan bases. Marquez was the cerebral counterpuncher who garnered fans' intellectual appreciation; Morales and Barrera were warriors who set those same fans' pulses racing.
Over the last five or six years, however – beginning perhaps with Marquez's victory over Barrera in 2007, and augmented certainly by his epic four-fight-and-counting rivalry with Manny Pacquiao – Marquez has emerged from his contemporaries' shadows. And on Saturday night, he has the chance to leave them in the dust.
Victory over welterweight belt-holder Timothy Bradley in Las Vegas would give Marquez a world title in five weight classes over the course of his career – more than Morales, who won four, and more than Barrera and even the great Julio Cesar Chavez, who secured three apiece. Here's a look at his reigns in four previous weight classes:
Featherweight (126 Pounds): February 1, 2003 – March 4, 2006
Marquez fell short in his first world title challenge, dropping an ugly decision to Freddie Norwood in 1999, but four years later he finally achieved success with a win over veteran and fellow Mexican Manuel Medina. Two successful defenses led to a clash with Filipino buzz-saw Manny Pacquiao in 2004; as everyone now knows, Marquez rallied from three first-round knockdowns to secure a draw and kick-start a rivalry for the ages. Unhappy with the financial incentives for a Pacquiao rematch, Marquez made two more defenses before dropping a decision in Indonesia to hometown fighter Chris John.
Super Featherweight (130 Pounds): March 17, 2007 – March 15, 2008
Aided somewhat by a blown call – in which a Barrera knockdown of Marquez was not only ruled a slip but Barrera was docked a point for punching Marquez when he was down – Marquez secured a decision victory over his celebrated compatriot to win a title in his second weight division. He made one defense before losing a close and controversial decision to – who else? – Pacquiao.
Lightweight (135 Pounds): February 28, 2009 – January 6, 2012
By now, although still a skilled counterpuncher, Marquez was engaging in far more entertaining fights than had once been the case, and his lightweight title reign exemplified that perhaps more than any other time in his career. His title-winning clash against Juan Diaz was a thriller, as was the last of his three title bouts at the weight, in which he bounced back from a third-round knockdown to stop Michael Katsidis. He was stripped of the title when he moved up in weight.
Super Lightweight (140 Pounds): June 9, 2012 – present
Marquez added a title in a fourth weight division after he outpointed Ukraine's Serhiy Fedchenko in Mexico City on April 14. The bout itself was for an 'interim' title, which the relevant sanctioning body upgraded to a 'regular' title two months later.
The nature of its acquisition highlighted the fact that the most recent title reign of the Mexican's career has been the least remarkable; it is likely also to prove the only one he does not attempt to defend. Marquez has his sights now fixed firmly on welterweight, and after losing his first two outings at the higher weight – to Floyd Mayweather and, of course, his nemesis Pacquiao – he most recently scored perhaps the most satisfying win of his professional life when he left Pacquiao unconscious and face-first on the canvas last December.
That victory did not yield another title belt, because Pacquiao had been relieved of his welterweight strap six months previously by Timothy Bradley. That was a decision with which virtually nobody except two of the three ringside judges agreed, but Marquez will not care one bit about such bygone controversy if he takes care of business on Saturday, relieves Bradley of his crown, and cements his place in history.