The "Fabulous Forum" in Inglewood, California reopens its doors to boxing following a long hiatus Saturday when a card headlined by Juan Manuel Marquez and Mike Alvarado is staged there. For the 40-year-old Marquez it is a homecoming because he fought there 12 times between January 1995 and May 1999, going 12-0 with nine knockouts. For Alvarado, it is his maiden voyage and he will perform before a decidedly hostile audience.
Both are coming off losses -- Marquez to Timothy Bradley and Alvarado to Ruslan Provodnikov. A victory may mean at least one more high-profile (and high-money) fight while a loss, especially for Marquez, may represent the end of the line.
Statistical factors that may determine the outcome include:
Onset of Father Time?: Supreme conditioning and dedication to his craft has extended Marquez's career far beyond the usual bounds but the signs of decline have crept into his numbers as of late.
Against Bradley, Marquez averaged an anemic 37.9 punches per round because he simply couldn't catch up with the hand and foot speed of "Desert Storm." When he fired, however, he did land as he connected on 34% of his total shots, 22% of his jabs and 40% of his power shots (Pacquiao landed 40% of his power shots in his two fights vs. Bradley). But while he connected, he also absorbed as he was out-landed 168-153 overall and 82-38 in jabs to off-set Marquez's 115-86 lead in power connects. Bradley also forced Marquez, one of history's greatest counter-punchers, to become the aggressor.
Marquez's sensational one-punch KO over Manny Pacquiao in their fourth match obscured the fact that, to that point, the Mexican was badly beaten statistically. Pacquiao out-landed Marquez 94-52 overall, 26-11 in jabs and 68-41 in power shots, scored his own knockdown in the fifth and was the far more precise puncher (37%-21% overall, 24%-11% jabs and 46%-27% power). Pacquiao's 46% power accuracy rate is particularly telling for a man renowned for his defensive prowess.
The good news for Marquez is that this defensive erosion is a fairly recent development. Even in his late 30s, "Dinamita" defended well against his opponents' hardest punches. While Pacquiao landed 43% in their third fight, Marquez did much better against Sergiy Fedchenko (24%), Likar Ramos (0%), Michael Katsidis (32%) and Juan Diaz in their rematch (30%). That said, the ravages of time are inevitable and, in the case of Juan Manuel's younger brother Rafael, dramatic. Against Efrain Esquivias, Rafael was out-landed 283-159 overall and 225-99 power, and after tasting 46% of Esquivias' power punches he was knocked out in round nine by an otherwise moderate-hitting fighter. Will Alvarado produce the same result? Only time, pun intended, will tell.
Hard Times for "Mile High Mike": Win or lose, Alvarado produces highlights, thrills and chills. Alvarado proved his blood-and-guts credentials in his two wars with Brandon Rios, the first of which was a modern ring classic.
In that fight (KO by 7) Alvarado averaged an incredible 117.1 punches per round, nearly double the 60.4 junior welterweight average and averaged 60.4 power punches and 18.9 power connects per round en route to a 175-161 overall connect lead. Rios, however, landed more power punches (144-132) and was more accurate across the board (30%-22% overall, 17%-12% jabs, 33%-31% power) and led 58-56 on two scorecards before the fight was stopped.
In the rematch, which Alvarado won by decision, he boxed more smartly (33.2 jabs and 38.5 power shots per round) but still sustained enough damage to join Rios in the hospital. Alvarado suffered a cut on the forehead and a badly swollen face but his 71.7 punches per round trumped Rios' 68.6 and led to connect leads of 261-241 overall and 84-59 jabs to off-set Rios' slim 182-177 lead in landed power shots. The key to Alvarado's win was a surge in the final five rounds that produced connect leads of 96-65 overall and 70-45 power.
Weight-making difficulties, and Provodnikov's heavy fists, combined to sink Alvarado. In the final three rounds Provodnikov scored a knockdown and out-landed Alvarado 85-33 overall and 74-25 power, enabling him to surge into the lead in overall connects (206-182) and landed power punches (168-137). Dishing out 46% power accuracy was good but taking 42% power precision from Provodnikov was not. Alvarado's body no longer could carry out the commands of his fighting spirit, so he did the prudent thing by staying on his stool and getting the chance to fight another day -- this day.
Prediction: A true toss-up. Marquez will enjoy a decided home ring advantage and he has the intangibles that only great champions own. Alvarado is younger and quicker, and if he applies the Bradley blueprint he could duplicate Bradley's success. But Alvarado is a warrior at heart and thus he won't stick to the game plan the entire way as Bradley did. Therefore, Marquez will be able to counter-punch just enough to win a hard-fought decision.