Photo Credit: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
By boxing standards – by the standards of most athletes - Juan Manuel Marquez is old.
Not yet 41, it is entirely possible that he has lived less than half his life, but it is safe to say that he has far, far fewer days remaining as a professional boxer than he has experienced so far. (By the time he clambers into the ring to face off against Mike Alvarado on Saturday night, the running total of days that Marquez will have been a prizefighter will be at 7,644, 11 shy of a full 21 years, divided up among 63 bouts totaling 474 rounds.)
He first fought for a world title in 1999, five years before Andre Ward turned professional, and seven years before Gennady Golovkin did. He lost that title shot, but wrapped his first world belt around his then-featherweight waist in 2003 (still before Ward or Golovkin had competed in the Olympics) and has since added crowns at 130, 135 and 140 pounds, the last of which was followed by his most recent and most famous victory, when he left Manny Pacquiao unconscious and face-first on the canvas.
It might seem as if there are no more mountains left to climb, no more reasons for a 40-year-old man to put himself through the physical demands of preparing for, and being in, fights against younger, equally formidable athletes. Yet Marquez is not yet ready to call it a day. If he defeats Alvarado, the reward will be a fifth meeting with Pacquiao; a second official win over the Filipino would elevate Marquez into truly rarefied air, as the only Mexican to win world titles in five weight classes.
To achieve that goal, of course, Marquez must actually beat Pacquiao for a second time in five attempts. And before he even gets that opportunity, he must first defeat Alvarado. He will start as favorite: Alvarado is undoubtedly a first-rate pugilist, but he has yet to show any evidence that he is a great one; and while he has added wrinkles to his game, he remains the kind of aggressive fighter on whom Marquez has traditionally feasted (see, for example: Katsidis, Michael; Diaz, Juan).
But the Mexican’s last couple of outings – even his ultimately glorious win over Pacquiao – have seen Marquez evading fewer punches than before; he carries more bulk than once he did, raising the question of whether he can sustain twelve rounds of intense action the way he used to. And any boxer, no matter how accomplished, can grow old overnight: witness Roy Jones, who in the space of a year went from winning the heavyweight title to being knocked out by Antonio Tarver; Oscar De La Hoya, who had no answer in his final fight for the buzzsaw that was Pacquiao; or Marquez’s own brother Rafael, who in his most recent outing was stopped by relatively light-hitting Efrain Esquivias.
It is possible that after 21 years and 63 fights, Marquez has his eyes on the finish line, that there are but two more contests remaining in this most remarkable of careers. But if he can’t overcome the challenge of Alvarado, there may not even be that many.