Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
In February 1996, the Los Angeles Forum was the site of the inaugural episode of HBO's Boxing After Dark, headlined by an epic twelve-round slugfest between Marco Antonio Barrera and Kennedy McKinney. The ferocity with which the two men swapped punches inside the ring was presaged at the final pre-fight press conference, when McKinney made a derogatory remark toward Barrera, Barrera turned to his translator to find out what McKinney had said, and promptly turned and smacked McKinney in the mouth.
The return of HBO Boxing – of boxing, period – to the Forum after a lengthy absence (the venue's regular boxing program ended in 1999 and the last sanctioned fight under its roof was held in 2001) has had an altogether different tone. Mike Alvarado and Juan Manuel Marquez – who went 12-0 with 9 KOs at the Forum as a younger and lighter man – have exchanged nothing but mutual compliments.
"Juan Manuel Marquez is a legend in this game," Alvarado told Inside HBO Boxing this week. His beating that legend, he said, would be a passing of the torch "to someone who can hold it and guide it and be the next great."
Marquez, of course, has no intention of allowing that to happen, but professes to be under no illusions as to the task that awaits him on Saturday night.
"This is a challenge for me, a tough challenge," he acknowledged. "Mike Alvarado is a good fighter, a strong fighter. He likes to fight, I like to fight, and the people will see a great fight."
There could have been a fight of sorts at the weigh-in, when Alvarado tipped the scales two ounces over the contracted 143 pound limit; Team Marquez could have insisted that he strip off, jump rope, or otherwise shed that final poundage. Plenty of fighters would have done so; but they let it slide, and part of the reason may have been revealed when Marquez stepped on the scale. To the naked eye, he looked noticeably less bulky than when he last fought Manny Pacquiao, an observation that was confirmed by his weight of just 141.6 pounds.
Marquez clearly aims to be the lighter, faster man, all the better to meet Alvarado's aggression with the speedy counters that have brought him such success in the past. If Saturday's matchup – the veteran Mexican taking on an aggressive younger challenger – brings to mind any previous contest, it is Marquez's tilts against Juan Diaz and Michael Katsidis. That might give Alvarado pause, given that Marquez turned back both men's relentless attacks to score stoppage wins, but it should have fans salivating in that both were immensely entertaining battles.
For all the outside-the-ring niceties, the smart money is on a similar explosion of violence inside the ropes on Saturday night.