Photos by Sumio Yamada
FLOYD MAYWEATHER Jr. vs JUAN MANUEL MARQUEZ
After a retirement lasting 21 months, Floyd Mayweather Jr. returns to the ring on Saturday when he meets Juan Manuel Marquez in a PPV welterweight 12-rounder at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The match weight was never officially announced, although the first installment of HBO's 24/7 suggested the weight would be 144 pounds. Mayweather weighing in at 146 pounds today surprised me, then. It now transpires that the bout was made at 147 pounds but with a penalty clause should one of the boxers weigh in excess of 144 pounds. It looks, then, as if Mayweather was prepared to give up a portion of his purse in order to box at the weight that most suits him. Marquez looks in good trim at 142 pounds but he is giving away four pounds to the biggest fighter physically he has ever faced.
No title is at stake but the prize for the winner could be a blockbuster fight against Manny Pacquiao always assuming Pacquiao can defeat Miguel Cotto on Nov. 14.
For the moment, of course, the fighters are focusing solely on each other in a bout originally scheduled for July until Mayweather withdrew due to a rib injury.
Marquez, 36, moves up two weight divisions for the most daunting challenge of a marvellous career. Mayweather, 32, is the favourite, but there are question marks. Has Mayweather, for all his talent, taken on a fight that might be too tough for him after almost two years out of the ring? The out-of-the-ring issues involving Mayweather and his trainer and uncle Roger have been well documented, and there is the nagging suspicion that Money Mayweather is coming back solely to clear up tax liabilities.
On paper this is a lightweight moving up two weight classes to meet a welterweight, but Marquez has looked exceptionally strong in training footage on the HBO 24/7 series.
Fighters throughout ring history have successfully moved up in weight, most recently Manny Pacquiao, who jumped from 135 to 147 pounds and looked much the stronger man in his routing of Oscar De La Hoya.
While Mayweather is unbeaten, Marquez has lost only twice in the past decade and a case could be made that his close losses to Chris John and Manny Pacquiao could just as easily have been scored in Marquezs favour.
Mayweather has the aura of being a superstar with a strong claim to being the best fighter in the word, but many would argue that Pacquiao has surpassed him as regards No. 1 status, and Marquez gave Pacquiao two desperate struggles.
Marquez gives the impression that this fight means everything to him. Mayweather, though, has such a massive ego it is almost as if he dare not allow himself to lose, as if it would be just too much for him to bear.
The bout has intrigue and the 24/7 shows have probably piqued interest, especially the images of Marquez heaving rocks and running in the misty mountains outside of Mexico and, apparently, drinking his urine in a supposed attempt to put vitamins back into his system.
Mayweather has been respectful of Marquez in his comments.
When the fight gets here Ill leave it up to the fans to be the judge and tell me how good I look, Mayweather said over the phone from Las Vegas.
Im coming back to the sport of boxing because I truly miss the sport, and who wouldnt want to come back to a sport where you can make an extra 200, 300 more million dollars?
I just look forward to going out there and just being smart, listening to my corner and executing the game plan. I know Marquez, hes a pretty good boxer, and it will probably be a chess match early on, but sometimes the hype and the talk sometimes pushes my opponent to the limit and makes him come out and fight hard, like Ricky Hatton did, and they can sometimes be misled they dont know how hard I can really punch and they can run into a big shot. So, things like that can happen in a fight of this magnitude.
Is Mayweather suggesting, then, that he is going to stop Marquez?
I cant say how its going to play out, Mayweather said, but its going to be one hell of a fight. Hes going to be at his best, hes going to fight his heart out, and Im going to fight my heart out.
What about the problems outside the ring?
Outside problems, I leave them outside, he said. When you go to work, you be the best you can be. The things that happen outside of work, you handle outside but at work you be the best at your job.
Mayweather has, to me, looked more muscular, a bit bigger in the upper body, in his preparation for this fight, and he assured me that this observation was not mistaken.
A lot of our work is pushing myself, he said, working on a lot of natural workouts a lot of pull-ups, a lot of pushups, a lot of dips, things of that nature.
I changed my whole training regimen for this fight. It was getting to a point where youve got to change in order to get better.
You cant count Marquez out. Hes doing what Roberto Duran did, hes jumping up in weight classes and hes going out as a Hall of Famer, and before he leaves the sport he wants to test himself against the best. Hes going to come to fight, and Im going to do the same.
Although Mayweather did not come right out and say it, my impression was that he will be looking to put on a striking performance rather than trying to steal a points win.
Mayweather seems to feel that Marquez will be bringing the fight to him, and I think he is right. I dont think Marquez can win a cut-and-thrust boxing match with Mayweather, and I suspect that he knows this. I believe that Marquez must try to put pressure on Mayweather, to jab his way in and attack with bursts of punches in other words, a policy of intelligent aggression.
As Mayweather points out, however, this sort of thing has been tried before.
Mayweather has so far found the answer, no matter what the other man attempted. De La Hoya did have more success than most when he crowded Mayweather and maintained a high punch-volume, but he couldnt keep it up, perhaps because he ran out of stamina or possibly because Mayweathers sharp, clear punches were taking a toll.
I fully expect Marquez to put forth a wonderful effort. He is not going to be easily beaten. Mayweather, though, looks to be a bit too fast, too skilled and perhaps too strong.
Mayweather isnt considered a terribly hard hitter, but he can hurt people, and Marquez has been suffering damage around the eyes in recent fight, marking up much more readily than was the case earlier in his career. Mayweathers darting left jab and his classy combinations can inflict the sort of punishment that catches up on an opponent as the rounds go by.
It appears to me that Marquez has been getting hit more often lately, perhaps because his style has become more aggressive and crowd-pleasing in recent years although it could also be that his reflexes are not quite what they were.
When Marquez fought Juan Diaz he took so many punches in the early rounds that I thought he was going to lose. He rallied superbly and pulled out a dramatic victory, but if Diaz, a lightweight, could have so much success against Marquez, then what will happen when Mayweather, a welterweight, starts rattling off his rapid-fire punches?
True, each fight is different, and the way a fighter boxes against one opponent doesnt mean he will perform the same way against another. Perhaps Marquez, stronger than he has ever been and fiercely motivated, might have the method and even the magnificence to pull off a stirring upset victory.
It would be an achievement for the ages, but I dont think it will happen. I believe that Mayweather will gradually take command of the fight with his hand speed, virtuosity and punch-variety, and I can even envisage him becoming the first to stop Marquez, but not until deep into the fight perhaps in the 11th round.