Friday March 14th, 2008

It was supposed to be the defining moment of Juan Manuel Marquez's career, yet in the end, it wasn't defining at all.

Four years ago, Marquez, then the WBA and IBF featherweight champion, stepped in the ring with Manny Pacquiao, a whirling dervish of a fighter who was universally ranked among the best pound-for-pound boxers. It was exactly the kind of marquee fight for which Marquez had been waiting.

Unheralded coming out of Mexico City, Marquez had been avoided like the plague in the featherweight division. After years of toiling on undercards and headlining main events in venues like Worley, Idaho, and Grand Rapids, Michigan, Marquez was finally getting the big-name, big-money fight he had dreamed about.

Then came the first knockdown. Then the second ... and third.

With three first-round knockdowns -- one that resulted in a broken nose and the final one that was followed by a questionable Pac-Man right hand while Marquez was on the mat -- Pacquiao turned Marquez's dream into his worst nightmare. "I was connecting well in the first round," says Marquez. "I was confident. [But] he got me with three great punches."

A lesser fighter might have stayed down, might have felt the grinding of the bones in his nose and decided it wasn't worth it to get up. A lesser man might have decided that another 11 rounds of punishment against one of the most feared fighters in the sport wasn't worth the alphabet soup of belts he brought with him to the ring.

On that night, however, Marquez was not the lesser man. His face bloodied, he picked himself off the mat, finished the round and battled back from a seemingly impossible deficit to force a draw.

"I got up because of the great condition that I was in," says Marquez. "But also because I was defending two titles -- titles that cost me a lot to win. To stay down meant to lose the fight. That's something that never crossed my mind. I wasn't letting [the belts] go in three minutes, just like that."

As is usually the case in boxing, where promoters pray for trilogies the way movie producers do for franchises, a rematch appeared to be a foregone conclusion. But due to some questionable management decisions by Marquez and his superior trainer/inferior manager Nacho Beristain, the highly anticipated second fight never materialized.

"Money was the issue," says Marquez. "They [the promoters] promised me more money or a better promotion for the second fight with Pacquiao. My promoters never came through and never delivered. They were lying to me about the promotion, that Pacquiao was making the same [money] I was making. A lot of crap, you know. And I decided not to do it because I knew that they were lying and I just didn't like it."

Instead, Marquez fell off the proverbial map. He successfully defended his titles twice in the United States before traveling to Indonesia to face Chris John (in case you haven't heard of John, he fights almost exclusively in Indonesia and never loses there) for the paltry sum of $30,000. Marquez lost his titles to John and, seemingly, his shot at a rematch with Pacquiao.

I don't regret anything," insists Marquez. "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

Marquez's climb back to relevancy began in 2006. In September of that year, Marquez signed with Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions. "He's one of the most dangerous fighters in the world and a serious threat to any fighter from 126 pounds to 130 pounds," said De La Hoya.

Under Golden Boy's growing umbrella, Marquez was given the opportunity to prove De La Hoya right. Later that year, Marquez stopped Jimrex Jaca with a ninth-round TKO, and followed it up with a win against Mexican boxing legend Marco Antonio Barrera. Last November, Marquez (48-3-1) scored a unanimous decision over Rocky Juarez, paving the way for his rematch with Pacquiao, who has won seven of his eight fights since the first, including five by knockout.

"Juan is in tremendous shape," says Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer. "I was down in Mexico; I saw him. Everybody in Mexico, and Hispanics here in the United States, are talking about this fight. Juan Manuel Marquez is going to be the last man standing for Mexico."

Adds Marquez, "People are going to see a great fight. I'm going to [leave] everything in the ring. I won't disappoint."

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