Rafael Marquez: As Great as Zarate?
12.03.07 - By John Way: Only minutes after his sensational win over Israel Vasquez, Rafael Marquez was already looking forward to further challenges against other elite fighters in the junior featherweight division. As tempting as it is to look ahead for the Mexico City native, now is the perfect time to contemplate his legacy in boxing history, and what the win against Vasquez could mean for that legacy. His accomplishments are almost unparalleled in recent bantamweight history. Previously he thrashed the best fighters the 115 and 118 lb. divisions had to offer. The iron-fisted champion had essentially exhausted the division of talented challengers, save for comparative novices like Wladimir Sidorenko and Hozumi Hasegawa.
Article posted on 12.03.2007
Now he has a win over the best fighter at 122. Faced with the opportunity of a lifetime against Vasquez, he stepped up to the plate, delivering unquestionably his most stirring effort since his title-winning 8th round TKO over Tim Austin. Before that, he had twice beaten Mark "Too Sharp" Johnson, a man previously rated the second best fighter in the world, pound for pound.
So the question becomes: where does Marquez fit into the mix as an all time great? Although some experts may scoff at comparisons to Ruben Olivares or Carlos Zarate, all evidence seems to suggest that he belongs alongside both men.
Aside from an outrageous knockout streak against sub-par opposition, Olivares has no claim to glory that Marquez can't match. Often blowing hot and cold, "Rockabye" Ruben's wins over Lionel Rose and Bobby Chacon are largely tainted by uneven performances against Rafael Herrera, Danny Lopez, and Eusebio Pedroza. While Marquez has trained like a Spartan for each of his title defenses, Olivares squandered his talent on the dance floor, failing to achieve his full potential through a lack of dedication. And it shows: Marquez is 9-0 in title fights, unbeaten since 2000. On the other hand, Olivares only offered boxing fans flashes of brilliance in between stretches of inconsistency, tallying a 9-5 title fight mark.
On the other hand, Zarate was an invariably brilliant performer who dazzled the purists his heavy-handed approach to the sweet science. His offensively oriented style was backed up by a solid defensive foundation, making for a fascinating spectacle inside the ring. Using his strength, reach, and devastating power, he easily dominated all his bantamweight opponents until an outrageous split decision loss to Lupe Pintor robbed him of the title, largely ending his career as a meaningful contender. His claim to greatness largely rests on wins over two other excellent titlests: Rudolpho Martinez and Alfonso Zamora. In any other era, Zamora would have been a champion for years, and Martinez had already established himself as a fantastic fighter in his own right. But are these two wins any better than stoppages over Johnson, Austin, and Vasquez? Like Zamora, Austin was clearly headed to the Hall of Fame before Marquez got to him, and Johnson was as good as, if not better than anyone Zarate beat. Marquez has also faced a gauntlet of different styles over the course of his reign, while Zarate mostly fought against aggressive swarmers.
Silence Mabuza was versatile boxer-puncher known for his riveting combination punching. Ricardo Vargas and Heriberto Ruiz were crafty, experienced ring veterans with elite boxing skills to match. Mauricio Pastrana was a granite-jawed aggressor whose punching power was highlighted in a win over Michael Carbajal. Vasquez was a never-say-die warrior who decided to run up the white flag after tasting heavy leather for 7 rounds. Johnson and Austin were slick as pimps, from a school of technicians that Zarate was never tested against. And, most significantly of all, since his breakthrough win in his first fight with Johnson, he hasn't truly come close to losing.
If these credentials don't qualify Marquez for consideration as the best Mexican bantamweight of all time, nothing will. Some critics denounce him because all three of his losses have come by technical knockout, interpreting this as a lack of durability. But careful research reveals that the spill he took against Vasquez was his first trip to the canvas in either his amateur or pro careers. Make no mistake, Rafael's beard is just fine.
On the other hand, it was a well known fact that if you could touch Olivares, you could hurt him, and a lack of technical boxing skill cost him fights against a caliber of opponents that Marquez never would have lost against, e.g. David Kotey. Also, it's hard to imagine Marquez being overwhelmed as completely as Zarate was against Wilfredo Gomez and Daniel Zaragoza. He has the sort of elite boxing skills that guarantee him at least a fighting chance against anyone in the industry, even a man of Gomez' caliber.
Considering the extent of his facial damage, Vasquez will be forced to put his crusade for vengeance on hold for a minimum of 8 months. So, with a rematch temporarily on the back burner, Marquez will likely pursue other, less lucrative options. The winner of the upcoming fight between Gerry Penasola and Daniel Ponce De Leon will emerge as the most viable number one contender. Showtime executives would jump at an opportunity to broadcast another all-Mexican power punching throw down. If any fighter at 122 lbs. can rival Vasquez in knockout ability, it's De Leon, who has registered 28 knockouts in 31 fights, with only one defeat. His knockout wins over Sod Looknongyantoy, Gerson Guerro and Al Seeger are spectacular, and his wacky southpaw aggression would prove a difficult puzzle to solve. Penasola presents a whole other problem with
his vast experience, beautiful skills, and educated footwork. A win over either man would add another great name to his increasingly impressive resume, further enhancing his status as the new Ruben Olivares or Carlos Zarate. Comments and questions are welcome below.
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