Marquez vs Lopez: The Storm Before the Calm

By Julie Cockerham - In a short space of time, two of boxingís best ideas have dissolved into a mass of dereliction. Showtimeís move to strip complication and problems of avoidance and delay from the sport faltered, when injuries and withdrawals turned its Super Six World Boxing Classic into a compromised structure of substitutes and confused scoring. The concept was admirable, but it proved susceptible to exactly that which it was railing so fervently against. Things canít be simple in this sport nowadays, and the desired contests canít come to pass without exacting conditions. And somehow, expectations seem to find their way unswervingly to disappointment.

Most notable among the twin slights, was the mammoth battle between the dual pound for pound incumbents that failed to materialize. And this happened for a second time. Between these two sour notes, fights have been cancelled or rescheduled; the roles of opponent recast with new players. The resulting match ups are usually sufficient, but they donít strike the chord that the original, logical ones do, and the appeal doesnít radiate outward to create or restore interest in the sport. None of this helps..

There is certainly still a strong interest that exists in boxing today, even among supporters on the fringes; it is undetectable only to those completely outside of the game. A solid share of that interest follows Manny Pacquiao wherever he goes, and so his fight against Antonio Margarito continues to attract attention, and perhaps more than it rightly should. There are critics who are still shaking their heads at the selection of Margarito as an opponent for the Filipino king. Much of their early focus on the fight had to do with the moral combination of the two, and had little to do with the technical appeal. Ultimately, the bout falls into the category of the sufficient; dull in its mechanical aspects, and modestly intriguing in its philosophical ones.

But beyond these prominent tangles, there is a wealth of clarity that exists, and it is enriched when focus is turned to other directions. Instead of stock being constantly drained by collapsing potential, there are solid match ups that can restore what has been stripped away. The lack of attention paid to these solid prospects puts to question the priorities used in evaluating quality. But this can be changed. Here, for a departure from the fog of inactivity and tedium, tradition serves as a more than sufficient starting point.

This Saturday night, a resurrection of the classic Mexican vs Puerto Rican rivalry will see former IBF bantamweight champion Rafael Marquez take on WBO featherweight champion Juan Manuel Lopez. It pits a veteran against one of the sportís finest prospects.

Rafael Marquez is one half of a legendary pairing that generated four legendary bouts. The victories were split equally between Marquez and his opponent, Israel Vasquez. Those four fights alone were more than most boxers could dream up to demonstrate the potency of their styles. And Marquez proved his mettle. In each bout, picking a winner at the outset was virtually impossible. At any moment in those fights, there was the knowledge that either Marquez or Vasquez could have fallen to the other. While this is always a technical possibility to some extent, it is in these exceptionally even contests that the chance is most electrifying. It is this nature of the contest that creates the energy and fuels interest.

Rafael Marquez of Mexico has the impressive pedigree. Just as he is one half of one of the greatest pairings in boxingís recent history, he is one half of the greatest blood pairing. He is the brother of Juan Manuel Marquez, the lightweight champion. A fighter with a rare and seamless blend of technical skill, intelligence, and aggression, Juan Manuel Marquez always resides somewhere at the top of pound for pound lists.

Juan Manuel Lopez hasnít yet faced an opponent that would result in a fight to echo through the ages, but he has proved himself to be worthy opposition to every man he has stood opposite of in the ring. He has a record of 29-0 with 26 knockouts, a strong record that recommends him to a higher caliber of combatant. Rafael Marquez will supply that for him.

In the ring, Lopez will have the size advantage, and it will serve him well to exploit that. Lopez is a high volume puncher, with a good left-right attack and a smooth transition from the head to the body. With his high activity level, he will have to watch his target here, or he will leave himself vulnerable to counters. He has a tendency to wing and leap with jabs or hooks that he throws in succession. A combination of eagerness and fatigue can cause his punches to arc too widely; again, leaving him open. When Bernabe Concepcion dropped Lopez with a left hand in their short, engaging bout in July 2010, it was in the midst of an assault launched by Lopez. Marquez will be aware of this flaw. For his part, Lopez has to utilize his height. If he can box some from the outside, and lure Marquez in toward him, he has a better opportunity to connect with his punches before Marquez has the chance to.

Marquez is the veteran. At 35 years of age, with a record of 39-5-0 (35 KO) he knows that the bulk of support is with the undefeated Lopez. Marquez is very durable and more than matches Lopez in punch output. He is measured with his aggression, and though his plotting may not be quite as meticulous as his brotherís, he will take advantage of the openings Lopez may offer to him. He will be the smaller man in the ring, but the reaches of the two fighters are comparable. This could allow Marquez some success even if the fight stays outside for periods. When they do approach each other on the inside, Marquez will gain an advantage from Lopezís penchant to crouch and cut down his own height. While Marquez doesnít entirely abandon defense, he likes to get the better of exchanges, and he will put himself on the line to do so.

Both Lopez and Marquez have rousing styles. With the exception of some awkwardness that could occur from the contrast between Lopez as a southpaw and Marquez as an orthodox boxer, the bout should provide ceaseless action. Both fighters are more than capable, and both have styles that mandate that tempo. Whether Lopez with his size and age advantages will be able to overtake an older Marquez coming up in weight will be decided on Saturday.

In the meantime, the super fight that is slated to happen in Dallas in a week is gathering the attention that prominent bouts are likely to. But the conditions surrounding that fight and the two opponents who will step into the ring do not provide any guarantees of competitive artistry. It is a choice torn out of the tangles, another fight born of convenience and disappointing compromise. But in decisive contrast to that, what will happen come this Saturday between Rafael Marquez and Juan Manual Lopez is all but guaranteed to supersede the intensity of the super fight.

This time, the storm may come before the calm.

Article posted on 04.11.2010

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