Last Month, four of the finest fighters of their generation: Floyd Mayweather, Wladimir Klitschko, Juan Manuel Marquez, and Timothy Bradley hung up their gloves and retired. TQBR Jefe Tim Starks covered the first two here. Tardy, but resolute, I have attempted not to slip into hagiography of my favorite fighter and look afresh at one for whom I had appreciation but no affection.
Juan Manuel Marquez
For every one of us, there are people that have had an outsized influence in our lives. Whether it’s an uncle that coaxes us back onto a horse that’s just thrown and dragged us, a mentor who challenged and championed us, or a fighter that made us stand back in reverence, we feel their presence more acutely. Fans often become mawkishly attached to their favorite fighters, and as they age in front of our eyes we brace ourselves for the inevitable day when we will have to watch them beaten senseless by a lesser pugilist because they’ve hung on too long. Fortunately for me, my favorite fighter, Juan Manuel Marquez (56-7-1, 40 KO) chose retirement.
Juan Manuel Marquez spent the bulk of his career in third place. It is impossible to speak of Marquez without mentioning his contemporaries. In their primes, Marquez was overshadowed by countrymen Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera. When they had faded and he found himself alone, Marquez was still overshadowed by Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. It is also unfair to define him based simply those men and ignore the depth and quality of his resume.
Before his first bout with Manny Pacquiao in 2004, Marquez was known primarily for a close shave loss to Freddy Norwood and being ducked by Prince Naseem Hamed. He’d been a top 10 featherweight for years, but no one was clamoring to see him fight. That changed when his scintillating 12 round battle with Pacquiao ended in a draw, after he’d been dropped three times in the opening round.
What happened next was as perfect a microcosm of Marquez’s career as any stretch could be. Instead of immediately pursuing a rematch, Marquez and Manager/Trainer Nacho Beristain opted to face mandatory challenger Orlando Salido. Marquez thoroughly outclassed Salido and Victor Polo before traveling to Indonesia to take short money against Chris John. The bout was not entertaining in the least, and Marquez was the victim of dubious judging and refereeing.
Like most fighters, Marquez needed the right style match up to look his best, and he got it next. Liberated of his alphabet strap by John, Marquez fought and stopped legitimate tough guys Terdsak Kokietgym and Jimrex Jaca. Combination punching at its core is improvising at the speed of thought, and no one thought faster than Marquez. After suffering a bad cut from an accidental headbutt, Marquez came roaring back into his fight with Jaca. The seven punch combination, punctuated by a filthy left hook, that knocks Jaca out is as vintage Marquez as you will find.
The style that Marquez found after his loss to Chris John came to dominate his late career. No longer satisfied to move, counterpunch, and outbox opponents, Marquez employed a surgical aggression that forced opponents to make mistakes as opposed to waiting on them. After moving up to junior lightweight, Marquez got a clear but hard earned decision win over Marco Antonio Barrera, before finally securing a Pacquiao rematch. The bout was as hotly contested as the original had been four years prior. Pacquiao had improved, but so had Marquez. The two put on a brilliant display, with Pacquiao getting the benefit of a split decision.
Hell bent on a rubbermatch, Marquez followed Pacquiao up to lightweight, and took on, then took out lineal lightweight champion Joel Casamayor in a thrilling game of blitz chess that saw Marquez finally finding a perfect shot and stopping the Cuban in the 11th round. Marquez’s run at lightweight was brief but outstanding, including stoppage wins of Juan Diaz and Michael Katsidis sandwiched around an uncompetitive loss to Floyd Mayweather at welterweight. The first Diaz fight and the Katsidis bout mirror his fights with Kokietgym and Jaca in that Marquez took on top rated, aggressive, younger, busier fighters and figured them out, broke them down and stopped them.
In 2011, 18 years into his pro career, Marquez finally got another crack at Pacquiao, this time at welterweight. Sporting a bulkier physique that some believe pharmaceutically aided, Marquez fought to what he believed was an insurmountable lead before coasting in the 12th round. He lost a majority decision that was lustily booed, and Marquez himself stormed from the ring and had to be coaxed into giving an interview, as he sat naked in his dressing room, covered only by the sombrero that he’d worn for his ring walk. Many assumed that Marquez was bitter, but bitterness is a paralytic. What consumed Marquez was a seething resentment that fueled him to be better than he had any right to be.
On December 8, 2012, Marquez was that much better than he’d been. He and Pacquiao engaged in a ridiculously skilled brawl that was punctuated by the fact that they were older, bigger, and slower than they’d been. Both went hunting for the knockout from the beginning, and after having nearly been stopped himself in the 5th, a bleeding, wobbly Marquez timed Pacquiao’s vintage feint-jab-left cross to perfection and unleashed a monster right hand that caught the Filipino off balance as he lunged in and turned him into a human lawn dart. Pacquiao was as unconscious as a human can be without going comatose. It was shocking, perfect, and so goddamn satisfying that I was running around my living room like Marquez was around the ring.
That the last two fights of his career should be a skillful contentious split decision loss to then top 3 welterweight Timothy Bradley in 2013 and a brilliant unanimous decision win against Mike Alvarado in 2014 is a little surprising. Not surprising that Marquez was still fighting at such a high level twenty-plus years into his career, but surprising because it’s been three years since he fought. Until Marquez’s retirement was announced in late August, his name has was never far from the fans and media’s minds. We often wondered if we’d ever get a fifth Pacquiao fight, or who he would fight next. If you were coming up from lightweight to welterweight, his name was out there.
Perhaps that’s his legacy. He was the standard of excellence for a decade and a half. He combined intelligence, heart, and amazing technique. We were lucky to have him for so long.
There are some fighters that we just never appreciate. You’d imagine that anyone who’d cleaned out a division, moved up a class, engaged in a brawl for the ages and fought two first ballot hall of famers would be pretty popular. Somehow, Timothy Bradley never caught on with fans. He was a fighter that everyone appreciated and acknowledged to be elite, but no one was really passionate about.
Some would argue that fan apathy was blowback for the horrific split decision he was awarded against Manny Pacquiao in their first fight, but it started earlier. Bradley’s fights could get ugly, as he had a tendency to lunge in with his gigantic head. The zenith of these was his junior welterweight unification with Devon Alexander which was a boring clinch fest that was conducted in front of a nearly empty arena in Detroit.
What you do need to know about Tim Bradley (33-2, 13 KO) is perfectly encompassed in 2013. Stinging from the fan rage at his unearned victory against Pacquiao, Bradley engaged in all time classic battle against Ruslan Provodnikov. Hurt early, then regularly throughout, Bradley fought savagely to keep the Russian off of him. Instead of boxing smartly and moving (his forte), he traded. An insane proposition considering that Bradley was never a puncher and Provodnikov’s jaw was made of some kind of bizarre Soviet alloy that undoubtedly violated the Geneva Convention. The fight is sick. If you haven’t watched it lately, do that now.
If the Provodnikov fight was Bradley at his stupidest, bravest, and most entertaining, his next bout he was at his best. Bradley engaged Juan Manuel Marquez in an excellent back and forth fight that was more technical than terrifying. Bradley moved, jabbed, and counterpunched smoothly and efficiently. He used his excellent timing to frustrate Marquez and consistently beat him to the punch. If you enjoy tactical battles between fighters with elite skills, it’s worth a rewatch.
Bradley got two more cracks at Pacquiao in 2014 and 2016, lost both, but acquitted himself well in each. Wins over Jessie Vargas and Brandon Rios kept him hanging around the top 5 at welterweight. His retirement was a bit of a surprise for me, but he hadn’t fought in over a year and is 34 years old. That said, there are only a couple of names I’d choose over him in a fight at welterweight if he kept fighting.
Bradley always seemed a laid back sort, but anyone who saw him train recognized a near maniac who did everything with intensity. And only a complete lunatic would’ve fought Provodnikov the way he did when he could’ve made his life much easier. The hiring of Teddy Atlas as trainer his last couple of fights only ratcheted up the crazy in his corner. The ‘We are firemen’ speech Atlas shrieked at Bradley during the Rios bout is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, but somehow that got him pumped up to go out and stop Rios.
Tim Bradley was really goddamn good for a long time. Most of us didn’t appreciate him enough, and that always seemed to be something that drove him, which is a trait that nearly all of us share. When we excel as he did, we want the attention, credit, and respect that accompanies it. If the young fighters of the current generation had his ambition, boxing would be all the better for it.
(Timothy Bradley, left, punches Juan Manuel Marquez and vice versa; via)