This fight brings together two of the best pure boxers in the sport. Both are counter-punchers who rarely make mistakes and punish opponents who do. So how do you separate them? Size may be the only difference.
Marquez has no problem making the 126-pound featherweight limit and acknowledges that Casamayor is the bigger man, although they are both the same height at 5 feet 7 inches. What gives Casamayor the edge is that he has fought his entire career at junior lightweight and lightweight against bigger men, while Marquez has faced featherweights in all but four of his 53 fights.
"I give Casamayor the advantage in weight, but it's not going to be a lot," Marquez told the Mexican newspaper ESTO. "At junior lightweight I felt good; I was the world champion. But now that I am training for the lightweight division, I feel very strong, too."
Marquez's trainer, the great Ignacio "Nacho" Beristain, has been addressing the size problem in training camp but still concedes that Casamayor will walk into the ring the bigger man.
"Juan has been lifting more weights to focus on gaining strength and muscle," Beristain said. "We have changed his diet as well. He has been eating more carbohydrates to gain the extra weight. The weight is definitely an advantage for Casamayor, because after the weigh-in, Juan will not gain that much weight. He will probably fight around 142 pounds at the most, while Casamayor will definitely go up more than that."
The size difference will become more of a factor because the two counter-punchers have recently changed their styles to become more aggressive in the ring. For most of their careers, they were willing to let their opponents come to them and throw the first punches. Now, they seem willing to come forward and take chances. If they both bring the action, it remains to be seen if Marquez has the power at this weight to hurt Casamayor - or take the Cuban's punches, for that matter.
"If Marquez stands in front of Casamayor, the edge would go to Casamayor because he has more power and has shown that even when knocked down, he can get up and win," said Ramiro Gonzalez, a longtime boxing writer for the Spanish language newspaper La Opinion and now director of public relations for Golden Boy Promotions.
Casamayor has never been stopped, and as Gonzalez said, even when you drop him - like Michael Katsidis did in the Cuban's last fight - he has repeatedly shown the ability to get up from the canvas and beat you. Against the hard-hitting, all-action Katsidis, who was unbeaten when they fought in March, Casamayor hit the deck in the sixth round. He got up, and despite the knockdown and a point deducted for a low blow in the 9th round, he was only trailing by a point on two cards when the 10th round started. Casamayor imposed his will on Katsidis and unleashed a hard counter left hook that dropped Katsidis for the second time in the fight and closed the show, with referee Jon Schorle stopping the action with 30 seconds left in the round.
It was not the first time the former Olympic gold medalist had pulled it off. Diego Corrales, Daniel Seda and Jose Armando Santa Cruz each put Casamayor down once, and he came back to beat all three, although the Santa Cruz split decision was considered a robbery by many at ringside.
Marquez also has a solid chin. He has tasted canvas in just one fight, that being his monumental bout with Pacquiao in 2004. Pacquiao knocked Marquez down three times in an explosive first round, but the Mexican kept getting up and then proceeded to keep his opponent at bay by boxing him beautifully. As a result, Marquez came away with a draw. Pacquiao's concussive power outstrips Casamayor's, however, so it is unlikely the Cuban will be able to knock Marquez out.
One reason Casamayor (36-3-1, 22 KOs) has stepped up his aggression is that he feels he has been burned several times by judges in very close fights, a sentiment that's not too far from the mark. Casamayor's first loss came in 2002 at the hands of Acelino Freitas, whose power-packed fists dominated the junior lightweight division for several years. Freitas was awarded a unanimous decision, but the margin of victory was just two points on all three cards. Two years later Casamayor again lost a very tight fight, this time by a split decision. Of the two judges who called it for Corrales, the margin was an identical three points. Casamayor suffered another split-decision loss against Jose Luis Castillo in December of 2004. Since then he has not been beaten, winning five straight fights while drawing with Almazbek "Kid Diamond" Raiymkulov, who has lost just once in 28 bouts.
Against Katsidis, a brutally aggressive fighter in the Arturo Gatti style, Casamayor decided to fight fire with fire, bringing the action with a new focus on power punches.
"Throughout his career, people saw him boxing," said Casamayor's promoter, Oscar De La Hoya of Golden Boy. "But now he is sitting down more, planting his feet and throwing a lot more punches and being very aggressive."
Gonzalez says Casamayor, at 37 years old, doesn't have much choice but to take the initiative and stand in front of his opponent. "I believe Marquez has a chance to win this fight because Casamayor doesn't have the nice movement and balance in his legs that he had when he was younger," Gonzalez said. (Worth noting is that those legs carried Casamayor through 393 amateur fights - and winning a remarkable 363 of them. In contrast, Marquez had just 36 amateur fights, winning 35 before turning pro at 19).
Marquez (48-4-1, 35 KOs) is no spring chicken either, having turned 35 last month. So far, he has not shown his age, so he could be considered the younger man despite only a two-year difference in age.
Like Casamayor, Marquez has also revved up the action recently. In his last three fights -- victories over Marco Antonio Barrera and Rocky Juarez, and a close-decision loss to Pacquiao -- Marquez threw more lead punches than he had during the majority of his career.
This spike in the action for both boxers comes after careers spent in relative obscurity, their elite status recognized primarily by analysts and serious fans. The fighters' slick, counter-punching styles just didn't appeal as much to crowds who prefer bloodbaths and all-action fights.
"At this point in their careers, they have to be more aggressive if they want to get fights with people like Pacquiao," Gonzalez said. "I think the reason Marquez was not as aggressive earlier in his career is because of his trainer. Nacho Beristain is a great trainer, but he teaches his fighters caution. Recently when Marquez has been more explosive in a round, when he got to his corner Nacho would tell him to fight more carefully."
As much as these two boxers seem to have in common, however, one important distinction can be made. Casamayor has beaten two elite fighters in their prime, the then unbeaten and current unified lightweight champion Nate Campbell, and Corrales in 2003. There are no such names on Marquez's record. Marquez beat Robbie Peden, a decent fighter who would briefly become a champion, in 2002. But the Aussie never attained elite status. Marquez drew with Pacquiao, and the only other elite fighter he faced was a faded Barrera, whom he beat last year. Barrera retired after his next fight.
But the Casamayor camp knows Marquez is still an A-list boxer, one who is on everyone's pound-for-pound list. They are preparing the him hard for this fight. "Joel has fought guys that were as good and well-proven as Marquez in the past," said Casamayor's trainer, Roger Bloodworth. "This camp has been a little different for Joel. He's a little more intense and focused than in past camps. He seems more dedicated."
In a deep division with a lot of potentially big fights, the stakes in this match-up are enormous. So are the questions that must be answered about both boxers. Will Casamayor have the legs to keep up with the slick-moving Marquez? Will Marquez be as good at 135 pounds as he was at featherweight? As Larry Merchant is fond of saying, "That's why they fight the fights."
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