By Eric Raskin
There's precious little that Juan Manuel Marquez hasn't seen or experienced over the course of his remarkable 21 years and 63 fights as a professional boxer. But even by his high standards of having been there and done that, Marquez's showdown on May 17 against Mike Alvarado is loaded with an inordinate amount of déjà vu.
From the location, to the style of the opponent, to the questions about how much longer the Mexican icon can keep doing what he does, familiar signposts are everywhere for Marquez.
For Alvarado, on the other hand, the guy in the opposite corner and the magnitude of the event present challenges beyond anything he's experienced before.
But for both fighters, the stakes are the same: lose, and you need to seriously reevaluate; win, and you're negotiating for a fall fight with Manny Pacquiao.
Marquez vs. Alvarado takes place at the Forum in Inglewood, California, formerly known as the Great Western Forum and lovingly referred to by many as the "Fabulous Forum." Marquez spent his formative years there, fighting and winning 12 times in the arena on the outskirts of L.A. between 1995 and 1999 (his debut there coming 53 fights ago, when he was a babyfaced 21-year-old). The Forum was purchased by the Madison Square Garden Company in 2012, and after the new owner renovated the almost-50-year-old building, it reopened with six concerts by the Eagles this past January. When boxing makes its return to the Forum next Saturday night, "Take It Easy" will most definitely not be the soundtrack.
Marquez flirted with a reputation as a dull, defense-minded fighter at certain points in the earlier stages of his career, but he has aged into one of the most consistently exciting warriors of his time. Much of that reputation comes from his extraordinary four-fight series with Pacquiao. But he also delivered the 2009 Fight of the Year when he rallied from early danger to knock out Juan Diaz in the ninth round, and he achieved the same result-TKO in the ninth-the following year after suffering an early knockdown in a thriller against Michael Katsidis. It's those fights that Marquez, and fans, seem most likely to flash back to when the bell rings and Alvarado is storming forward.
The 33-year-old "Mile High Mike" is, like Diaz and Katsidis, a free-swinging, easy-to-find gladiator, hungry to carve out a little history for himself by upsetting a future Hall of Famer. Conventional wisdom says he'll be in Marquez's face, looking to overpower the one-time featherweight, but that might play directly into the fists of one of the most effective counterpunchers the game has ever known. Interestingly, in Alvarado's finest hour, a revenge decision win over Brandon Rios 14 months ago that was sandwiched between violent defeats to Rios and Ruslan Provodnikov, the Denver duster turned himself into a boxing technician (in a relative sense, at least). It's unlikely that Alvarado will be able to genuinely outbox Marquez, but it would be smart for him to at least give "Dinamita" different looks over the course of the fight if he wants to get back in the win column.
"Coming off the loss to Provodnikov, it's an honor for me to be able to redeem myself against a legend," said Alvarado (34-2, 23 KOs). "This is a huge step toward redemption." The early rounds should be fascinating, as we discover which style, or styles, Alvarado will rely upon to crack Marquez's defenses and pursue that redemption.
While Alvarado is the clear underdog here, there is one inescapable factor that makes him a 'dog of the "live" variety: Marquez's age. The boxing world has been wondering when Marquez (55-7-1, 40 KOs) might hit the proverbial wall for the last five years or so, and now that he's 40 and coming off a loss to Tim Bradley, the whispers are as loud as ever.
Then again, the fight with Bradley was decided by only a punch or two, and in his previous engagement, Marquez knocked Pacquiao cold.
"I believe he's slowing down a little bit," Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, said of his most famous pupil's most famous rival. "In the Pacquiao fight he did really well, obviously, but Pacquiao was getting to him and I believe Marquez was showing a little wear and tear. But he still can punch, and he knocked Manny out. Against Bradley, he didn't look that sharp. He's still one of the top fighters, but he has slipped a little bit. I also think Manny Pacquiao has slipped a little bit, and Floyd Mayweather has slipped a little bit. It's just part of the process of life. Father Time is getting to us all, and there's nothing we can really do about it."
If indeed the Marquez we see against Alvarado is not quite the Marquez we've grown accustomed to seeing, then Marquez can still hope for a trump card in the form of the magnitude of the moment rattling Alvarado. The fights with Rios and Alvarado were big, but not this big. "There's a lot of respect for Juan Manuel Marquez in our camp," Alvarado's trainer/manager Henry Ramirez admitted. Alvarado, a bruiser who wasn't on the radar of any elite opponents two years ago, is now one win from an improbable pay-per-view showdown with Pacquiao. Good fighters have frozen under far less intimidating circumstances.
Add it up and the popular opinion is that Alvarado will provide a "fabulous forum" for Marquez to showcase his enduring gifts, and that it will be the Mexican marvel who emerges as the frontrunner to face Pacquiao next.
Certainly, Pacquiao-Marquez V is a fight with more financial upside than Pacquiao-Alvarado I.
"Even though Marquez might be thinking about leaving the rivalry with Pacquiao where it is since he won the last fight, I think he'll probably want to do it again because Pacquiao is still the biggest fight for him," Roach said. "They have such a legacy together and they know each other so well. I think the fight still draws very, very well.
"And we owe Marquez a favor," Roach added with a laugh. "Marquez did win by knockout last time, and it was a devastating knockout. I'd like to get that one back."
To have that opportunity, Roach needs to root for Pacquiao's nemesis to prevail at the Forum. That's something Marquez has done a dozen times before - when he was in his 20s. Against Alvarado, we'll find out if he can still do it in his 40s.
HBO WCB: May 17, 2014 at 10:15 PM ET/PT
Viktor Postol vs. Selcuk Aydin