Boxing's Rafael

Nov 2, 2010 7:07 AM

Finally, real fights and fighters. The problem is that there are too many of them to give all their proper due.

For weeks, nothing and now we have conflicting dates as the summer hibernation comes to an end. On Showtime, from the MGM in Las Vegas, comes the main event of next Saturday. When someone as good as Rafael Marquez is the heavy underdog, then you know this is a major event.

The undefeated Puerto Rican star, Juan Manuel Lopez, is about a 7-2 favorite to write "finis" to the brilliant career of the venerable Marquez. Rafael has been so good for so long he might as well have the title of Marquez of Queensbury.

For him to be a 5-2 underdog – the buyback rate – to anyone but a Klitschko brother seems somehow inappropriate. But he is 35 and the former superfly champion is now fighting as a featherweight.

Marquez has left bits and pieces of his self in professional rings since at least 1995. According to, one of the most reliable record-keepers in the game, Marquez made his pro debut that year by being stopped in the eighth round by Victor Rabanales, then a former world champion with 39 victories.

His older and bigger brother, Juan Manuel, became two of the finest examples of Mexican boxing. They were brilliantly trained by Nacho Beristain in Mexico City but not as brilliantly managed. They managed to elude the glare of superstardom when lesser lights headed toward the hall of fame.

It was difficult noticing Rafael, however. He kept beating ranked members of everyone’s pound-for-pound stalwarts. Marc (Too Sharp) Johnson, perhaps the finest American flyweight in history, was outpointed back in 2001 and, in an immediate rematch at superfly, stopped Johnson the following year in 8. A year later, he was stopping bantamweight giant Tim Austin, also in 8.

Marquez was just getting started. He and his brother became perennial top-10 pound-for-pounders. Juan Manuel found a great rival in Manny Pacquiao. Rafael found one in Israel Vazquez.

These little terrors went on a four-fight streak, tearing the heart and soul from each other. In their final meeting, Rafael evened the series with a third-round stoppage last May. Many believe Vazquez should never fight again.

Almost as many believe the same of Marquez. But here he is, again challenging an undefeated stud. It is difficult to gauge just how good "Juanma" is, or will become.

Lopez burst upon the scene a couple of years ago with an astonishing first-round knockout of Daniel Ponce de Leon. The Puerto Rican southpaw is 29-0 with 26 stoppages. He’s got speed, quickness and punch. Plus he’s bigger.

But I’m not completely convinced.

Lopez is hittable and his chin may not be of cast iron. I’m going to be ringside, but I’m not sure I’m going to dip into any of my Breeders’ Cup funds to place a bet on this fight, even though I think Marquez is good value.

That’s "good," not "great." Every day at every track, I’m sure you could find a 5-2 shot with a better chance of winning.

Showtime vs. HBO

In the MGM semifinal, old reliable Glenn Johnson steps in as a sub in Showtime’s Super Six supermiddleweight shindig to face another late starter in Allan Green.

Here, too, I’ll be silently rooting for age and experience but am unwilling to lay 3-2 or 8-5 on the former light-heavyweight champion against the younger, faster, stronger opponent. But I’d rather be in Vegas than in Newark, where HBO has an interesting if not compelling show featuring Zab Judah, against whom I have successfully bet in the past.

Zab is trying to make it back at 140, and he’s facing an unknown in undefeated Lucas Matthysse of Argentina, 27-0 with 25 knockouts. I don’t know where Judah is these days, either, but my gut tells me he should survive. And in the semi, Roberto Guerrero at lightweight should get past Vicente Escodedo. 

The card probably deserves more discussion, certainly more than we’re going to have in next week’s column about Manny Pacquiao and the undeserving Antonio "Margocheato," which takes place Nov. 13 in Jerry Jones’s Super Bowl palace near Dallas.

The Cowboys don’t deserve that setting and neither does what figures to be a one-sided fight.