Eric Raskin

Marquez-Katsidis: Thiller? Mismatch? Both?

Juan Manuel Marquez, pictured here at a media workout Monday in Los Angeles, might cruise to victory over Michael Katsidis on Saturday because the Australian has the perfect style for him. Then again, the fact Marquez is 37 could even the playing field. Photo / Gene Blevins-Hoganphotos-Golden Boy Promotions

As you may have heard, styles make fights. But there’s a little-known companion clause: Miles break fights. As in, if the fighters are miles apart in ability, it can break a fight wide open.

When you put two all-action fighters in the ring together, a thriller is virtually guaranteed, but such expectations are derailed if the two boxers aren’t on comparable levels when it comes to talent and skill.

Two Saturdays ago, we saw a perfect example of this when two of the most offense-minded, contact-oriented fighters in the sport, Manny Pacquiao and Antonio Margarito, produced an entertaining mismatch. There was hardly a dull moment; there was also hardly a moment in which a Pacquiao victory was in doubt.

This coming Saturday, we might be looking at a continuation of the same theme. Juan Manuel Marquez and Michael Katsidis are both among the most consistently exciting fighters in the sport, and there are some who think their RING lightweight championship clash at the MGM Grand has Fight of the Year potential. The potential snag comes if Marquez and Katsidis are not remotely evenly matched.

Marquez is as elite in the talent department as he is in the entertainment realm. If he were a movie star, he’d be Matt Damon, who can be an action hero but also has legitimate acting chops.

Katsidis, using the same analogy, is Vin Diesel.

Still, there are some expert observers who think the talent gulf isn’t so wide that it can’t be overcome and therefore have high expectations for Saturday’s showdown.

“To me, the fight is much closer than anyone else thinks,” said Hall of Fame trainer/manager and HBO analyst Emanuel Steward. “Marquez is technically maybe a little bit better, but I think that he’s really not a true lightweight. He’s a 130-pounder. And the wear and tear is an issue. Katsidis is maybe not as talented, but with the unbelievable fire and drive that he’s got, I think it’s going to be a very, very tough fight. Just like with his Australian countryman, Jeff Fenech, that burning drive and determination is a major factor that you can’t measure in terms of skill.”

In most sports books, the odds are set at a little less than 3-1 in Marquez’s favor, which suggests there is a clear-cut favorite but not to the point that it’s viewed as a mismatch. For comparative reference, on the same HBO telecast, Andre Berto is listed as up to 10-1 over Freddy Hernandez.

“We’ve seen upsets in fights where the odds were much wider, like when Vernon Forrest beat Shane Mosley as a 7-1 underdog and then Ricardo Mayorga knocked out Forrest as a 10-1 underdog,” said veteran boxing broadcaster Dave Bontempo, who was in Atlantic City this past weekend voicing the international feed of the Sergio Martinez-Paul Williams rematch. “Maybe Marquez has the edge, but I wouldn’t call it a mismatch. Katsidis, to me, always has a chance to make it extremely exciting. Ever since the Joel Casamayor fight, I’ve said to myself, This is a guy who, no matter what you do to him, he’s always in the fight. Could Katsidis stand to improve his defense? Sure. But then he wouldn’t be who he is.

“Add in the fact that maybe Marquez could get old, and I’m definitely intrigued by this fight.”

In a sense, Marquez has been getting old for about the last four years, ever since he lost controversially to Chris John and, to an extent, reinvented himself. In his youth, he was a counterpuncher who rarely made for sensational action fights. The last few years, he’s been more willing to take a punch in order to land one and has been in several Fight of the Year candidates as a result (including THE RING’s 2009 Fight of the Year, his ninth-round knockout win over Juan Diaz in their first meeting).

Katsidis is even more of a sure thing in terms of action and drama. He’s a spiritual descendent of Arturo Gatti — and like Gatti generally did, he’s come up short against championship-caliber opponents, losing to Casamayor and Diaz. Still, his brawl with Casamayor was spectacular. And come to think of it, Marquez’s fight with the Cuban veteran was pretty memorable too. When you have two fighters who can create thrillers against an awkward, dirty southpaw like Casamayor, you have serious scorcher potential.

Assuming, that is, that Katsidis isn’t the slow, predictable Margarito to Marquez’s Pacquiao.

We’ve seen other fights in recent years that paired two typically entertaining fighters but just weren’t competitive. Pacquiao’s second-round knockout of Ricky Hatton certainly fits that description. In happened in this year’s rematch between Marquez and Diaz also. Gatti’s fight with Oscar De La Hoya was a fast-paced beatdown. Gatti vs. Leonard Dorin looked like a can’t-miss, but it ended on a bodyshot before a two-way brawl could develop.

Erik Morales never made a bad fight and got hit so much that even his mismatches appeared somewhat competitive, and he produced at least three fights that could be billed as both entertaining and lopsided. Against Jesus Chavez, Carlos Hernandez and Wayne McCullough, the action was good but it remains hard to envision any of them defeating “El Terrible” in 100 tries.

Going back a bit farther, Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Greg Haugen was a fight in which both individuals usually entertained the fans but the outcome was a certainty before the opening bell. Possibly the best action fighter of his time, Matthew Saad Muhammad was on the wrong side of his prime by the time he met fellow slugger Dwight Muhammad Qawi in their rematch and the advantage belonged to Qawi for every second of the 5½ rounds that the fight lasted. (And for what it’s worth, their first fight wasn’t a whole lot less one-sided than the rematch.)

Frankly, the entire HBO tripleheader coming up this weekend has exciting-mismatch potential. Berto-Hernandez and Celestino Caballero-Jason Litzau are both fights where one man is a prohibitive favorite but the combat ought to be fun for as long as it lasts.

So what’s preferable from a fan’s perspective: Two warriors in an all-action mismatch or two evenly matched technical boxers in a close chess match?

“A fight where it’s lopsided going in does not excite me as much,” Bontempo opined. “I like the tactical back and forth, even if it’s slow, because each guy is always trying to do something. You can look at the fight and say ‘This is what this guy should be doing, and this is what the other guy should be doing,’ and then you wait and see if the chess match unfolds. You wait to see if one guy can take the momentum away. But it has to be two guys at a high level. Two guys at a low level, it won’t excite you very much.”

A perfect example would be the 1997 fight between De La Hoya and Pernell Whitaker. Some of the punches De La Hoya missed were actually more memorable than anything either boxer landed. But it kept viewers transfixed — at least on the first viewing — because the outcome appeared uncertain throughout.

Marquez-Katsidis is unlikely to be a chess match. The question is whether it’s going to be a competitive match.

“I love fighting,” Katsidis said recently. “Even better, I love winning. That’s exactly what I’m coming to do.”

We know Katsidis will give everything he has in an effort to live up to his words. If he’s lucky — actually, if we’re all lucky — Marquez will have slowed down just enough to give him a chance.

RASKIN’S RANTS

• The fact that Sergio Martinez did what he did to Paul Williams, who by all accounts was far less eager to face Martinez again than Martinez was to face him, gives us something to think about when picking a winner if Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather ever agree to fight. Sometimes the reluctant warrior is reluctant for a reason.

• Michael Buffer acknowledging Martinez’ easy-come-easy-go alphabet belt but not his RING championship during the prefight and postfight announcements should come as no big shock; that sort of nonsense goes on all the time. But what the hell was up with the champion being introduced first? I know Team Williams got the better of the negotiations, but come on. Some time-honored traditions need to be honored.

• We’ve heard Bob Arum speak on the topic of Martinez vs. Pacquiao. We know Arum doesn’t want the fight to happen. That doesn’t mean for sure that it won’t happen. Let’s wait for Manny, who seems to enjoy a good challenge, to comment on the matchup before we completely dismiss it.

• Is it possible that Carlos Baldomir is getting even slower? He’s about two fights away from me not being able to tell if I’ve paused my DVR or not.

• Speaking of nearly impossible physical feats, how does Paul Spadafora keep finding space for new tattoos?

• I found this news about a Freddie Roach reality show rather intriguing. I’m growing tired of the material covered on HBO’s 24/7 before Pacquiao fights, but that doesn’t mean Freddie’s day-to-day life won’t be interesting to watch. And if you watch the best show on television, Mad Men, then you know that Roach is in good hands with AMC.

• Did anyone notice that on Friday night’s Telefutura card from Argentina, they used round-card girls before round one? Good for the Argentines for completely doing away with the pretense that round-card girls are needed to inform the audience of what round is coming up.

• Last week’s edition of Ring Theory, with special guest Al Bernstein, is tracking toward becoming our most listened-to episode yet, so you’ve probably already heard it and I probably don’t need to tell you to check it out. So I won’t. (And I’ll even politely ask you not to check it out if you don’t know what the Algonquin Round Table was.)

• If you’re a fan of my writing and a fight fan who’d like to see the sport positively represented in the mainstream media, then please follow this link and send an email to Bill Simmons telling him to have me on his podcast, The BS Report, as a guest. Simmons said last week that he ought to have a boxing guy on one of these days, and I believe I’m the best candidate for that job. And conveniently, I happen to have no shame whatsoever about begging my readers to help me out. If you’ve been reading my column for free for many years and are starting to feel guilty about it, here’s your chance to make it up to me.

Eric Raskin can be reached at RaskinBoxing@yahoo.com. You can read his articles each month in THE RING magazine and follow him on Twitter @EricRaskin.

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