Doug Fischer

Never, ever count Marquez out

Juan Manuel Marquez landed dozens of hard body shots that helped break down Michael Katsidis on Saturday in Las Vegas. Photo / Naoki Fukuda

LAS VEGAS — Juan Manuel Marquez proved once again against Michael Katsidis on Saturday that he can never be counted out in a prize fight.

Whenever it looks like the 37-year-old lightweight champ is in serious trouble against a younger, stronger opponent, as he appeared after being dropped by a Katsidis left hook in the third round, the courageous veteran from Mexico rallies to not only take over the fight but also give the fans one hell of a show.

Marquez reminded fans why he’ll be a first-ballot hall of famer as soon as he’s eligible by getting up from that hard knockdown and engaging in furious infighting during the middle rounds before overtaking Katsidis in the ninth round of a true barnburner.

The pace and ending of the fight was similar to Marquez’s first bout with Juan Diaz, when he withstood a relentless assault from the young pressure fighter in the early rounds before fighting his way back into the fight and scoring a ninth-round knockout.

Marquez-Diaz I was the Fight of the Year for 2009. Boxing fans inside the MGM Grand’s Garden Arena, where Marquez-Katsidis took place, and those watching the lightweight championship on HBO were treated to a very strong Fight-of-the-Year candidate for 2010.

The only drawback to Marquez-Katsidis was that it didn’t come to a conclusive, dramatic ending, as the first Diaz fight did. Referee Kenny Bayless kept a close eye on Katsidis after the rugged Australian was repeatedly rocked by a series of punches in the ninth round. Bayless watched the gallant challenger struggle to stay upright on shaky legs as he continued to absorb Marquez’s accurate power punches and, not needing to see a brutal knockout to prove Katsidis was finished, decided to wave the bout off at 2:14 of the round.

Katsidis, who had vowed to win the fight in memory of his recently deceased older brother, did not complain about the stoppage.

“He’s a very experienced fighter,” Katsidis (27-3, 22 knockouts) said of Marquez after the fight. “I knew not to rush things (after scoring the knockdown). It’s one of those things where I got caught at the end of the fight.

“He was stronger than me, and it ended up getting stopped.”

The fight wasn’t stopped before Katsidis gave the savvy old champion a run for his money. Katsidis was constantly nailed by Marquez’s jab on his way inside but, once in close position, he was able to tee off with his compact hooks and crosses. Marquez willingly gave ground to create the necessary space to land a beautiful left hook to the body that tenderized the ribcage of the ever-advancing challenger.

The pace and intensity of the bout increased exponentially after Marquez was clipped and dropped by a well-timed left hook as he was winding up with a hook of his own.

“I was surprised by his left in the third round,” Marquez (52-5-1, 38 KOs) said. “I didn’t protect myself, and I got caught. He’s a very difficult fighter. He’s valiant.”

They both were. Rounds four through eight were as good as it gets in boxing. Katsidis kept the pressure on Marquez, who landed the more-precise combinations. However, Katsidis continued to bull his way in close and was able to land telling blows of his own during their phone-booth warfare. The 30-year-old challenger appeared to shake the seasoned champ in spots during rounds six, seven and eight.

Some along press row were beginning to question whether the pace and intensity of the fight were too much for an aging fighter. One would think those writers would have learned from the first Diaz fight.

Marquez knows what he’s doing in the ring, especially when he’s in a shootout. The veteran was gradually weakening Katsidis with a concentrated body attack that was established in the first round. He was measuring Katsidis for his uppercuts for many rounds before he finally connected with one that hurt the younger man in the ninth.

“We worked really hard for this fight,” Marquez said. “I could tell my body shots were slowing him down. This was definitely the fight of the year. It was non-stop action from the first round on.”

That it was.

The lightweights threw about the same number of punches, according to CompuBox statistics. However, Marquez, who landed 327 of 628 total punches, was far more accurate than Katsidis, who landed 194 of 630.

Marquez landed 214 of the 338 power punches he threw for an astounding 63 percent connect rate, but his higher accuracy is only part of the story of this fight.

His toughness and his heart should not be overlooked, though these intangibles often are because of his superlative technical skill.

Those qualities enabled him to get up from three first-round knockdowns and earn a draw in his first fight with Manny Pacquiao. It was Marquez’s warrior spirit that lifted him off the canvas after a second-round knockdown against a much heavier Floyd Mayweather Jr., and from third-round knockdowns in the Pacquiao rematch and the Katsidis fight.

It’s why he shouldn’t be counted out if he gets another shot at Pacquiao, a fight he lobbied for immediately after the Katsidis bout and during the post-fight press conference.

“I want the third fight with Pacquiao,” Marquez said. “I’ve been beating opponent after opponent. I’ve been beating young, strong fighters like Juan Diaz and Michael Katsidis. (Pacquiao) is fighting bigger men, but not better fighters than I have been fighting. (Pacquiao’s last opponent) Antonio Margarito did not deserve to fight Pacquiao. He served a one-year suspension, and before that he was knocked out (by Shane Mosley).

“I thought that I won the first fight with Pacquiao and clearly won the rematch (a split-decision loss). I feel that I deserve a third fight. The people want that fight.”

Most fans would prefer to see Pacquiao fight Marquez than the other fighters the pound-for-pound king is reportedly considering, which includes welterweight beltholder Andre Berto and former champ Shane Mosley, who struggled to a draw with Sergio Mora in his last bout.

However, there are numerous issues that could prevent a third match from happening. The two chief roadblocks to the fight are the bad blood between Top Rank, which promotes Pacquiao, and Golden Boy Promotions, which promotes Marquez, and the weight for the third bout.

Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach has repeatedly stated on record that he will not allow his fighter to face Marquez in any division but welterweight (which has 147-pound weight limit).

Marquez, a small lightweight who can probably still make junior lightweight (130 pounds), experimented with fighting above 135 pounds before — his welterweight fight with Mayweather last September — and he did not look sharp while being outclassed over 12 rounds by the much-bigger master boxer.

Marquez told the media that Pacquiao, who currently holds titles at welterweight and junior middleweight, must agree to come down to at least a 142-pound catchweight for their third bout to happen. It’s a weight that Pacquiao, who weighed in at 144.6 pounds against Margarito, can probably still make but it’s unlikely that Roach or the good folks at Top Rank will agree to Marquez‘s stipulation.

In the very likely event that a third bout with Pacquiao cannot be made in 2011, Marquez said he would consider fighting Erik Morales, a popular but faded fellow Mexican star he never got the chance to face during the former three-division titleholder’s prime, and young Robert Guerrero, the No. 1 contender for one of his alphabet titles.

Regardless of whom Marquez fights, fans should keep two things in mind the next time he steps into the ring: First, that they are witnessing a great fighter, and second, they better not count him out if things get tough.

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