It's difficult not to appreciate the tenacity of Juan Manuel Marquez, his willingness to fight, his eagerness to, time after time, launch his slender body into battle.
While saluting his warrior mentality, though, it's easy to overlook the one thing that has made the 38-year-old Mexican one of the greats of his generation.
He has a brilliant boxing mind, as sharp in the ring as anyone who's ever pulled on a pair of gloves and slipped beneath a set of ropes.
"He understands so well what to do in there," his Hall of Fame trainer, Ignacio "Nacho" Beristain, said acouple of days before Marquez's Nov. 12 fight against Manny Pacquiao. "I'll see something and before I get a chance to talk to him about it [between rounds], he's already seen it, too, and made the adjustment."
On Saturday, Marquez will face Ukrainian veteran Sergey Fedchenko in a super lightweight bout in Mexico City on Top Rank's split-site pay-per-view card. Fedchenko is a solid boxer, though hardly a threat to defeat an elite contender like Marquez. One of the things that makes Marquez who he is, however, is that he doesn't look past an opponent.
Ever, under any circumstance.
He never has and vows he never will. Marquez has prepared as seriously for Fedchenko as he would have had he gotten the promised rematch against Pacquiao.
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If there is an upset, it won't be because Marquez isn't ready, either physically or mentally.
"All fights are risky, no matter what," Marquez said. "You know what, there is no such thing as a sure thing. I need to do the same things to win a fight like this that I would if I were fighting Pacquiao or [Floyd] Mayweather."
If he were to go through the motions Saturday, it would be hard to blame Marquez. He expected far more than he's gotten. Only minutes after he lost an agonizingly close bout to Pacquiao in Las Vegas, promoter Bob Arum vowed he would do a rematch before he did anything else.
And that meant, Arum said at the time, prioritizing Pacquiao-Marquez IV over even a Mayweather-Pacquiao bout.
Seconds after the fight had ended, with the largely Hispanic crowd in a frenzy, believing Marquez had been cheated out of a win, Arum gushed about a fourth fight.
"It was a great, great fight," Arum told Yahoo! Sports. "I had Manny, but it was close, so why not bring them together again in May? It makes a lot of sense to do that."
As Arum went through the ritual of setting up Pacquiao's spring fight, a process that involves floating the names of several potential opponents, Marquez's name came up repeatedly and prominently.
With a bout against Mayweather almost certainly not going to be made, the leading contenders were perceived to be Marquez and Timothy Bradley Jr., in that order.
Based upon what they had accomplished, Marquez was ahead by at least as big of a margin as Secretariat was over Twice A Prince at the 1973 Belmont. It was no contest.
Except, that is, for one tiny detail: They never once spoke to Marquez about the fight.
"I wanted to fight [Pacquiao] again and I thought I should get that fight, but nobody ever said a thing to me about that fight," Marquez said.
Instead, Top Rank, mostly at Pacquiao's request, chose the unbeaten Bradley.
Pacquiao's rationale for choosing Bradley over Marquez was that he didn't think the public would be interested in seeing him fight Marquez again so quickly.
"Would you want to see the same movie again?" Pacquiao asked Yahoo! Sports during a one-on-one interview in his suite at the MGM Grand on Feb. 17.
With that, Marquez was pushed to the back of the bus, as he often has been in his career. He didn't indicate any bitterness, though he dryly noted, "It took me many years to get the third fight" with Pacquiao.
Marquez is 53-6-1, but he easily could be 59-1. His trilogy with Pacquiao is one of the best in boxing's history, with Pacquiao winning the last two fights after the first was a draw. It wouldn't have taken much for Marquez to have been given the verdict in all three bouts, though.
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He lost close decisions in featherweight title fights to Freddie Norwood and Chris John that some believe he should have won, and he was disqualified in the first round of his pro debut for hitting a downed opponent in a fight he was clearly about to win.
The only no-doubt loss Marquez suffered in his 60 fights as a pro was a 2009 defeat to Mayweather.
If Marquez and Brandon Rios, who fights Richard Abril for the WBA lightweight belt on the Las Vegas portion of Saturday's card, both win, the possibility exists for a July fight.
It would be a huge step for Rios, but just another payday for Marquez. The odds of yet another mega-fight are dwindling, not only because of his age but because of Pacquiao's decision to fight Bradley.
"You know, Bradley is a very difficult fight for Manny Pacquiao," Marquez said. "Very difficult. Bradley is a very fast fighter. He's a good boxer who can take a punch. If Pacquiao loses that, and he could, it would take a lot of the interest off a bout with me and him."
It might do him some good professionally to root for Pacquiao in his June 9 match with Bradley and then hope that somehow, talks for a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight for the fall disintegrate yet again.
Marquez, though, is much too wise to invest in that kind of thinking.
"I just worry about myself and what I do," Marquez said. "If I do what I'm supposed to do, everything else will work out as best as it can."
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