LAS VEGAS – Juan Manuel Marquez said he's "ready to go to war" with Manny Pacquiao, but the presence of an admitted steroids distributor in his corner Saturday night and a vastly more muscular body has skeptics questioning whether it's conventional warfare or chemical warfare he will use.
Marquez will meet Pacquiao for a fourth, and likely final, time on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden in a 12-round welterweight bout on HBO Pay-Per-View. Though he believes he won each of their first three fights, Marquez is winless, losing the last two after getting a draw in the first.
Three years ago, when Marquez was 36, he moved up from lightweight to welterweight to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr. Marquez looked puny next to Mayweather and had no muscle definition. It was hardly a surprise, though, since Marquez had never weighed more than 135 in a fight and weighed less than 130 in 50 of his 55 fights to that point.
Now, Marquez's physique has undergone a transformation every bit as dramatic as the one baseball star Barry Bonds did in the second half of his legendary career. He has big, bulging biceps, thick shoulders and a wide, broad chest. He accomplished this after he turned 38 and only after he hired Angel Guillermo "Memo" Heredia as his strength and conditioning coach.
Marquez vehemently denies the use of any performance-enhancing drugs, which puts him in an awkward situation. If he dominates or knocks out Pacquiao, he likely won't receive the acclaim and the respect he seeks because so many would believe it to be a tainted victory.
He said he's willing to submit to testing to prove his claims.
"Right now, I'm willing to do it," Marquez said. "This is [a result of] hard work."
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The veteran first used Heredia, who avoided prosecution in the BALCO case by testifying for the government against track coach Trevor Graham, prior to his third fight with Pacquiao. While Marquez was bigger in that fight than he was when he met Mayweather in 2009, he was nowhere near as big or defined as he is now.
Marquez gleefully explained the transformation in his body as if he'd discovered the Fountain of Youth.
"In working with Angel, I've changed everything," Marquez said. "I feel great. I feel great because I've had a 20-year career and I did it the same way for 18 years. But now, Angel has changed everything."
He's bigger and stronger than he had been, Marquez admitted, but he's retained his speed and quickness. If there is a way to finally get over the hump and defeat Pacquiao, he needed to become more of a threat as a puncher without sacrificing speed. It appears that Marquez has done that.
The unanswered question is by what methods and at what cost.
Heredia was a key witness against Graham during the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative scandal. Heredia admitted providing Graham's athletes, including Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery and Justin Gatlin, with steroids, EPO and human growth hormone.
Heredia, who also goes by the name Angel Hernandez, doesn't hide his past, but insists he's clean now. He said Marquez's stunning physical transformation is the result of hard work and training methods he said are proprietary.
"They're my secrets and I don't intend to tell so other trainers can copycat my secrets," Heredia said.
Heredia told Yahoo! Sports he was working with the government to develop drug-testing protocols for professional boxing. He said there are vast differences in three-round amateur bouts and 12-round professional fights.
However, that is unlikely since the World Anti-Doping Agency testing protocol is the same in every sport. It is no different for marathoners than it is for sprinters, so it would seem extremely unlikely a new testing regimen would be needed for boxers based upon the length of their matches.
Long-time boxing trainers were stunned to see Marquez squatting extraordinarily heavy amounts of weight. Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach has publicly questioned the transformation of Marquez's body, leading Heredia to threaten a lawsuit against Roach.
Heredia said he is working with nine other boxers, but he refused to name them. All of them, he said, are working the same routine as Marquez.
[Related: Manny Pacquiao's success tied to trainer, confidant Freddie Roach]
Testing Marquez so close to the fight would basically be useless. If he used any of a variety of substances, it likely would have long since cleared the body and be undetectable at this stage.
As the United States Anti-Doping Agency's lengthy investigation of cyclist Lance Armstrong showed, Armstrong and his teammates used EPO for years without testing positive.
EPO is a hormone which increases the oxygen-carrying ability of the blood. It helps the muscles perform better and over a more lengthy period of time.
If injected directly into a vein, EPO will clear one's system in fewer than 24 hours. An athlete who took EPO in the evening would have no fear of testing positive the following day.
According to WADA protocols, athletes have to provide a one-hour window to be available for testing. Since EPO passes the system so quickly, those using it can simply take it after the one-hour window has passed.
Dr. Larry Bowers, USADA's chief science officer, said in an affidavit in the Armstrong case that the lack of a positive test is not proof that one did not dope.
Victor Conte, the founder of BALCO, went to prison for his role in that scandal. Since his release, he's acted as an anti-doping advocate, the black hat turned white fighting for clean sport.
"I see in interviews that Memo is trying to say he is an anti-doping advocate like me now, but we are as different as night and day," Conte told Yahoo! Sports. "What happened was, I chose not to cooperate with law enforcement. I chose to accept the full consequences. I didn't testify. I didn't provide any documents or information because these were people that I gave the drugs to. I was the leader as he was the leader.
"So you're going to turn on them, you're going to testify against them, you're going to put them in prison while you walk free when you were at the top of the food chain and you were the leader of the pack? I didn't feel good about doing that. … I said, 'I'm wrong and I deserve consequences, whatever those are.' "
While Conte said it is theoretically possible that Marquez was able to transform his body the way he has at such an advanced age for an athlete, he remains suspicious of it.
He pointed out the massive amount of weight that Marquez was shown squatting during HBO's "24/7: Pacquiao-Marquez." Several boxing trainers and conditioning coaches have told Yahoo! Sports that it is highly unusual for boxers to squat such heavy weight.
Conte said there is a reason for that.
"That makes your entire body strong, not just your legs," Conte said of the squats Marquez has been doing. "If you want to stimulate speed, power and strength, you do it using heavy weight and exploding from under that weight with enough on your shoulders in the squat rack.
"But how many boxers do you know who are in the weight room squatting huge poundage? You don't see that. That in and of itself would make you stiff and sore and unable to walk for two or three days unless you are using testosterone or other steroids to accelerate the healing, where instead of it taking three days to recover from that type of workout, you'd recover in one day."
Heredia dismisses Conte, whom he describes as "that guy in San Francisco with a big mouth on Twitter," as out of touch and jealous. Heredia said he's working closely with USADA and said he remains a witness in ongoing investigations.
Heredia said he is going to meet with FDA special agent Jeff Novitzky, the man who broke the BALCO case, Thursday in Las Vegas and that Marquez will provide a blood and urine sample.
Heredia portrayed it as evidence that he is cooperating and attempting to develop a program that could catch cheats in professional boxing.
But Novitzky is a criminal investigator, not a man who would be setting testing protocols or even handling a blood or urine specimen.
Marquez swears he has never taken performance-enhancing drugs. Throughout his 20-year career, Marquez has been honorable and forthright and there's never been a hint of controversy surrounding him.
Until now. Marquez insists he's not worried about the skeptics.
"First of all I would like to tell you that I have never done this type of work before," he said of the training he's done with Heredia. "That's why my body has changed. I have been working very hard, specifically to get more strength. Angel is a professional and knows how much weight I am putting on. I am getting more speed and getting stronger at the same time.
"As far as people thinking I am taking steroids? I would take the test. Let them take my blood. I don't care. [I would do it] just to shut everybody up. Of course my fight tests have always been clean. I don't know how those rumors get started."
The rumors got started because of his association with a known steroids distributor and the subsequent dramatic transformation of his body.
He may finally get that coveted victory of Pacquiao, but in this case a win may create more questions than answers.
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