LOS ANGELES – Training for Juan Manuel Marquez means moving boulders at the hellish altitude of the volcanic Nevado de Toluca, one of Mexico's highest peaks, sweat seeping from every pore as his body craves oxygen.
Yet as Mexico’s finest boxer sat sweltering in a suit Monday afternoon in downtown L.A., it seemed he would rather have been heaving his way through another physical session than talking about the biggest battle of his life.
Marquez is an uncomplicated man who loves to fight but tires of the game that surrounds it. The rise to the stardust-coated superfight level, at which he will take on Floyd Mayweather Jr. on July 18, has come late in his boxing life, and the extra scrutiny doesn’t sit easily with him.
At 35, Marquez knows he is unlikely to face a contest of this magnitude again, and he is fuelled by a sense of injustice that has burned within him for five years.
Marquez will never accept that he did not beat Manny Pacquiao, who now sits proudly as boxing’s champion of champions, in both their 2004 classic (scored a draw) and their March 2008 bout (a split decision for Pacquiao).
Marquez believes the spoils, accolades and opportunities that have since come Pacquiao’s way belong to him.
Marquez’s outstanding career will nevertheless be primarily remembered for the outcome of his Pacquiao two-parter and this fight – billed as Number One/Numero Uno, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
A large section of the fight game fraternity feels the step up to a catch-weight expected to be at 144 pounds, plus Mayweather’s speed and strength, will be too much to handle.
However, Marquez identified key differences between Mayweather and Pacquiao that he says will play more into his hands this time.
“I have already got a good game plan for Mayweather, and I am building a lot of muscle," Marquez said.
“I am working out lifting different rocks and to get my body ready for the fight because strength will be one of the keys this time and I am confident I will be able to match him.
“Floyd has a very different style and he is harder to hit than Pacquiao. But we are working on different combinations so I can land punches and break through that defense.”
The debate on the virtues of Mayweather, who retired as pound-for-pound king before returning for this match-up, and Pacquiao, the current incumbent of that mythical throne, is the hottest topic in boxing. But Marquez has no doubt which fighter is the more deserving of the top spot.
“In my opinion Floyd is No.1,” Marquez said. “He is still unbeaten and still No.1. Pacquiao has never truly beaten me, I feel that in my heart. I want to fight the best and that is why I wanted to fight Floyd.”
That small outburst was as close as Marquez got to ramping up the hype machine Monday. Even his second battle with Pacquiao didn't generate this level of interest, and the novelty of being under the biggest microscope of his career doesn’t interest him much.
For Marquez, it is all about what takes place within the ring.
Promoter Oscar De La Hoya, the last man to give Mayweather a scare, firmly believes Marquez can inflict the first defeat of Pretty Boy's career.
“Marquez’s advantages come into play even more against Mayweather than against Pacquiao,” De La Hoya said. “You can beat Mayweather with the jab and Marquez is going to do it.
“People talk about strength but that is not an issue. Believe it or not, Marquez hits harder and is stronger than Mayweather.
“Floyd is not that strong, he is a fast elusive fighter. It kind of evens out the playing field.”
As for Mayweather, he seems to realize that he can't taunt his way into Marquez's psyche the same way he did his last opponent, Ricky Hatton, or countless others.
“I am not overlooking Marquez,” Mayweather said. “He might think I am a little rusty but I won’t be taking any chances about not being ready.”
The media event outside the Los Angeles Public Library contained the usual bluster and an obligatory dose of unintelligible inanity from trainer Roger Mayweather, before a cavalcade of SUVs whisked the parties off to the airport.
Next stop: New York, for more handshakes, face-offs and promotional words, before the combatants can retreat once more into their preparatory cocoons.
For Marquez it will be back to the mountains, the rocks, the sweat and the agony, with a sense of injustice and a chance to cement a legacy providing the impetus for his back-breaking work.
- Juan Manuel Marquez
- Manny Pacquiao