LAS VEGAS – There is an old poem written by an unknown author called "Don't Quit" that could have been penned as Juan Manuel Marquez's personal anthem.
The classy Mexican champion has made a habit over the course of his lengthy boxing career and, indeed, his life, of overcoming significant obstacles.
He grew up, as so many successful fighters do, in impoverished conditions. He fought his way out of that trap to, if not stardom, a point where he leads a very comfortable life. He'll make a career-high $5 million to face Manny Pacquiao on Saturday in a high-stakes welterweight title fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Marquez is a bright guy who owns a billiards parlor and apartment complexes in Mexico and a fleet of cars. He probably won't be looking for handouts when his career is done.
He's the No. 5 pound-for-pound fighter in the world and still holds several lightweight title belts.
Yet, Marquez has never quite gotten over the hump. He's failed to win his biggest fights and has never been as beloved in his boxing-crazed homeland as predecessors Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera were and as Saul "Canelo" Alvarez is now.
The poem's final two stanzas sound as if they were written for Marquez, a guy who seven years ago dragged himself off the canvas three times in his first bout with Pacquiao to earn a draw.
Often the goal is nearer than,
It seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up,
When he might have captured the victor's cup,
And he learned too late when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.
Success is failure turned inside out,
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far,
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.
Marquez won't quit, despite Pacquiao being better than a 9-1 favorite on the MGM Grand sports book. Those are extraordinarily high odds, particularly considering the razor-thin margin that separated them the first two times they met.
Their first fight, on May 8, 2004, was a featherweight title unification bout in Las Vegas. The judges saw it three different ways, with one favoring Marquez, another favoring Pacquiao and a third having it even.
The rematch came March 15, 2008, in Las Vegas for Marquez's super featherweight title. In an even more heated battle, Pacquiao emerged with a split decision. Pacquiao was favored by two judges, while Marquez was favored by the other.
Since that fight, Marquez has gone 5-1, with his only loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. He's beaten quality fighters such as Joel Casamayor and Juan Diaz along the way, yet virtually no one gives him a chance Saturday.
"That's OK, I don't care," Marquez says in his suite at the MGM Grand while eating an egg white omelet. "People think what they want to think. I've heard it before. That won't affect me at all."
But what very well may affect him is the persistent belief in boxing circles that he's too small. When Pacquiao defeated him in 2008, they were fighting at 130 pounds and Pacquiao was just beginning his rise to greatness. Pacquiao had been a one-fisted fighter when they met at 126 pounds in 2004, but by 2008 he was just beginning to feel comfortable with his right.
Now, Pacquiao's right hand is as much of a weapon as his fearsome left. He's developed under the tutelage of trainer Freddie Roach into a complete fighter, and most significantly, he's grown to become a full-fledged welterweight.
Mayweather was a far quicker and better boxer, but it was also clear that Marquez was too small to battle him on even terms.
Marquez has tried to bulk up and has added a strength and conditioning coach, Angel Hernandez, who has packed pounds onto his chest and shoulders. That, though, has come at a cost to his reputation, since Hernandez was once known as Angel Heredia and was involved in the BALCO steroids scandal.
Marquez has had to deny he's taken performance-enhancing drugs, but just the association with a coach who testified that he supplied PEDs to track coach Trevor Graham has harmed his pristine reputation.
"Of course it hurts to hear people say things about me that aren't true," Marquez said. "I haven't done anything wrong and I've worked extremely hard to do this. But I can't think about that now. There will be time for that later."
There is, though, a widely held perception that this is a clever lightweight going against a powerful welterweight, hence the staggering odds in favor of Pacquiao.
The fight's promoter, Bob Arum, made it to the International Boxing Hall of Fame by realizing that people are much more likely to pay to see a competitive fight in which the outcome is in doubt rather than one in which most people feel one side has no shot.
So, Arum has been like a carnival barker, singing Marquez's praises and insisting that if Pacquiao wins, it won't be a result of size and strength.
"He's probably the best counter puncher in boxing today," Arum said of Marquez. "He gets aggressive off the counter punching, and that will still be there. Plus, Marquez has great recuperative powers. If there is a difference in the fight, it is not the weight, guaranteed. It is not the strength, because Marquez has bulked up. The one reason why you might favor Pacquiao is because when Marquez fought him the first two times, Pacquiao was a one-handed fighter. And now, Pacquiao not only has a right hand, but his right hand is as powerful as his left hand."
But to believe that Marquez can overcome the long odds to win, one must accept that he has a strategy no one else can either figure out or emulate.
One must also accept that Pacquiao's well-chronicled improvements of the last three years won't have an impact on the outcome. Further, you then must accept that Marquez, who is jumping two weight classes to take the fight, will be able to deal with the fearsome power of the welterweight Pacquiao when he was barely able to deal with it from the featherweight and super featherweight versions of the Filipino congressman. In those two fights, Marquez was on the floor four times.
And finally, you'd have to accept that at age 38, after a career of fighting pitched battles with some of the baddest men on the planet, Marquez is going to be able to raise his game enough against one of the world's finest conditioned athletes.
The odds against him seem insurmountable, but one of the reasons for Marquez's appeal to boxing fans is his attitude.
No one else may think he can do it, but he does, and to him, nothing else matters. He's confident enough in himself that he doesn't need an entourage filled with sycophants telling him how great he is and proclaiming him the best ever.
He's good at his job, and he knows it. He's been in many rough situations before, in life and in the fight game, and not only has survived, but thrived.
"It's not supposed to be easy and I don't expect it to be easy when you are fighting at this level," Marquez said. "But I know what it takes to win and I know I can do what I need to do. I'll be there."
No matter what else, there is one thing you can be sure of regarding Marquez:
When things seem worst, he just won't quit.
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