Fighting in Mexico City for the first time in nearly 18 years, Juan Manuel Marquez easily outpointed Serhiy Fedchenko Saturday night by the scores of 119-109, 118-110, 118-110 to win the interim WBO light welterweight title.
That Fedchenko, now 30-2 with 13 KOs, is a competent, durable fighter with reluctant hands helped make this a less than memorable affair. The Kharkov, Ukraine, native used the first two rounds to land some well-timed right hands as Marquez sized him up. Marquez, 54-6-1, with 39 KOs, began countering Fedchenko with body shots in the third, a warm-up to a brutal body attack delivered in the fourth that effectively ended any notion that it would be a competitive bout.
The following five rounds were monotonous. Fedchenko, while avoiding any staggering blows, simply didn’t punch enough to bother the Mexican icon. He tried to time him with the occasional right hand, and got blessed with left hook-right hand-left uppercut combinations for his trouble. As with so many Marquez opponents in the past, he was handcuffed by consummate counters, and only when those handcuffs are interlocked tightly does a Marquez fight become dull.
Marquez quieted the restless whistling emitting from the crowd by attempting to finish his wounded prey during the championship rounds, but Fedchenko survived several flush left hooks and right hands. And upon the final bell, many of us came to the realization that the 38-year-old is still a pleasure to watch, even when noteworthy exchanges are scarce. Marquez is a unique technician; while other fighters struggle to throw a simple jab-right hand-left hook combination without compromising their balance, he can begin a combination at any moment with any punch at his disposal – an overhand right, a left uppercut, a left hook to the body. While unleashing his hands, he has the balance of a funambulist. It’s the reason Manny Pacquiao could never overwhelm him with his athleticism through 36 rounds, and would struggle to figure him out if they went 36 more. Adversaries exchange with him at their own peril.
Still, with age and weight gain come heavy legs. Marquez isn’t as fleet-footed as he used to be and had issues catching up with Fedchenko through much of the bout. At this stage of his career, someone with quick feet accompanied by a cautious style might be able to spoil his proficiency.
Punching power and a high motor aren’t the only attributes that make Brandon Rios a knockout artist. Limited by defensive liabilities, Rios, 30-0, with 22 KOs, needed more than that to disassemble Anthony Peterson, Miguel Acosta, John Murray, and the like.
His jab, a fairly active one for a pressure fighter, serves as the primary weapon that makes him a handful, and without it he’s just a nondescript slugger. Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, against Richard Abril, Rios inexplicably ditched his jab completely, opting instead to bury his head in Abril’s left shoulder and throw arm punches.
Predictably, given the shoddy judging that continues to plague the sport, he got the victory anyway, “earning” a split decision by scores of 111-117, 116-112, and 115-113. Reaction after the bout was a mixed bag of outrage and indifference, but the question of which stunk worse – the decision or the action inside the ring – is a riddle not worth investigating. Abril, 17-3-1, with 8 knockouts, is a spoiling boxer with a preference for grappling instead of engaging on the inside, and Rios’ jab-less, ineffectual aggression exacerbated the Cuban’s tactics. Nevertheless, Abril clearly landed the cleaner blows throughout and deserves to be holding the interim WBA lightweight strap that Rios vacated after yet another failed weigh-in.
Rios’ struggles to make weight may explain his lack of pop in the championship rounds, but it does nothing to explain the sharp regression in technique and strategy. If the 25-year-old fights Juan Manuel Marquez on July 14th as was originally planned, he’ll need to retrace his steps and solve the case of the missing jab. Otherwise, the fight will be a laugher and just another showcase of Marquez’ mastery.