If there were a refrain for Juan Manuel Marquez’ unanimous decision win over Mike Alvarado last night it might very well be from “Once In a Lifetime” by Talking Heads. As Marquez chopped up Alvarado, employing the same wicked precision he brought to the same Forum in Inglewood, California, 19 years ago, the words, “Same as it ever was…same as it ever was…” seemed perfectly suited to capture the spectacle.
Articulate, vulnerable and thuggish, Alvarado is a compelling man in his own right. But Marquez, a world-class fighter at 40 years old, was the story on this night. And “fighter” is the operative word: while other aging masters take to stalling and mauling to turn back challenges, Marquez keeps his gun off safety and fires with a frequency that belies his age. How does he do it?
Any explanation of Marquez’ continued success must include his inexhaustible surliness. This internal fire manifests itself in the way Marquez disdainfully treats his opponents, how bitterly he takes defeats, and, perhaps by way of extension, in his hulking muscles and acne. Suspicions abound about Marquez, suspicions heightened by his involvement with slimy Angel Heredia, but the mastery Marquez displays is without question the product of talent honed through decades of work. Whatever role shady sports science may play for Marquez, his craft is wrought from a commitment that is rare among younger fighters, who see in every hardship the need to change something. Remember: this is a man who once drank his own urine believing it replenished nutrients—if that does not speak of commitment, nothing does.
This is not to say that Marquez, 141 1/2, is inflexible. He is more aggressive in his old age, often eschewing the cautious counterpunching that marked his early career for brazen attack. Alvarado drew the latter out of Marquez last night. Rather than invite Marquez’ lethal counterpunching, Alvarado limited his output and tried to box at range. He had glimpses of success with this tactic, particularly when countering the final shot in Marquez’s volleys, but it was hardly a winning strategy. Alvarado could not outbox Marquez, who responded to Alvarado’s patience with a look that seemed to say, “I do not want to lead. But I will do it. And better than whatever you do in response.”
Which is precisely what Marquez did. Circling left to find angles, Marquez pierced with right hands and ripped hooks into Alvarado’s ribs. Alvarado, 143 1/4, offered little in response beyond a middling output and some ineffectual switches to southpaw. Even when walking Marquez down, Alvarado’s hands were frustratingly still, allowing Marquez to snap off multi-punch combinations. At the end of the eighth round, Marquez spilled Alvarado with a right hand, punctuating the absence of competition that marked the bout.
Alvarado would return the gesture in the ninth, decking an overzealous Marquez with a right hand. Finally in the fight, Alvarado traded with Marquez for the remainder of the round, only to end up with a ragged gash under his left eye. With twelve uncompetitive rounds in the books, Marquez was awarded the decision by scores of 117-109 twice and 119-108.
What now for Marquez? Last night’s victor was promised Manny Pacquiao, but Marquez, who left Pacquiao in a lifeless heap in their last fight, has repeatedly denied interest in facing Pacquiao again. If legacy drives Marquez—and he has said as much—it is easy to understand why he might pass on Pacquiao: in boxing you cannot beat leaving your nemesis face down. Ever the sore loser, perhaps Marquez will try and coax a rematch out of Timothy Bradley, who outboxed Marquez in a close fight last October. Better yet, let Marquez, 56-7-1 (40), pit his skills against the unbridled savagery of Ruslan Provodnikov. Provodnikov, boxing’s brawler de jour, is the type of pressure fighter Marquez typically dissects. There is enough nuance to Provodnikov’s fury, however, and enough vulnerability to the older Marquez to guarantee mayhem. Perhaps that is why Marquez chose to tangle with Alvarado instead of Provodnikov last night. But where health, not just defeat, are threatened—there lies legacy. Provodnikov then, is the fight.
For Alvarado, health is also a concern. Win or lose, he has taken a pounding in recent years, and he seems increasingly hesitant to engage in the type of brawls that play to his strengths. Given that drama dogs him outside of the ring, however, Alvarado, 34-3 (23), has little time for backward steps. Unfortunately, the best of the division are all too much for Alvarado. If he is looking to maximize his earnings with whatever he has left, a third fight with Brandon Rios—himself the victim of a recent tenderizing—awaits. If Rios is Alvarado’s future, so too are violence, punishment, and the roar of the crowd. Same as it ever was.