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July 23, 2014

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BOXING:

Breather from bravado

Two fighters separately offer refreshing breaks from braggadocio

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ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE

Boxers Floyd Mayweather Jr., left, and Juan Manuel Marquez, right, pose in May with Oscar De La Hoya, president of Golden Boy Promotions, at the Empire State Building observatory. In the buildup to the bout, Mayweather has been characteristically boisterous, and Marquez has sounded humble notes.

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Before his fight against Juan Diaz last week in Houston, Paulie Malignaggi told anyone who would listen that the judges at the Toyota Center would show a bias in favor of his opponent.

He felt vindicated after losing in a unanimous decision, especially after one judge awarded Diaz 10 of 12 rounds in a tightly contested fight.

Malignaggi’s post-fight rant on HBO against the judging made for compelling theater.

For that matter, so did the entire episode. It cut against the grain of the tiresome rah-rah, I’m-unstoppable hype too many boxers get caught up in.

The same can be said for some of the commentary coming from the training camp of Juan Manuel Marquez as he prepares for his showdown against Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Sept. 19 at the MGM Grand.

Certainly no one from camp Marquez is questioning the judges, as Malignaggi did. But no one is guaranteeing a victory against Mayweather either.

Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain, Marquez’s trainer, has acknowledged the challenges a fighter faces when he steps up substantially in weight class, as Marquez will do against Mayweather. Beristain has also suggested the drudgery of training camp could be wearing on Marquez, who turned 36 this week and has fought 55 times in a professional career dating to 1993.

Some of the commentary surely falls under the heading of verbal gamesmanship. Still, it’s far more intriguing than the usual training camp prattle from 32-year-old Mayweather, who’s always eager to play the “heel” in a promotion and compare himself favorably with the sport’s all-time greats.

Marquez, a five-time world champion in three weight divisions, will weigh somewhere north of 140 pounds for the Mayweather fight. Marquez (50-4-1, 37 knockouts) fought at lightweight (135 pounds) in his two most recent bouts after moving up from featherweight and super featherweight.

Mayweather (39-0, 25 KOs) owned the welterweight world title before taking a hiatus from boxing after his December 2007 victory against Ricky Hatton.

Marquez, training in his native Mexico City, said he has been building muscle as prepares to face a bigger man in the ring. He said he’s up to 143 pounds. The question is whether the added bulk will compromise Marquez’s vaunted speed and timing.

Although Beristain said his fighter’s hand speed looks better than it has in previous training camps, he also said he thinks Mayweather will present a tougher test than Manny Pacquiao, who outpointed Marquez in a 2008 rematch. Pacquiao and Marquez fought to a 12-round draw in their first meeting, in 2004.

Even if Marquez’s concentration tends to falter, Beristain said, his fighter continues to be driven by a desire to win a world championship in a fourth weight division.

The words of promoter Oscar De La Hoya, president of Golden Boy Promotions, have been less mysterious and easier to decipher in the buildup to the pay-per-view show at the Grand Garden Arena.

According to De La Hoya’s personal rankings, the Sept. 19 fight will pit the top two fighters in the sport.

That’s an obvious jab at supporters of Pacquiao, who fights Miguel Cotto on Nov. 14. It’s not a totally outlandish statement, though.

Mayweather was widely considered the world’s No. 1 fighter before his temporary retirement. And in Marquez’s case, he and his supporters will tell you his impressive record should be even more so, with two victories against Pacquiao rather than a loss and a draw.

De La Hoya also hailed the Mayweather-Marquez fight as the one match fans really want to see, boxing’s biggest night of the year. This contention is more dubious. While it’s an attractive pairing, it’s not for everyone — a brilliant defensive boxer in Mayweather pitted against an expert counterpuncher in Marquez. That’s a recipe for a 12-rounder with a strong potential for significant stretches of inaction in the ring.

Marquez, who said his countering and his ability to make Mayweather miss with his punches will be crucial, is also banking on Mayweather’s eternal overconfidence. Mayweather has said that even after his long layoff he does not anticipate Marquez will give him much trouble.

“I’m glad he’s thinking that,” Marquez said, sounding comfortable in the role of straight man to his brash rival.

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