Rafael Marquez ready for fight in Stateline
Appeal Sports Writer
STATELINE – It’s Tuesday afternoon and IBF bantamweight champion Rafael Marquez is just getting up after a nap following an early morning workout inside his suite at the MontBleu Resort Casino and Spa.
Marquez, who will defend his belt for the seventh time Saturday against Silence Mabuza, of Johannesburg, South Africa, is clad only in his underwear and a T-shirt and doesn’t look like the most frightening puncher in his division, but then again who looks tough in his skivvies?
The only giveaway to the power of the 31-year-old Marquez, of Mexico City, are his unusually large hands, which feature knuckles that protrude like pin balls.
“The punch comes when you are born,” Marquez says through his adviser and interpreter Jaime Quintana. “My dad used to box (at featherweight). He was a big puncher. He had big hands also. You work your body to make it stronger, but punching isn’t something you can invent.”
Local boxing fans bore witness to Marquez’s power on April 1, 2001, at the Peppermill.
He nailed opponent Jovy Chan with a single punch and the unconscious Chan didn’t so much as twitch as he lay supine on the canvas for several minutes.
Mabuza got a taste of that power on Nov. 5 at Caesars Tahoe, when he was knocked down in the first round and then stopped in the fourth due to cuts he claimed were caused by head butts.
Marquez, now 35-3 with 31 knockouts, sees things a bit differently.
“I threw a lot of punches,” Marquez says. “I hurt him badly. He said there was a head butt, but I cut him with my hands, with punches. For this fight, I’ll do the same. I’m going out there and throw punches and try to win.”
Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain, who has trained Rafael and his brother Juan Manuel Marquez since they were 13 or 14, says Mabuza was looking for an excuse and that he wonders why he was granted a rematch with Rafael.
“There were many things around the fight people don’t take into consideration,” Beristain says. “Some fights are not good for promoters or TV. The associations (sanctioning bodies) want the fights to happen.
“We’re not underestimating Mabuza. He’s fast. He’s spectacular. He’s fast and throws a lot of punches. That’s what people like. They want to see explosions in the ring. “
If there is any bad news for Mabuza, it’s that Marquez says he’s better prepared this time around.
“I feel a lot better than before,” says Marquez, who walks around at 132 pounds. “Now I make weight. The last fight, I sacrificed a little more. (Last time) I trained like usual, working harder and harder every day. Last time I stopped eating 30 days before the fight. This time I started my diet one and a half months before.”
To encapsulate Marquez, one has to look at his career through a before-and-after filter. Before he won the title from Tim Austin in February 2003, the 5-foot-5 Marquez was known as a come-forward banger, one who had the misfortune of getting caught early by Genaro Garcia, suffering a two-round knockout loss.
But Beristain says that result is misleading.
“Garcia didn’t hit him on the jaw,” Beristain says. “He hit him with a rabbit punch. He was dizzy, but he wasn’t knocked out. Austin hit him on the chin with a great hook, but you didn’t see him knocking out (Marquez). He doesn’t have a stone chin, but he’s well-prepared to take punches.”
If nothing else, the Garcia fight spawned a change in Marquez’s approach.
“Every fight is a lesson,” Marquez says. “I do learn from lessons. Obviously being champion changes everything. Nacho said, ‘Before you hit guys with (big) punches. Now you need to learn to box.’ He’s very good with that. He tells you what to do and what not to do. My style has changed for good.”
That much was apparent even before Marquez stopped Austin, when he twice defeated former flyweight phenom Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson in 2002 and 2003. While he still can bang, Marquez is no longer one-dimensional.
“Rafael has always been a hard puncher,” Beristain says. “He only needs one punch to knock you out. I’ve made him adjust from punching to using a jab and boxing. Rafael is a very smart fighter. He’s improved a lot. That’s what’s making the difference now. He’s throwing the jab and dolng well. He’s won many fights by throwing the jab. That’s what he needs to do. When you’re throwing jabs and boxing, it makes the difference.”
Marquez is also looking for a difference-maker when he looks to his new promoter, Gary Shaw. Marquez fought on Shaw’s card when he last met Mabuza, but he wasn’t then under contract with him like he is now.
Having seen what happened to Juan Manuel, who lost both his WBA and IBF featherweight belts out of the ring when the respective sanctioning bodies stripped him after his falling out with his then promoter, Bob Arum, Rafael is looking for Shaw to make things happen.
“I always asked for unification fights (with Arum), but because of a lack of promotion, it didn’t happen,” Marquez says.
Beristain has a more disdainful view of Arum and his Top Rank Promotions.
“I don’t want to look in the past,” Beristain says. “I don’t want to mention Top Rank. They offered us some deals on some fights, including one with (WBA bantamweight titlist Wladimir Sidorenko). But they take advantage. In the end they want us to sacrifice our paycheck. They’ll give us the fight, but they won’t give us the money. I’ve been in boxing a long time. I’m not stupid. That’s why things never happen.”
Marquez says he approves of the way Shaw does business.
“(The first fight with Mabuza) I wasn’t part of his company,” Marquez says. “The first time I liked working with him. That influenced my decision (to sign with him). I’m very comfortable with him. He’s a great promoter.”
With Shaw taking care of business, that leaves Marquez time to concentrate on his personal life. He has one child – 4-year-old Aldair Israel Marquez – by Araceli, his wife of six years.
“I’m a normal guy. I’m a family man,” Marquez says of his life outside the ropes. “I spend time with my wife, kid, mom and dad. When I’m not in training or boxing, I’m involved in my business (Marquez owns a clothing boutique for men and women), taking care of it. I play basketball and get on the Internet with my friends – pretty normal things.”
While he is clear that Mabuza is his immediate concern, Marquez and Beristain hint that this may be his last fight at 118 pounds.
“I’d be interested in fighting (Garcia) again,” Marquez says. “If he can make 122 that would be good. But he’d better come up with something like a belt to make it worth it. He hit me with illegal punches and instead of the referee doing something about it, he counted me out and I lost. I’d definitely fight him again.”
Beristain says he doesn’t want to mention names, but he feels that Marquez could fight as heavy as featherweight.
“I would like to train hard to be part of history, to go further,” Marquez says. “Maybe it’s too early to talk about history. I’m doing my job to put me into position to be part of history. Right now I’m thinking about 122 pounds and fighting the best fighters out there, Anyone. After that, God knows.
“I have a new promoter. I know he’ll take care of that. My job, my deal is to win – to knock out boxers inside of the ring. That’s what matters. That’s what I do.”
As an added bonus, Marquez has been known to entertain boxing fans with his exciting style and powerful punch.
“That part of me doesn’t want to change,” he says of keeping the crowd on its feet. “I like to please fans. The public pays to see us going out after him, to knock him out. That’s what people like to see. I keep that in mind always. You need to please the public.”
Marquez will be looking to give the people what they want on Saturday.
What: Seven-fight boxing card, including IBF bantamweight champion Rafael Marquez vs. Silence Mabuza and Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Terdsak Jandaeng for the vacant WBO Interim feathwerweight title
Where: MontBleu Outdoor Sports Pavilion
When: Saturday, 4 p.m. (Doors open at 3)
Television: Showtime, 9 p.m. (delayed broadcast)
Ticket Info: $200 (ringside), $125, $95 (box seats), $40 (bleachers). Available at MontBleu box office and concierge desk, by calling (800) 648-3353, or logging on to http://www.ticketmaster.com or http://www.montbleuresort.com