Boxing’s no.1 superstar Manny Pacquiao defends his WBO world welterweight title for the third time when he takes on another modern ring legend in Mexico’s Juan Manuel Marquez at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday night. It will be the third meeting between these two – the first in 2004 ended in a draw, and Pacquiao won a split decision in their 2008 rematch. 

Marquez is the current WBA/WBO lightweight champion, and is the one fighter to have consistently given Pacquiao nightmares during his illustrious 16 year career. 

While it would seem that the 2011 model Pacquiao (53-3-2, 38 KOs) will be simply too big and hit too hard for the 38-year-old Marquez, the Mexican has employed one of the best strength and conditioning  coaches in the business – Angel Hernandez – to pack on the quality muscle necessary to go head-to-head with 32 year old Pacman at welterweight. 

Although the Filipino is rightly regarded as the best offensive fighter on the planet, Marquez is the best counterpuncher in boxing. It all adds up to an intriguing blend of fighting styles and past history that makes Pacquiao Marquez III a must see for millions of fight fans around the world.

No matter what happens in Las Vegas on Saturday, Juan Manuel Marquez’s (53-5-1, 39 KOs) place in the boxing Hall of Fame and his position of as one of Mexico’s greatest ever fighters is secure. 

Marquez turned professional way back in 1993 after compiling a 35-1amateur career that included two Golden Gloves titles. His pro career got off to an inauspicious start when he lost his first fight on an opening round disqualification, but Marquez was soon into his stride, and would go unbeaten in 29 bouts over the next six years.

His winning streak was snapped in 1999 when he dropped a 12 round decision to American Freddie Norwood in a shot at Norwood’s WBA featherweight title. Marquez would put together another unbeaten run of almost seven years before losing again.

He won the WBA featherweight title with a seventh round stoppage over Manuel Medina in February 2003 – his first world crown. It was during his reign as featherweight champion that he first faced Manny Pacquiao. Pacquiao at that point was himself a former two-weight world champion, and by then under the tutelage of master trainer Freddie Roach. 

Had the three knockdown rule been in place, the Pacquiao Marquez rivalry would never have happened, as within the first 3 minutes of the fight, Pacquiao’s ferocious assault had sent Marquez to the canvass three times. 
Few men in boxing history have ever recovered from such a disastrous start, and it speaks volumes for Marquez both as a man and a fighter that he did not only recover, but stormed back to wage war from the second round onward, and after 12 sensational stanzas, appeared to have done enough to take the decision.

The official announcement was a draw. The champion had retained his title and the Pacquiao Marquez rivalry had been born.

Marquez would ultimately lose his featherweight title to Indonesia’s Chris John in 2006, but he would not remain an ex-champion for long; In 2007 he relieved fellow Mexican modern great Marco Antonio Barrera of his WBC super featherweight title, and it was this belt that was up for grabs when Marquez defended against Pacquiao for a second time.

At the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas in March 2008, fight fans were once again treated to a sensational encounter. Again Marquez was to hit the canvas, but only once this time – in round three. The bout was a virtual carbon copy of their first encounter, and after 12 exhilarating rounds, many at ringside and millions more watching on TV around the world thought that Marquez had done enough to retain his title. However, this time the Mexican was left devastated when the split verdict and the WBC super featherweight title were awarded to Pacquiao.

By now Marquez was 35 years old – retirement age for most fighters, but this amazing Mexican wasn’t quite done yet. Reinventing himself as a lightweight, he scored a superb 11th round KO over former two-time world champion and Olympic gold medalist Joel Casamayor of Cuba, before taking on fearsome punching fellow Mexican Juan Diaz for the vacant WBO and WBA lightweight titles in February 2009.

In arguably the most exciting fight of Marquez’s career, he took an incredible pounding from an opponent ten years his junior, but rallied to TKO Diaz in the ninth round and become a three-weight world champion.
In September 2009 Marquez took a big money catch-weight bout against Floyd Mayweather Jr. It was his first foray into the  welterweight division, although in reality, he was still very much a lightweight. Although he scaled 142 pounds at the weigh-in, he looked small and slight against Mayweather in the ring.

The fight itself was a dud. Matching a defensive fighter like Mayweather against a counterpuncher like Marquez was hardly an astute piece of matchmaking. Marquez was forced to be the aggressor, and although Mayweather floored his man in the second round with a perfect straight right, the Mexican was never in trouble again. Marquez lost the fight on a landslide decision in what was the biggest payday of his career so far. 
Dropping back down to lightweight, Marquez proved that he could box as well as slug when he outsmarted Juan Diaz for a comfortable decision in their 2010 rematch. Next came his pier-six-brawl against Michael Katsidis last November. Once again, Marquez absorbed many heavy shots and hit the canvas in the third round, but proved his incredible resilience to overcome the courageous Aussie in the ninth round.

Last time out in July, a 138 lb Marquez blew away Colombian Likar Ramos in one round. He has been working with controversial strength coach Angel Hernandez (infamous for supplying disgraced former Olympic champion Marion Jones with steroids) to build quality muscle on his is 5’7″ frame.  
Marquez’s tenure as a lightweight has been precarious yet impressive. He should have lost to Juan Diaz but found a way to win. Michael Katsidis looked to be riding the momentum going into their title fight and floored the Mexican with what he would later say were the hardest shots he had taken in his career. Yet it was to be Marquez’s pinpoint accurate counterpunches that would undo the Aussie’s challenge, ultimately ending when Marquez stopped him in round nine.

Like Rocky Balboa, Marquez seems to improve with the more wars he is in. Just when you think his number must surely must be up, he comes storming back with another great victory. He is looking to come in at a rock-hard 144 lbs on Saturday. Even if that doesn’t equate to more punching power (aside from Pacquiao, few fighters actually gain punching power when they climb the divisions) it should aid in his physical strength and shock absorption. 

Being able to absorb blunt force trauma is requisite for any fighter with illusions of defeating the Ferocious Filipino Manny Pacquiao. Few fighters in history have thrown as many hard punches per-round in their fights as Pacman, who’s right jab alone carries bone breaking power. (It was his jab that broke the cheekbone of Antonio Margarito). If Marquez can do that and still return fire, he could make things very interesting.