Marquez making improbable run toward another title

10/1/2008 - Boxing
At 37, Raul Marquez, right, still has a few tricks up the proverbial sleeves -- and he isn't afraid to use them. Icon SMI

In the minutes after Jermain Taylor stopped him in 2004, Raul Marquez gave perhaps the most convincing retirement speech of any prizefighter in recent history.

"I knew if things didn't go my way tonight that it would be the end of my career," he told the assembled press. "I think I had a great career. I was an Olympian and a world champion, and now I have a career as a boxing analyst. This was my last fight, and I am looking forward to a long career as an analyst."

Anyone who follows this business knows boxers are skilled and wonderful liars on many subjects, but especially on those that involve retirement. Marquez seemed more earnest than most. Anyone who watched the way Taylor pummeled him over nine entirely one-sided rounds saw the wisdom in the decision he'd made.

In truth, many of us thought we'd seen the end of his championship days back in 1997, when Yory Boy Campas ruptured the fragile skin around Marquez's eyes and dethroned him over eight brutal rounds.

The outcome of that fight was written in Marquez' prior one, when unheralded Keith Mullings chopped him up over 12 rounds and lost a disputed decision. Conventional thinking holds that Marquez rushed into the defense against Campas without letting his wounds heal.

Either way, we thought he was done, too, when Fernando Vargas stopped him in 11 rounds in Lake Tahoe, Nev., two years later.

A long layoff followed every big defeat. It seemed as though the loss to Taylor would finally be the end.

Fast-forward four years and Marquez -- seven fights into a comeback that began two years ago -- meets Arthur Abraham for the IBF middleweight title Saturday in Bayern, Germany. In June he overcame 4-1 odds to beat undefeated Giovanni Lorenzo in an IBF eliminator.

Improbable as it is, Marquez sees a title within his reach, 11 years after Campas butchered and relieved him of the IBF junior middleweight belt in Atlantic City. At 37 years old, he is a substantial underdog against Abraham.

Ronnie Shields, who trained Marquez for the Taylor fight and several others, doesn't like his former fighter's chances.

"As a friend I want him to win; I just don't see it happening," Shields told ESPN.com. "Raul gets cut too much and he eats too many right hands. He hasn't changed his style to move his head more and he's had a lot of hard fights, a lot of tough fights. Abraham is just a very tough guy. It's a very tough fight for Raul."

At this point it may be enough that Marquez, 41-3 (29 knockouts), has gotten to the big stage again. That alone is a surprise to many.

"I'm not surprised myself, but I know a lot of the writers and fans are," Marquez told ESPN.com the day after he arrived in Germany to wind down training for Abraham. "People thought I was done after the Taylor fight."

Well, why wouldn't we? He told us he was.

Besides, he had a good gig that paid him well: doing commentary for HBO Latino and NBC too, for a while. Problem was, that kept Marquez around the fights, kept him looking at opponents that he'd either fought or would like to, kept him around the crowds and the fighters.

He doesn't say it, but one imagines he felt like what all ex-fighters do when they're at ringside in a suit and headphones: an impostor. They know where they're supposed to be. It's too close.

"That really helped, being on the other side of the ropes," he said. "Fans were always coming up asking, 'When are you going to come back?' I got it all the time. Eventually I just started getting that itch again. I wanted to fight."

Marquez needed little convincing.

"I just love boxing," he said. "I love everything about it. I love to run, I love being in the gym, I love being in shape. And I take it more seriously than I used to. People mature as they get older. I'm more serious about it than I was 10 years ago. I train harder, and it shows in my performance."

Critics would rightly argue that it's been his comeback opponents that have made Marquez look good. Not one has been anywhere near world-class. The most respected is former junior middleweight title challenger Bronco McKart, who hadn't won an important fight in years when he and Marquez fought to a draw in March.

Even the credentials of Lorenzo, whom Marquez beat to get the shot at Abraham, are suspect; the fighter he beat right before losing to Marquez, one Ulises Duarte, came into the ring with a record of 15-15-1.

What Marquez and Lorenzo did to qualify for an elimination fight for a shot at Abraham is anyone's guess, but that's a story for another day.

Marquez has told the press that Abraham, 27-0 (22) is looking past him, toward fights with Winky Wright or Kelly Pavlik. Abraham denies it.

"I am not ignoring Marquez at all," Abraham said. "Two exhausting training sessions a day, an exhausting training camp, as well as a tough eight-week preparation period tells a different story. If I was ignoring him, I would be lying on the beach in Florida to enjoy the sun."

Abraham is coming off a spectacular fourth-round knockout of bomb-throwing Edison Miranda in June in his American debut. It was perhaps the most impressive win of his career. Marquez knows this but is confident anyway, as fighters must be.

"He's a strong guy, he's powerful," Marquez said. "But I've got experience on my side and he's never fought anyone of my caliber, including Miranda," he said.

"He fights in spurts; he's not very busy. I'll make him fight when he doesn't want to fight. I can't wait. He's looking past me, like I don't exist. He's good, but I'm very excited and have no fear."

If history tells us anything, it should tell us three things: that the younger, stronger, fresher Abraham should prevail; that afterward, Marquez will announce his retirement. And that we should not believe him.

The Ring's senior writer William Dettloff co-wrote the book "Box Like the Pros" with Joe Frazier.