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Is Casamayor being overlooked?

Joel CasamayorBy Alex McMillan: Rightly regarded as one of the very top pound for pound fighters in the world today, Juan Manuel Marquez is an absolutely class act; a terrific asset to world class boxing. He seeks out the biggest fights, he takes risks and gives it his all, and he’s prepared to travel to make the fights. His recent career stats read like a who’s who of the super featherweight division, and his step up to lightweight, a step rumored to be taken in order to follow Manny Pacquiao for what would be a blockbusting third installment to their already legendary brace of duels, provides further testament to his insistence on fighting only the very best at this stage of his career.

A fact which brings us to his next contest, versus Ring magazine’s lightweight world number one Joel Casamayor, current king of boxing’s undisputed hottest division. For his part, Casamayor perhaps needed this fight, needed indeed Pacquiao to seek the greater payday (and some would possibly argue, much more favorable proposition) of a super fight with Oscar de la Hoya, thus leaving Marquez at something of a loose-end on his lightweight debut.

Undefeated since a very questionable split decision loss to Jose Luis Castillo four years ago, Casamayor has remained at world level for some years now, boasting wins over the likes of Nate Campbell, Yoni Vargas and the late Diego Corrales. But for all that, it’s not too stretching an argument to say the very big-time has thus far eluded him. Now at thirty seven, Marquez presents in all likelihood his greatest challenge, his biggest fight, and – depending on the success or failure of his defense – either his final meaningful contest or the belated elevation of his career to true superstar status.

Reading the transcript of the recent press conference for the bout, it was interesting that the journalists present seemed to focus on two main points. For Marquez, all questions seemed to point to the elusive Pacquiao, and the prospects of a future third bout should he dispatch Casamayor (Pacquiao’s status as the big-fish in this particular chase will understandably be fairly unaffected regardless of the outcome of the upcoming de la Hoya clash, for which he is understandably the outsider). While Marquez was quick to dismiss the notion that he may in fact be looking beyond Casamayor, the third installment of his trilogy with Manny is the fight that everyone wants to see, surely no one individual any more so than Marquez himself, so harshly done by in both of their previous encounters.

Blatantly, Juan Manuel has unfinished business with the Filipino champ; the prospect of him retiring without having the chance to avenge his hotly-disputed rematch, or indeed their first fight, where by all three of the judges’ scorecards he won the final eleven rounds by a landslide, seems unthinkable. As for Casamayor, all the questions seemed to revolve around his last outing but one, a similarly controversial split decision win over Jose Armando Santa Cruz where he was down in the first round and did little to impress for the duration.

In response, Joel’s argument was that he had gotten sloppy, that he felt de-motivated by the challenge, and that precisely what he needed at the time is the type of challenge presented in his upcoming fight. In terms of legacy, it’s perhaps difficult to define exactly how the Cuban defect will be judged. His three losses come against world class fighters; Acelino Freitas, Diego Corrales (fight two of three) and the aforementioned Castillo, Question marks must be raised over Juan Manuel’s power at his new higher weight however. While Pacquiao dealt with this step up with consummate ease in his most recent encounter, it’s fair to say he was facing something of a more straightforward challenge in David Diaz, an honest fighter with tremendous heart, but not the divisional king Casamayor is reckoned to be. Which makes the upcoming bout far more interesting than many seem to be thinking. Apparently, Casamayor is a 4/1 shot, with odds quoted as high as 9/1 for him to force a stoppage at any all of which, a lot like Marquez’s fights with Manny Pacquiao could easily have gone his way; against Michael Katsidis in his last fight Casamayor scored a spectacular win but struggled to sustain control over the powerful Aussie, sending him to the canvas twice in the first round and finishing the job in the tenth, but looking second best between times, indeed almost out on his feet in the sixth. Katsidis’ recent defeat to Juan Diaz gives no insight into the level to which time may have crept up on Casamayor, as the Mexican ‘baby bull’ is himself another major player in this spectacularly high class division, but what’s more concerning for Joel must be the trouble caused him by Katsidis’ body shots in the bout, particularly given Marquez’s renowned ability to work downstairs.

point during the fight. Marquez is the favorite, certainly, his recent record and unarguable placement towards the summit of anyone’s current pound-for-pound list demands that he be installed as such, even allowing for his adapting to a new weight, allowing too for his debut against perhaps the toughest fighter at the weight. For Casamayor’s part how much have his skills stood the test of time? Against Santa Cruz he looked to be a diminishing force, at times against Katsidis also, but had the power to knock the latter – a natural lightweight – to the canvass three times. How much trouble might the big hitting Australian cause Marquez one can only imagine; it seems a hard fight to imagine at all actually, to envisage how Katsidis might contend with the Mexican’s boxing smarts, but one thing that surely can be concluded is that Casamayor’s power to hurt his opponents remains. And at 35 himself, how much does Marquez bring with him to his new weight? To what extent is he really looking towards Manny; perhaps, as this article questions, over-looking the still-dangerous Cuban.

With Mexican independence day celebrations in the air, at the peak of his powers, and never yet having been stopped in 47 fights since his pro debut disqualification some 15 years ago, it’d be hard to find many observers backing against Marquez, and common sense would see why. But the fight game often eludes common sense, making fools of favorites and their backers just as regularly as its decisions – as in the case of the careers of these two great fighters – are called to question and cause controversy. I’m intrigued, more than anything else, to see what Casamayor can bring to this fight – I’d say certainly his biggest – at this stage in his career. It may surprise many, but at odds as big as 9/1 I’m backing Joel to surprise the vastly pro-Marquez crowd with a late KO stoppage. Then we can all look forward to Marquez vs. Pacquiao III, should Oscar bow out with the victory he craves. Forget the tedium of the heavyweights; these are great times for the sport.

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