This weekend, Juan Manuel Marquez is set to face the only other man to hold a recent victory over Manny Pacquiao, Timothy Bradley. The star pupil of one of boxing's few modern masters, Nacho Beristain, Marquez brings to the ring a counter punching style that is, in a way, uniquely Mexican--he does not wait passively for counters, but rather brings the fight to his opponents, willing them to punish him for his aggression. And when they do, well... just keep reading and see.
MMA fans recently witnessed the fate that can befall a counter fighter who fails to dictate the course of the fight when Anderson Silva, forced into his most outrageous display of mockery and baiting yet, fell prey to an opponent who was completely immune to mind games. A counter fighter is only as good as his ability to force the opponent into his type of fight. Whether by feints, taunts, or outright offense, a counter fighter's game is one of small, subtle tricks, and Juan Manuel Marquez just might have the biggest bag of tricks in the business.
Paramount among these is his use of his hips. Almost imperceptible to the casual observer, Marquez frequently puts himself in a position to counter his opponent while giving his opponent the impression that he is open to be hit. And it all comes down to his hips.
The Pacquiao-Marquez series will go down as one of the greatest in boxing history, and this knockout, which ended the fourth fight in emphatic fashion, will almost certainly be remembered as Marquez' greatest accomplishment.
The key to this knockout, as with so many of Marquez' 40 finish wins, is the positioning of his upper body-so-called "head movement" is actually done by moving the whole upper body from the hips, not moving only the head or lower back. Marquez, like other Beristain fighters, has a tendency to go onto the front hip to bait the opponent. This can be risky (more on that below), but in this case it paid off handsomely.
First Marquez puts his head over his left hip. To Pacquiao, this upper body position screams two things. First, it screams "left hook," a punch that requires the weight to be forward to be thrown with full power. Second, and even louder, it screams "attack." Moments earlier Pacquiao had staggered Marquez with his trademark left, and a round earlier he had dropped him. So to Pacquiao this posture looks first and foremost like defense, and rightly so: Marquez regularly goes onto his left hip to slip right hands.
Thus, to someone in Pacquiao's position, it appears that Marquez' right hand is no longer a threat, while his left hand is. It also appears that he is moving defensively rather than offensively. But this is one of Marquez' best tricks. Even though his head is over his left hip, his weight is still seated firmly over his right foot. So when Pacquiao lunges in, Marquez has a secret weapon cocked and loaded. Manny runs chin-first into his full bodyweight in the form of an overhand right, and he never knew it was coming.
Want to see why Marquez is capable of these things, even in a high pressure situation, against an opponent he had never officially beaten, just after being hurt with punches? Watch this:
That's Marquez sparring Rocky Santillo in preparation for Pacquiao. The knockdown that occurs about thirty seconds in is almost identical to the sequence that put Pacquiao to sleep. The same hip movement, the same drop in weight onto the back foot, and the same vicious right hand to the jaw. Marquez and Beristain prepare meticulously for each new (and old) opponent, and it shows.
I mentioned before that putting the weight onto the front hip can be dangerous. The risk is that, by leaning too far forward, a fighter can take away his own balance and base, making him more susceptible to being knocked down. This is the story of almost every knockdown of Marquez' career. It's a tradeoff: bait the opponent and run the risk of getting knocked down, or remain safely on the back foot and have fewer opportunities to counter. Marquez, being the gutsy finisher that he is, of course chooses the riskier option every time. It's integral to his style.
Marquez does, however, have an uncanny ability to survive these knockdowns, and to be hit in a leaned-forward position without being visibly hurt. This is a result of his posture. Though he bends his back frequently (as many Mexican boxers do), his shoulders are always in the right place, pulled back to bring his chest up, and his chin pulled down. He maintains this posture even in wild exchanges.
Notice how little Marquez' head is torqued by this punch, a clean left hook from Floyd Mayweather. Proper posture keeps his head stabilized, even while throwing a powerful punch of his own. And Marquez not only successfully lands his originally intended punch, but goes on to finish his combination, connecting again with a right hand as Mayweather circles out of reach.
Again, Marquez takes a very clean punch, this one from Willfredo Vargas. The punch moves his head more than the hook from Mayweather--it's safe to say that Marquez has only been improving over time. Even at 40 he is a better boxer than he was ten years ago. Still, his ability to not only absorb punishment but immediately return fire with vicious combinations is incredible. Many boxers have attempted to go for the kill against Marquez, only to end up being killed themselves. A counter fighter who is trained to absorb punishment is deadly indeed.
Once again, this one is as much about Nacho Beristain as it is Marquez. All of Beristain's fighters have exceptional uppercuts, and Marquez has one of the best. The uppercut is perfect for his counter punching style, as no punch is more effective against an overaggressive, overextended opponent. The uppercut is, in a way, the perfect defensive punch.
Here you can see Marquez once again showing his uncanny ability to appear out of position only to unload a vicious punch on his unsuspecting opponent. The sequence begins with Marquez reaching on a right hand and winding up square. He eats an uppercut from Peden as he adjusts his feet and circles around, trying to reestablish his stance. As his right foot returns to its orthodox position, Marquez drops his weight back and launches a left uppercut to the body. Peden, eager to follow up on his success with the uppercut, walks right into it. Perfect timing. The Australian boxer masks his discomfort well, but upon returning to his corner, all the water in his stomach decides it would rather be elsewhere.
Not many fighters can say that they've made a future champion vomit with body punches. Juan Manuel Marquez can. Watch at your own risk, if only to hear the tremendous sound the punch makes as it connects with Peden's abdomen (and the involuntary sound that Peden makes as a result).
These uppercuts are part of what make Marquez such a vicious combination puncher. He is renowned for his ability to string punches together at remarkable speed and with great accuracy. Once Marquez has a fighter hurt, he has the perfect tools to capitalize on their instinctive defensive response. Perhaps you've seen THIS GIF of Canelo Alvarez landing half a dozen punches on a stunned Josesito Lopez. Well, Marquez was doing that before it was cool.
Overhand Right and Body Work
This punch was already looked at in the first segment, being the blow that separated Manny Pacquiao from consciousness, but Marquez has also become well known for throwing a swinging right overhand on offense. I mention it now, because the key to Marquez' overhand right is his commitment to body punching.
Not many fighters are willing to walk into the uppercut that emptied Robbie Peden's stomach (and bowels, perhaps? Just saying), so most will become very aware of Marquez' left uppercut and hook early on. Manny Pacquiao was no exception, and his wariness of the body shot enabled Marquez to knock him down for the first time ever in his 39th round with the Filipino phenom.
After landing the left to the body several times, Marquez feints downstairs to land a monstrous right hand over the top. This GIF is excellent because you can watch Manny as he watches Marquez' left hand, unaware that the threat is actually coming from the other side.
Marquez' feint really deserves some praise here. There are multiple stages to it. First he touches Pacquiao's guard with a pawing jab, instantly putting him on the defensive. Then he steps in. Though you can't see the placement of his feet in this GIF his hips and legs reveal his footwork. Notice that Marquez' first step is more or less straight forward, merely closing the distance with Pacquiao. This step is accompanied by a level change, which helps sell the body shot feint. Then, as Pacquiao tries to adjust and moves out of range, Marquez brings his right foot forward and takes another, deeper step far to the outside of Pacquiao's right foot, hop-stepping into range for his overhand.
Since we're on the subject of footwork, we'll break down one more instance of Marquez using his feet to out-position his opponent.
Joel Casamayor is now known as a washed up fighter, having failed to put together consecutive wins since 2007, but when he fought Marquez he was indisputably a dominant lightweight champ, being the first man to defeat Michael Katsidis by 10th round knockout. Unfortunately for Joel Casamayor, that was his last fight as champion. Though the bout was close, Marquez began to pull ahead noticeably in the later rounds. His body work led to more and more sharp punches to the head. As Marquez started running off with rounds, Casamayor was forced to start taking more risks. If you don't know what a bad idea that is against Marquez, you didn't read the rest of this article.
Here, at the end of round 10, Marquez snaps a jab into Casamayor's face. Casamayor responds with a 1-2 of his own, and Marquez begins moving back toward the ropes. As Casamayor follows him, Marquez switches directions, stepping forward behind another jab. This one merely glances off the side of Casamayor's jaw, but it doesn't matter: it's real purpose was to hide Marquez' footwork. He has stepped to a slight outside angle, and as his jab retracts he lands a clean right hand. Casamayor's cocky gestures afterward might as well be sign language for "that one hurt."
Then, in round 11, Marquez uses his footwork to put Casamayor away for good. Having just been dropped, the Cuban swarms Marquez, trying to hold. Marquez breaks Casamayor's waistlock and circles, immediately lighting the champion up with some hooks and uppercuts on the inside.
Then Casamayor resorts to brawling, trying to scare Marquez off with wild counter punches. Note the role that Marquez' posture plays here-his chin is constantly protected by one shoulder or the other, even with his hands throwing busily. Casamayor's hooks have virtually no chance of landing.
Marquez constantly moves his feet, not only moving backward to keep Casamayor from stifling his power, but changing his angle so that the Cuban's stumbling feet can't keep up. Finally he puts Casamayor on the canvas with a hard right hand, and the ref calls off the fight.
Juan Manuel Marquez is right up there with Bernard Hopkins and Floyd Mayweather in terms of boxing skill. And like those men, he is yet another relic of a bygone era, not merely surviving but winning at the highest levels of competition by virtue of his impeccable fundamentals. At 40 years of age, there are maybe five boxers near Marquez' weight who would stand a chance of beating him. And if Timothy Bradley overcomes the Mexican genius this Saturday, he would be well advised to be satisfied with one win, because as Manny Pacquiao already found out, Marquez only gets more dangerous in the rematch.
Join us here at Bloody Elbow for Bradley vs. Marquez results, discussion, and live fight coverage this Saturday October 12.
Tune in to the Heavy Hands podcast at heavyhandspodcast.com for more of Connor's fight analysis.This week's episode featured a discussion on boxing for MMA, and next week will feature a breakdown of the Marquez bout with Luis Monda.