Thursday, November 15, 2012

Brian Viloria vs. Hernan Marquez Almost 50 Years In The Making

Exactly how greatness is quantified in boxing today is at times difficult to define. Absent a system where the best are forced to fight the best, and often, we often find ourselves gawking at athleticism in place of actual boxing skills, and mistaking strategic matchmaking for more significant accomplishments. 

On paper, lists of quintuple and sextuple champions would seem to put fighters like "Homicide Hank" Armstrong to weeping shame. And it's not like Tommy Hearns, Oscar de la Hoya and Manny Pacquiao are or were bad fighters, or that they didn't accomplish amazing things in boxing, but simply that the structure of the sport today makes the distinction far more likely than in the more ancient, medieval times of the sport. Fighters just aren't generally able to stumble across true, undisputed and inarguable titles these days, much less defend said title four times in the matter of a couple of weeks, or rematch great fighters a month after the vicious 15 round war that just went down.

The truth is the sport will probably never get back to that point, no matter how much the crusty, cynical history buffs want it to. However, that doesn't mean that extraordinary feats aren't accomplished every so often that exude the pungent scent of legitimate historical luster. 

When Brian "The Hawaiian Punch" Viloria steps in with Hernan "Tyson" Marquez this weekend on WealthTV, us fanatics might just get the best of both worlds. 


In our twisted, self-flagellating world of fandom, belts remain the only tangible way for fans and fighters alike to actually decipher weight class riddles and determine who's best, regardless of how corrupt, inept or ridiculous alphabet organizations may be and are. Debates regarding the importance of title fights vs. the importance of matchmaking to create excitement rage on, neither side truly giving ground in the trenches. 

But if we consider the scattered and sometimes difficult-to-follow history of a division like flyweight, where Viloria and Marquez currently reside, even the more die hard anti-alphabet crusaders may be convinced to hold a rosier-colored magnifying glass to this weekend's match up. 

The winner of Viloria vs. Marquez will be the first unified champion at flyweight since Salvatore Burruni won the WBC and WBA belts from Pone Kingpetch by 15 round unanimous decision in April, 1965. 

Burruni was stripped of the WBA belt in November of that year before he could make a single defense, albeit for failing to defend against challenger Hiroyuri Ebihara after having been notified by wire at least five times by the organization. Since the two belts have been separated, they've yet to be housed under the same roof at the same time, and the same goes for the IBF and WBO belts -- belts of two organizations that have been legitimized in more recent times by various champions. 

A number of titlists have held different alphabet flyweight belts since 1965, just not together. Walter McGowan won the universally recognized flyweight title by defeating Burruni in 1966, thus the linear title was passed on, but the belts themselves have been divorced since the previous year. Until this weekend, that is. 

And to put that into perspective, the only recent actual champion that was alive when there was a unified flyweight champion is Bernard Hopkins, who is the oldest world champion in history as it is. 

Through over 70 fights, and in a division where losses are usually handed out like delicious candy, there remain only five defeats between Viloria and Marquez, 31-3 (18 KO), 1 No Contest ,1 No Decision and 34-2 (25 KO) respectively. Generously listed at 5'4" each, neither man would prefer to give much ground if possible, and both are capable of very respectable punching power when motivated to be. 

Viloria, who was champion at almost every significant American and international tournament of the amateur game, and a member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic boxing team, has gone from highly touted prospect to proud titlist, to former champion on the downslide twice over, and now appears to be hitting a late career stride that few expected. At 31 -- near-decrepit for a smaller fighter -- Viloria has, in his last few fights, found a more steady and consistent game plan and work rate than previously in his career. 

Like Olympic teammate Rocky Juarez, Viloria has often been criticized for fighting far too passive for someone considered to be a puncher. Indeed in his 2006 bouts against Omar Nino and his 2007 showdown with Edgar Sosa at junior flyweight, Viloria had failed to capture wins, and as a result lost title fights, for plainly not throwing enough and plodding around a bit too often. And again like Juarez, stamina played a key factor in his latest loss to Carlos Tamara in 2010. But in racking up five wins in a row since then, and in the process capturing the WBO flyweight belt, Brian Viloria proved his roots at 112 lbs. are firmly planted in beating former conqueror Nino and ranked contenders Giovani Segura and Julio Cesar Miranda, and all in highly watchable battles. 

For Viloria, the potential overshadowed the reality until this recent relatively late-career run. 

However, standing across from him at the opening bell will be Hernan "Tyson" Marquez, a fighter who has hit something of a stride of his own in his last few outings.  

Boxing for the first time at 11-years-old, Marquez earned his belt notches more in the streets than in a ring -- a relatively common tail for Mexican scrappers who wind up having to climb their way up the hard way. Rather than being scouted by promoters or managers straight out of the Olympics or collecting signing bonuses, he tore his way through the states of Sonora and Baja California. 

According to Marquez' account following his first loss in his 28th bout against Ritchie Mepranum, mistakes in training schedules and diet routines were making his attempts to hit 112 lbs. difficult. Four months later, a TKO loss to Nonito Donaire had he and his team (which has rotated members a few times, and now includes popular trainer Robert Garcia) approaching the training and dieting issues from a different angle. Two years and seven wins later, including a truly great bang up with Luis Concepcion last year, "Tyson" Marquez has earned a following, and a good reputation as an exciting boxer-puncher -- with emphasis on the "puncher" part.

This weekend, the difference may wind up being that Marquez can be a competent and comfortable counterpuncher when he needs to be. Against Donaire in 2010, the more patient and varied attack is likely what kept him mostly upright, and even occasionally successful, into the 8th round. 

But what also kept Hernan Marquez in that fight until being sent down for the second time with an uppercut, was pure toughness. In spots, he took licks like they were going out of style and fired back, especially with leads to the body, and what ultimately led him straight towards canvas was getting caught while punching -- the same reason he hit the deck against Concepcion in their first battle. This flaw may play directly into Viloria's style, because while "The Hawaiian Punch" applies pressure, it's not usually of the highly active or bruising variety; when frisky, he lures opponents in with feints or slight inching backwards, then punches with them, as he's done against both Segura and Nino recently. 

Yet another strike against Marquez, if you could call it that, is that 2012 marks the first time in his seven years as a professional smasher that he will have fought fewer than four times. Still active for a top fighter, and with one of his wins this year being a revenge unanimous decision over Mepranum, Marquez also played a bit of opponent merry go 'round over the summer. The WBA forced him to cancel a June defense against Arden Diale, and then the purse bid for an ordered defense against interim WBA belt-holder/mandatory challenger Juan Carlos Reveco was canceled later that same month. Instead, he settled for a 10 round non-title win against defensive-minded Fernando Lumacad and is now deemed "Super" champion.

If one would consider fighting as a southpaw a given advantage, Marquez essentially forfeits the advantage, as he squares up when throwing combinations. And one of Viloria's more potent tools is a straight right hand, lead, counter, or right behind a jab. Even at two weeks short of 32, his hands are deceptively quick when given his habitually reluctant style. 

Perhaps most under-reported in the previews, though, is that both fighters are well-equipped with actual boxing skills. It's just a fact that might not manifest in an obvious manner this weekend, given the likelihood that the fighters' overall in-ring mindsets will cause a hard collision at some point. 

Singling out real feats of derring-do in this sport is rough. Hyperbole atomized over just about every possible mainstream boxing surface like a fine dew, the records that stand up over time are likely more rare than most buy. Rarer still are fights that nearly guarantee respectable in-ring action in addition to a historical aspect, however outdated. 

The money and the exposure advantage goes to HBO's Antonio DeMarco vs. Adrien Broner clash, yes, but Viloria vs. Marquez could prove to be a more proper blend of excitement and meaning. 


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