Las Vegas: The non-title welterweight bout between undefeated American Floyd Mayweather Jr and Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez on Saturday is too close to call, according to boxing historian Bert Sugar.
Mayweather, four pounds heavier than his opponent at Friday’s weigh-in, is a strong favourite to win the 12-round contest but Sugar felt the Mexican had been widely underestimated by pundits.
“I’ve got this as an even fight,” Sugar, 73, told Reuters. “You’re looking at two of today’s greats and this fight can place one of them into the pantheon of welterweight greats.”
Mayweather is bidding to win the 40th bout of his professional career but he faces an element of uncertainty on his return to the ring after a 21-month retirement.
“This is not the 40th fight in Floyd’s career, it’s the first fight of his second career,” said Sugar, a cigar-chomping member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
“Twenty-one months out of anything, even riding a bicycle, is going to be a little bit of a setback. I think you’re going to see a rust factor here.”
Sugar, author of numerous sports books and a former publisher and editor of Ring Magazine, also pointed to the counter-punching skills, stamina and intelligence of Marquez.
“Marquez has never been above 135 (pounds) but he has no trouble with stamina,” he said. “He sometimes finishes at a greater pace than he started.
“And maybe after the idleness of 21 months, the stamina problem might now be Mayweather’s and not Marquez’s.”
The Mexican, a five-times world champion who has a 50-4-1 record with 37 knockouts, is known for his aggression and combination punching.
While Mayweather, 39-0 (25 KOs), is the best defensive fighter of his generation with lightning hand and foot speed, Sugar felt the Mexican’s style could be a telling factor.
“Marquez’s best punch is to the ribs,” he said. “You can’t hit Mayweather in the head because he is probably the best defensive fighter I have seen since Pernell Whitaker.”
“But he turns his body and what does he then expose? His ribs. Marquez is one of the best thinking fighters I have seen in years. He can adapt in the middle of a fight.”
Also significant for Sugar was the manner of Mayweather’s last four wins – against Zab Judah, Carlos Baldomir, Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton.
“Each of them flagged coming down the stretch,” Sugar said. “Lack of stamina, I don’t know what it was.”
In Sugar’s opinion, Marques would be well advised to emulate his compatriot Jose Luis Castillo, who lost a controversial point decision to Mayweather in April 2002.
“That has been the biggest trouble of all 39 fights that he ever fought, his first fight against Castillo,” Sugar said.
“If Marquez can move him to the ropes and pressure him, and bangs him to the ribs, that’s going to be a problem for Floyd.”