MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - While boxing sensation Manny Pacquiao was enjoying his 29th birthday celebrations in the Philippines last week, his next opponent, Mexican champion Juan Manuel Marquez, began a grueling, three-month training regimen.
World Boxing Council (WBC) super featherweight champion Marquez, 34, is running 13 km a day and hitting the gym in workouts through Christmas and New Year in a long countdown to their much-anticipated rematch in Las Vegas on March 15.
Marquez’s plans include running each weekend among extinct volcanoes perched above the Otomi high-altitude training centre in Mexico.
Marquez, who last defended his WBC title on November 3, by comprehensively outpointing American Rocky Juarez, already looks toned, lean and hungry.
“This is such a crucial fight for me, my family, the Mexican people and all my fans everywhere,” Marquez told Reuters in an interview.
Marquez was limbering up and gracefully shadow boxing at the small Romanza gym in Mexico City, where photographs of greats such as Julio Cesar Chavez, Ricardo “Finito” Lopez, Daniel Zaragoza and Humberto Chiquita Gonzalez frown, grin and leer down on to the spit buckets, sweat-smeared punchbags and ring.
Marquez says he is only five pounds (2.27 kg) over his fighting weight and is determined to be in the best shape of his life to win what he terms “the most important fight of my life.”
“On a scale of one to 10, the rematch with Manny is a 10-plus,” he said.
Pacquiao is widely regarded as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world and enhanced his reputation with a one-sided victory over Marco Antonio Barerra of Mexico in October.
Both Marquez (who has a record of 48 wins, three losses and one draw) and Pacquiao (45-3-2) see the bout at Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino as overdue unfinished business.
When they first clashed in May 2004 for Marquez’s then WBA and IBF featherweight titles, southpaw Pacquiao sent Marquez to the canvas three times in a brutal first round, courtesy of his jackhammer left hand.
Marquez, who suffered a broken nose, bravely got back up each time, reverted to his natural counter-punching style and boxed brilliantly to salvage a savage 12-round draw. He still insists he won the last 10 rounds of the battle.
Money wrangles with Pacquiao delayed the rematch and Marquez, a trained accountant, agreed to take a smaller share of the purse in order to get another crack at the Filipino, who was named the 2006 Boxing Writers’ Association ‘Fighter of the Year’.
Manager Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain has already lined up some southpaw sparring partners and Marquez says arrangements are being made to get former world champion Freddie Norwood from the United States to come to Mexico City. Norwood defeated Marquez on points in his first attempt to win the WBA featherweight title in 1999.
“I’m going to use a mixture of aggression, counter-punching lateral movement but above all my intelligence as a boxer to defeat Manny,” said Marquez.
“Manny is very strong but he’s not technical. Manny doesn’t like it when you go looking for the fight. He doesn’t know how to back up. He’s called a terminator of Mexican fighters but with me, no.
“I’m telling you again that I’m going to demonstrate who’s better and I’ll win this one. Then I’ll be happy to give Manny a rematch but only if he accepts the smaller purse.”
Editing by Larry Fine and Clare Fallon