Fight of the Year?

Power-packed WBO featherweight title bout will likely result in only one man left standing

When Juan Manuel Lopez and Rafael Marquez enter the ring for their WBO featherweight title fight at the MGM Grand Garden on Nov. 6, the two boxers will carry similar traits but contrasting backgrounds.

Both fighters are two-division world champions who have won an overwhelming number of their fights by knockout—with Lopez (29-0) winning 26 of his bouts by KO, and Marquez (39-5) making short work of his opponents in 35 of his wins.

So it’s no surprise that both men believe that their scheduled 12-round fight will conclude with only one of them standing.

“I expect the fight to end in a knockout, I really do, but I don’t think it will be early,” says Lopez, the reigning WBO featherweight champion and former WBO super bantamweight titleholder. “I think it will be a long fight and I think it will end in a knockout, but late. I think we both have the power to knock each other out, and as long as it lasts it’s going to be a war.”

Marquez, however, sees an earlier ending.

“It could go either way,” he says. “We’re both so powerful that it could end early, or we could take each other’s punches for a while. I just think it could end earlier more than it could end late just because of our power.”

Regardless of how long the bout lasts, though, each boxer called it the most important of his career and thinks it has the potential to be named 2010’s Fight of the Year.

Marquez, 35, has fought in 11 world title fights in his 15-year career, and a win over Lopez, 27, would give him a championship in his third weight division and essentially secure his spot in the Boxing Hall of Fame.

“I’m ready for anything he brings into the ring,” Marquez says. “If he wants to exchange, I’m ready to exchange. If he wants to box, I’m ready to box. I just think that when you fight this type of fighter who is a really great fighter, he just motivates you to do better.”

Even with Marquez’s complimentary comments, Lopez says he feels like an underdog despite his champion status and a reputation as one of his sport’s rising stars. But the pride of Puerto Rico also realizes that Marquez has much to gain, as well, with a victory.

“Without a doubt I know he’s coming to prove himself, that he’s still at the same level as he’s always been,” Lopez says. “And I’m out to prove that I’m at the same level that he’s at.”

Marquez says his experience and ability to put punches together will give him the edge against the left-handed Lopez, who was knocked down late in the first round by Bernabe Concepcion in his last fight, on July 10, before scoring a second-round TKO.

“I know how strong he is, I can see how powerful he is, but I also see his weaknesses,” Marquez says. “His chin is not that good, so we have to take advantage of that.”

The fight was originally scheduled for Sept. 18, but it was postponed when Marquez injured his right thumb during training. The native of Mexico City has fought just twice since March 2008, going a total of six rounds, and his last fight, a third-round KO of Israel Vazquez on May 22, concluded a series of four brutal fights with Vazquez since March 2007—with each boxer winning twice, and the second and third bouts being named Fight of the Year in 2007 and 2008, respectively, by The Ring.

Despite the combination of heavy mileage in the ring, his recent inactivity and his advanced age, Marquez says he remains in great shape and isn’t worried about being sluggish or rusty against Lopez.

“As long as you take care of yourself, as long as you prepare well for a fight, that shouldn’t be any problem,” he says. “I’ve always taken care of myself and I think I have a lot more to give. I don’t think that age matters.”

Lopez, who has fought just nine rounds over two bouts since winning a unanimous 12-round decision over Rogers Mtagwa in October 2009, believes Marquez’s camp wants the fight to get into the late rounds, although he didn’t express any reservations about that occurring.

“They think I’m going to get tired, that I’m not going to be able to fight 12 rounds at the same pace he will,” Lopez says. “We’ll just have to see what kind of a guy I get, if I get the real aggressive guy or the guy that is going to counter.”

Marquez, a former IBF bantamweight champion and WBC super bantamweight champ, is coming up in weight for the opportunity to fight Lopez, but says that 126 pounds is a more natural weight for him at this stage in his career. If victorious, Marquez and his brother Juan Manuel Marquez would become the first siblings to win world titles in three different weight divisions.

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