Marquez is no ‘stumblebum’ |

Marquez is no ‘stumblebum’

The last time Caesars Tahoe hosted a big-time boxing event the entire sport got a black eye.

Challenger Henry Akinwande was disqualified because he hugged, rather than hit, WBC heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis. HBO television commentator Larry Merchant was so disgusted he alleged that promoter Don King fixed the fight and he called Akinwande a “stumblebum.”

Two summers later, HBO is back to broadcast a junior middleweight world title fight with a young champion, Fernando Vargas, who has knocked out every pro he’s faced. His opponent, Raul Marquez, hasn’t scored a knockout in three years and has fought just twice since 1997. The champ was a 9-1 favorite at the beginning of the week, and the line has moved to 11-1.

So HBO is subjecting Tahoe to another fraudulent exchange of fisticuffs, right?


I’ve seen Raul Marquez fight before.

I’ve talked to him.

Raul Marquez is no stumblebum.

(Larry Merchant could be a Dan Quayle, but that’s not the point.)

Marquez is ready to have the fight of his life. He needs to. He’s been left out of the loop – what he calls the family – and he desperately wants back in. “I miss that Italian food Lou (Duva) used to cook for us,” Marquez said.

Marquez, who began boxing when he was 7, met trainer Duva when he was about 13. As a teen he trained in Texas with many future Olympians and professionals, compiling a 139-10 amateur record. Marquez went on to box for the 1992 U.S. Olympic team. He quickly ascended as pro and in April 1997 won the IBF junior middleweight championship.

But he wound up losing his contract with Duva and Main Events, then he lost his title.

Marquez, who sustained cuts in a 12-round war that he won against Keith Mullings, attempted to defend his title just 11 weeks later against Yory Boy Campas. His face swelled against Campas, and the bout was stopped in the eighth round.

Campas didn’t give Marquez a rematch. He instead fought Vargas, whose victory brought him the championship at the age of 21.

Now it’s Vargas who has the contract with Main Events and who will make $500,000 for the fight.

“Nobody gives me a chance. But what I see in Vargas is a little bit of talent and a whole lot of hype,” Marquez said. “I hear he has a big HBO contract in the making, but hey, that contract belongs to me. I’m going to be bigger than Vargas is right now.”

Indeed, with the title Marquez would be back in the limelight. And he’d certainly be offered a lucrative contract. A loss would keep him on the outside.

The challenger has trained 10 weeks, the last six at his Olympic teammate Oscar De La Hoya’s high-altitude camp in Big Bear, Calif.

“I’m in the best shape of my life,” Marquez said. “I’m gonna win. You’ll see Saturday.”

At a press conference in Reno on Wednesday, Marquez and Vargas posed for cameramen. While Marquez looked into the cameras, Vargas glared at his opponent. Finally Marquez faced him. The two eventually had to be separated.

It was a scene Marquez would have rather avoided.

“It’s all talk, all hype,” he said. “When we get in the ring, it will be all him and all me. That’s what I’m looking forward to.

“If he’s trying to get into my head, it’s not going to work. I’m too experienced for that. I’ve had more fights and more championship rounds than him. I’m going to take his title. I can’t wait for this fight.”

The genuine enthusiasm about the thought of mixing it up with the champ was something Akinwande lacked before his Tahoe bout.

This will be a good fight.

Vargas, who has never fought beyond the seventh round, will be in for the biggest test of his career. The champ should retain his title, but this fight’s going the distance.

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