by Gautham Nagesh
It’s been a long time coming, but we’re proud to announce the first recipient of our annual Stiff Jab Boxer of the Year Award: Juan Manuel Marquez of Mexico.
You’re probably wondering why we chose Marquez, when every other boxing writer on the planet has already cast their vote for Filipino junior featherweight champion Nonito Donaire. Our reasoning is simple: we reward the fighter that wins against the best competition. In 2012, no one fought and won over better competition than Marquez.
JMM fought twice in 2012, typical for a top ten pound-for-pound fighter these days, but the only fight anyone will remember was his earth-shattering knockout of Manny Pacquiao. With one beautifully-timed overhand right, Marquez upended the boxing world, ended one of the sport’s great runs of recent years, and put a completely different spin on his storied rivalry with the Filipino phenom. Sure, JMM’s points win over Sergey Fedchenko was hardly memorable, but the Pacquiao knockout was the sport’s biggest since Sergio Martinez stopped Paul Williams two years ago.
Donaire has been rightly lauded for fighting four times in 2012, refreshing in this age of inactivity among the sport’s elite. But none of his wins came against a fighter we consider elite for the 122-lb weight class. Donaire started the year by going the distance against Wilfredo Vazquez Jr., a solid fighter that was stopped in the 12th round by Jorge Arce just nine months prior. The same faded Arce that retired after Donaire stopped him with a vicious left hook just two weeks ago.
In between, the Filipino Flash scored two more impressive wins against South Africa’s Jeffrey Mathebula and Japan’s Toshiaki Nishioka respectively. Both fighters ranked near the top of the division, but Mathebula’s most noteworthy achievement before the Donaire fight was splitting two fights with compatriot Takalani Ndlovu. Nishioka’s top ranking was the product of work earlier in the 38-year-old’s career; against Donaire he was beyond his prime, and chose to retire after losing. Taken as a whole, Donaire’s 2012 was undoubtedly impressive, but none of those four wins are likely to register among his career best, when all is said and done.
Nonito has also gotten the benefit of the doubt because of his commitment to voluntary, random drug testing, which should be commended. Others have cast aspersions on Marquez due to the circumstances of his win, his noticeably beefed-up physique, and some members of his camp. Such questions should be asked, and more reporting is needed. But until someone fails a test, we cannot indict without hard evidence. Praising Donaire and questioning Marquez also seems more than a little opportunistic from a fight press that barely whispered a word as Pacquiao vaulted through the weight classes.
Donaire may be the most talented fighter at any weight and he probably did more to elevate his status than any other fighter in 2012. However, this honor is for fighting and beating the best, and Donaire won’t earn it until he beats the likes of Guillermo Rigondeaux and Abner Mares, at least as far as we’re concerned. Marquez has already scaled the mountaintop by defeating the fighter almost everyone had ranked second at worst on the sport’s mythical pound-for-pound list. He did so in emphatic fashion, with the most devastating knockout at this level in more than two calendar years.
If that doesn’t make Juan Manuel Marquez our top boxer of 2012, nothing would. Congratulations to Marquez, and at least for this year, Viva Mexico.