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September 17, 2009

A GOOD BIG MAN ALWAYS BEATS A GOOD LITTLE MAN
By Leon Cowan

Whether you’re a casual boxing fan or an insatiable connoisseur of “the sweet science” you know there are at least a million different adages that appear in books, magazines, or echo from commentator’s microphones.  If you are reading this, you know them all: “Kill the body and the head will die”; “Never hook with a hooker”; “You have to dress him up before you take him out.” These are some of the most recognizable boxing one-liners of all time, but the one that best applied to this week’s super fight is: “A good big man always beats a good little man.”  This rule hasn’t always held true lately (Pacquiao-De La Hoya) but it still usually holds true when the two fighters are at the same skill level but one lacks height, reach, or weight. The clash between Juan Manuel Marquez and Floyd “Money” Mayweather is a perfect opportunity to put this adage to the test.
 
When they square off on September 29th in Las Vegas, most fight fans will be wishing that the Filipino Phenom, Manny Pacquiao, was entering the ring instead of Marquez. Is this fair? Has Marquez not done enough to show that he is worthy of stepping in the ring with Mayweather? Marquez holds wins over some of boxing’s elite fighters: Marco Antonio Barrera, Rocky Juarez, Joel Casamayor, and recently against a young and aggressive Juan Diaz.
 
But the size differential leads to the question: Can Marquez be competitive against Mayweather’s extensive array of boxing weaponry and physical advantages?  This is a question I’ve asked myself in the weeks leading up to this bout. I went back through boxing history:  Jack Dempsey vs. Jess Willard. Especially for the era in which he competed, Jess Willard was a huge man, standing at 6’6” and weighing nearly 250 pounds. Jack Dempsey was a much smaller fighter, standing about 6’1” and 180 pounds. It turned out that height and weight were not a factor. The impetuous Dempsey was fearless and ran across the ring to maul Jess Willard in every round.  He knocked him down seven times in the first round en route to a third round TKO. Dempsey, the much smaller man, left the “Pottawatomie Giant” with several serious injuries.
 
If that example doesn’t settle it then perhaps this one will. Let’s go back to the future, 1980: Robert Duran-Ray Leonard I. Duran was going after Leonard’s welterweight title and was considered one of the greatest lightweights of all time. Duran was at a disadvantage in both height and reach. He was also viewed as unproven at welterweight, and perhaps a hair too slow for the blurring hand speed and power of Sugar Ray. However, Duran immediately took the fight to Leonard, trapping him on the ropes round after round and forcing a grueling slugfest, negating all the advantages Leonard possessed coming into the fight.  Leonard never used his legs and opted to trade with Duran the whole way through, losing a 15-round decision to the smaller man.
 
Do these examples disprove the adage?  Not really. They are a drop in the bucket compared to the long list of fighters who moved up in weight and were dominated, a group that includes Duran, who bit off more than he could chew when he was dismantled by Thomas Hearns at junior middleweight. Dempsey himself beat a skilled but smaller light heavyweight in Louis Carpentier, and Joe Louis’s strength allowed him to KO Billy Conn even as the light heavyweight appeared headed to a decision win over the Brown Bomber. So, for the most part, the adage sticks: The big man is usually triumphant against the little man.
 
The one thing that seems to breed an exception to this rule is not the physical attributes, but the intangible emergence of an unmeasurable characteristic: greatness. Every statistic and every tale of the tape comes undone when a fighter takes his game to another level.
 
Marquez is a fighter who has been underrated and sometimes underappreciated for much of his career. This argument can also be made for Mayweather, who has fought some of the elite through six weight classes and remains undefeated. This fight will be decided in the training camps (the mountains of Mexico and a gym in Las Vegas), and in the core of both fighters, both who are potential possessors of Greatness.   
 
Outside of his ego-tripping bombast, when Mayweather trains, or as he says, “puts in hard work” it’s difficult not to be impressed. Marquez is up against much more than just a few pounds and inches.  On the flipside, if you’ve watched HBO’s 24/7 you know that Marquez seems to be pulling out all the stops to give himself the best opportunity to win. Even to the point of - dare I write it -drinking his urine! This type of dedication shows Marquez is more than just a good little fighter coming to cash in on a lengthy career filled with many too-modest purses. So in closing I’m adding a new one-liner to the boxing pantheon, “A great big man always beats a great little man.” Tune in September 19th to see if this one sticks.  Mayweather by TKO in eight rounds.

Send questions and comments to: cowanln@yahoo.com



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