Marquez undefeated at The Forum

For Juan Manuel Marquez, there’s no place like The Forum. The 40-year-old superstar cut his teeth at the corner of Manchester and Prairie, fighting 11 of his first 20 fights on American soil there, blossoming from an unknown to a featherweight contender. By the time boxing left Inglewood in 2001, he was a perfect 12-0 with nine wins by way of knockout.

When boxing returned to the refurbished Forum on Saturday night, Marquez reopened the historic venue by defeating Mike Alvarado by unanimous decision in a WBO welterweight eliminator, setting up the possibility of a fifth chapter in his epic series with Manny Pacquiao.

With the backing of over 12,000 chanting fans, Marquez (55-7-1, 40 KO) took the fight to Alvarado (34-2, 23 KO) in the early rounds, winning every exchange on the inside and forcing the normally aggressive Alvarado into a defensive shell. When Alvarado did swing, all he hit was air.

Early into the fourth round, the crowd decided to create their own action as a brawl broke out in section 227.

In the ring, Marquez continued to land power shots in bunches through the fifth and sixth rounds. Before the eighth round, Alvarado’s trainer Shann Vilhauer implored Alvarado to, “let your hands go” and, “beat this old man up.”

It seemed like Alvarado listened and early in the round landed a right hook that staggered Marquez. Then the old man fought back. Marquez landed a straight right that staggered Alvarado, then a right upper cut that knocked Alvarado out of the east side of the ring.

Once Alvarado fell into the ringside photographers, the near-capacity crowd leapt to its feet and elicited a roar that awoke the ghosts of a venue that bore witness to Muhammad Ali’s revenge bout against Ken Norton in 1973, and the debut of Oscar De La Hoya in 1992.

Alvarado beat the count and the bell, but barely.

When the ninth round opened, the crowd was still buzzing from the close of the eighth, but all that changed about two minutes into the round when Alvarado sent Marquez to the canvas. The Forum fell silent.

It seemed that, for the first time in the match, Alvarado had a chance to break out of a slump that saw him lose two of his last three fights.

Marquez got up on an 8 count and what followed will be a contender for round of the year honors.

Both men exchanged flurries in all corners of the ring. Whenever Marquez won the exchange, you could not hear yourself think. Whenever Alvarado won the exchange, the Forum was quieter than the cemetery across the street.

At the end of the round, Alvarado was cut under his left eye and bled throughout the rest of the fight.

Marquez fans were given one final scare in the eleventh round when with 20 seconds left, he appeared to have been sent tumbling towards the canvas before catching himself.

Referee Patrick Russell ruled that there was no knockdown, a decision that outraged Alvarado’s corner.

As the fight wore down to its final seconds, a chant of “si se puede” rang throughout the Forum.

The judges’ final tallies were 117-109, 117-109 and 119-108 all in favor of Marquez. The CompuBox numbers were in favor of Marquez as well. Marquez connected on 44 percent of his total punches and 57 percent of his power punches to Alvarado’s 35 percent total and 34 percent on his power.

To the fans however, the numbers were irrelevant. Marquez did it.

"I wanted to give the public here a gift. A gift that dignifies the history of this event and the history of the Forum,” Marquez said through an interpreter in the ring after the fight. “I wanted to make this fight a gift to the fans."

The next step in Marquez’s quest to become the first Mexican fighter to win five world championships in five weight divisions goes through Pacquiao, who, according to Top Rank Boxing CEO Bob Arum, has already agreed to take on the winner of the fight.

When asked about the possibility of a return to his long standing rivalry with the Philippine superstar, which appeared to have closed with a sixth round knockout victory for Marquez, he was non-committal.

“I'll relax, I don't know at the moment,” Marquez said. “But any decision that I make will be good for me, my family, and all of the Mexican fans."