Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Reflections of... Legacies affected on Dec. 8: BJ Penn and Juan Manuel Marquez

It's amazing how defined legacies can become in one night. Truly amazing.

Two different cards in two different fight sports featured fighters whose careers could have been elevated or diminished through their respective matches. Two major cities – Seattle and Las Vegas – can lay claim to something special that they witnessed on the night of Dec. 8, 2012.

Truly amazing.

End of a Prodigy

BJ Penn's nickname of "The Prodigy" didn't come about by happenstance. He earned his accolades: his BJJ world title (the first won by an American), the praise received for his boxing ability and his two UFC World titles in two separate divisions, a feat only achieve by one other (Randy Couture).

And yet when discussing the all-time greatest MMA fighter, I think of five or six men, none of whom are BJ Penn. I think of Fedor Emelianenko, Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, Couture Matt Hughes and Chuck Liddell when considering legacies. Meanwhile, I think of Penn in that next tier alongside men like Andrei Arlovski and Dan Henderson.

And for the life of me, I could not remember why I had made that distinction in the lead-up to this fight. But then the fight happened, and I remembered.

As I watched the 33-year-old BJ Penn fight against newcomer on the scene Rory MacDonald, I was reminded of BJ's issues. It looked like motivation was again lacking in his game. He never really shot in for a takedown, and in fact got himself taken down.

To be fair, he is exiting his prime, was coming out of retirement and faced a true superstar-in-the-making in MacDonald. That said, though, he just looked at the end of the fight like a man who had gone well beyond his depth and could no longer fight in the welterweight division.

I have to agree with Dana White when he said BJ has nothing left to prove and that he's probably better off retiring. As good an athlete as BJ is, his career after becoming champion left him not as hungry for dominance as the other men above him all-time. I'd guess in hindsight that he wasn't truly motivated, seeing how a motivated Penn would have worked to get down to the lightweight division he dominated.

And if he really did want back in the discussion and was near his peak against MacDonald, age really didn't help him in that fight.

BJ should never be considered a slouch. He's easily a top 10 all-time fighter. But to be in the GOAT discussion, the standards heighten, and something is missing, just as it always has.

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Finally breaking the walls down - Juan Manuel Marquez

Meanwhile, it took a few years, but Juan Manuel Marquez finally has that feather in his cap that places him in an elite pantheon of fighters.

As I sat down the morning after JMM's first official victory against Manny Pacquiao, I thought about my time watching boxing and who were all-time greats I've seen. In the lower-middle weights (Featherweight-Super Welterweight), I thought of Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad, Shane Mosley, Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Ricardo Castillo, Diego Corrales, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. (Julio Cesar Chavez and Hector Camacho were well past their prime when I started watching.)

All of those men had drawn my attention as men who could go into multiple weight classes and dominate, and I left myself to consider JMM's place among them.

As I thought of his series with Pacquiao and went over his grand body of work, one thing that I really noticed was that JMM really didn't have any bad losses on his record. He lost two fights early in his career, two contested losses to Pacquiao, one to Mayweather and one to featherweight Chris John.

The Mayweather loss isn't really that bad considering that Marquez was jumping two weight classes to a weight he'd never fought at, and that Mayweather even then weighed in over the limit, meaning that Pretty Boy Floyd had a massive size advantage that night.

And the Chris John loss isn't bad either. He's an undefeated, legitimate champion. The only reason he doesn't get more love is because he never leaves his weight class. JMM never had a chance to rematch him because John never leaves the class while JMM grew too big for the weight class less than a year later.

His performances (and ultimate KO6 victory) against Pacquiao really are his signature moments and define his career. The fact that at nearly age 40 he was able to still prove to be not only a threat, but an equal to Pacquiao should earn him a slot in the discussion among the greatest fighters I've seen.

Assuming that he isn't caught for juicing, he will go down as a legendary counter-puncher, a man who (to this point) has never been knocked out (even when grossly outsized) and the first man to ever stop knock out Pacquiao.

I don't know how much longer he can keep up these performances, but with the strength he showed, I wouldn't mind if he took another crack at Mayweather or if he fought Pacquiao one final time.

I always said that if Pacquiao-Mayweather never happened, then boxing would have to hope that someone took them down and could capitalize off the win to keep the big PPV paydays coming. JMM doesn't have many fights left, but he certainly elevated on Saturday night.

Truly amazing.

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