Perhaps the one match-up worth seeing right now that isn't named "Manny Pacquiao vs Floyd Mayweather, Jr." is "Floyd Mayweather, Jr. vs Juan Manuel Marquez"--well, arguably at least. It may not carry as big a marquee ring to it as the first, but it is as big a fight as that is. The argument can be made that Marquez is the real #1 P4P fighter in the world, having knocked out Juan Diaz in stunning fashion after a brutal war earlier in the year and taking Pacquiao to the brink in their two encounters (and for the record, I thought he won the first and lost the second--both by a round). On the other hand, Mayweather once held the mythical title for a good while, but has last fought nearly two years ago. With a date against the Pacman looming just beyond, he'll need to get by a man that not only fights nearly as well as him, but has his own plans of getting after the fighter.
Juan Manuel Marquez is without a doubt the best and most difficult opponent that Mayweather has faced yet. That he's fighting someone of his caliber is a both a surprise (he's actually facing someone that can pose a real threat to him) and a calculated move. A win over a fighter close to Pacquiao's attributes means he'll have good understanding at what to expect from the current P4P king and how to deal with him, not to mention that it would be the signature victory of his career to date and hush many of his critics (maybe even me). That said, Marquez isn't a pushover and stands a very good chance at beating him. He possesses power and speed that can rival his archnemesis Filipino and has more experience than either him or Mayweather. With that, he has developed an impressive boxing mind that could potentially give the knowledgeable Mayweather fits and enough physicality to put him in jeopardy. Juan Manuel Marquez has more than enough in him to decisively beat him, especially someone whose been away from the ring for the length that he has been.
Ah, but things are not so easy and simple as that. Marquez, despite all of his prowess in speed, tenacity, power, and counterpunching, is susceptible to fast hands (like a good number of like fighters). He has also proven vulnerable to being knocked down by sudden shots, making both factors a dangerous combination. This was most evident in the Pacquiao fights, where he was famously downed three times in the first round of the first and once midway through the rematch. In both instances, he managed to make it a close fight, with many thinking he won both. However, that was not the case at the end of either, as he drew and narrowly lost them, respectively. Though he is hard to hurt and has an otherwise strong jaw, his propensity for flash knockdowns has been an impediment to what could have been potential victories. This aspect is very advantageous for Mayweather, whose inate skills fit such scenarios like a puzzle piece. It's also rational to suggest that if he had trouble handling Pacquiao's speed, he would have just as difficult a time--if not worse--against the blindingly fast former champion.
Mayweather-Marquez is not an easy fight to give a definitive prediction to, given the factors going into it. What may be the deciding factors may be the action at the beginning, the stamina past the midpoint, and how either fighter handles the other. Marquez has some notoriety in being a slow starter, like Mayweather (though the former is colder), and both like to pour it on later in the bout. While they are flexible with their gameplans, Marquez might be more so, being either the counterpuncher or the aggressor from the start and throughout the fight, adapting when needed (as a counterpuncher, though, he has a tendency of fighting at the pace and fights of others). Mayweather, though, is at his sharpest and most dangerous in the latter stages, where Marquez has fluctuated between being fatigued and being on-the-ball, sometimes within a single round (Mayweather has exhibited some fatigue and relaxation there before, but chiefly against lesser opponents or when he has a wide lead). As such, perhaps the biggest deciding factor will be their in-ring "demeanor". Both are opporitunitistic, so if Marquez does not rise to the occasion in his biggest fight and is crushed under the pressure to impress (or of speed), or if Mayweather cannot shake off the ring rust or answer the pressure of his opponent's attacks, then either one will be ripe for the picking and reaper will benefit from it with an easy night and "impressive" win (however competitive).
Contrary to their normal ways, both fighters will most likely try to establish their place and pace and start off briskly after a very short "feeling out" period. Afterwords, Marquez might be the more offensive one and pressure Mayweather, but he'll probably rely on his counterpunching to perhaps catch him as he reacclimates to being back in the ring. Mayweather will most likely take his time and not do anything too risky on the outset, reserving his energy for later and focus on picking his shots with crisp jabs and bursts of fast-hitting combinations to both score points with the judges and keep Marquez at bay. Both fighters will certainly be very mobile, but Mayweather will be the most on the move. From Round 4 on, it'll be anyone's game--precisely, whoever can establish their plans and themselves most thoroughly from the start.
Absolute recognition as Pound-4-Pound king and a date with the current king, Manny Pacquiao, awaits (bearing that he gets through Miguel Cotto in November). A victory will be the highest moment in one man's career and a defining loss in the other's. For Juan Manuel Marquez--win and he can cement his legacy in becoming the first person to defeat Mayweather and claim another shot at finally besting his archrival. Lose and it may very well be the last time he'll ever get a chance at reaching the top, much less a match against the fighter he really wants, not to mention that he could never be victorious over the very best in the world. For Floyd Mayweather, Jr.--victory means another affirmation of his greatness--that he "still has it", and that no one--not even Pacquiao--could ever have a shot at beating him. Defeat and it means that all of those doubters and detractors were right, that he was "exposed"...that his legacy, like his unblemished, undefeated record, is tarnished and in question. Come Saturday night in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand, who will be the one to claim the "stakes" and get one step closer to the pinnacle of the sport?
Prediction: Marquez, Majority Decision (if mindset is not right or can't handle speed, Mayweather, TKO8). Perhaps going against my better judgement and the facts in front of me, but I think that Marquez has the tools and the mentality to put it together and best Mayweather in a close but definite decision. Many have brought up Marquez moving up two weight classes as a potential problem, including the fact that Mayweather is a natural in the 140-lbs range where they are fighting, but whatever goes down in the ring would have likely occurred whether the "catch weight" was favorable to Marquez or was at some mythical "P4P" level. It will come down to a test of skill, mind, and durability. The extra weight on Marquez and Mayweather coming two pounds over the 144-lbs catchweight, plus his own potential rustiness, may play major roles in terms of the latter, but having the right mindset and utilizing the best of their skills is just as important in the outcome. That said, Mayweather might not be as focused and intent as Marquez, who has more to gain from a win than he does and has the ability to frustrate him and take him off his plan. It's not a given, and if Marquez is enveloped in the moment, can't provide an answer to Mayweather's speed, or doesn't bring everything at him (and play it smart), Mayweather will have his day--and his fight against Manny Pacquiao.
Outcome: Mayweather, UD. Well, it looks like not only did the speed get to him, a lack of an answer for it and the weight issue proved to be Marquez's undoing (though by some of the footage, it looked more like the former). Going by ESPN's round-by-round report, Mayweather indeed had his way and then some as he dodged Marquez's advances and fired away at the slower fighter. He scored a knockdown in the second and seemed to have him reeling throughout, though that trip to the canvas was of little importance to Mayweather's chances for victory, as it looked to be a complete wash. With a definitive victory in hand (perhaps his most impressive), Mayweather proves that he still has it, cementing his legacy in the process, and gets a shot at Manny Pacquiao (if he defeats Miguel Cotto), who's chances against him just got a little tighter. For Marquez, his last chance at getting Pacquiao seems to have evaporated (unless he loses the Cotto fight, in which he would be the next logical opponent for a payday), and he has yet to beat the top elite. After such a thorough beating, it remains to be seen how well he rebound from it and climb back to challenge them.