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  CyberBoxingZone, February 17, 2003

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Flags Dip For Cincinnati Kid



Flags dipped to half-mast in Cincinnati, Ohio last night and it wasn't necessarily in honor of the late Kid Gavilan. Native sons Tim Austin and Ricardo Williams Jr., were handed their first losses at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The doubleheader, broadcast on HBO's Boxing After Dark, featured IBF bantamweight champ Tim "The Cincinnati Kid" Austin (25-1-1, 22KOs) in the main event, gainst heavy-handed Mexican Rafael Marquez (29-3, 27KOs).

The conventional Marquez entered the ring confident of his chances against Austin's southpaw style: His last two victories came against the slick American southpaw Mark "Too Sharp" Johnson; and legendary trainer Nacho Beristain anchors his corner—whose acumen was demonstrated throughout the bout as he doled out honest, sound advice to his charge at critical moments.

Both fighters were tense and cautious in round 1, with neither fighter establishing an advantage. Austin, a notoriously slow starter, only connected with 1 in 40 jabs, and barely threw any straight lefts—his best punch. Although this was his 10th title defense, Austin's inactivity (10 fights in six years) and creeping age (31) was apparent; his legs, which were so far apart he looked to be doing a split, were as stiff as a novice golden glover's. Between rounds Beristain advised Marquez, "Control [his] left hand and you have the fight."

Round 2 offered little action, either. But Marquez made a few adjustments, namely closing the distance between him and Austin, who seemed content to hunt-and-peck, one punch at a time, from outside. The first half of round 3 was a carbon copy of the former round, but in the second half Marquez began to quicken the pace, closing in on and stalking Austin with classic Mexican aggression. Between rounds Beristain bid his fighter to throw combinations—right hands followed by uppercuts and hooks.

45 seconds into round 4, Marquez got Austin's attention with a straight right. The fight officially began to heat up, just as Marquez wanted it to.

The champ cooled Marquez down with a tactical round 5, as his long jab began to land and a few wide right hooks irritated his challenger as well—by this point, Marquez was only anticipating straight 1's and 2's. But HBO's expert commentator Emanuel Steward, who had picked Marquez to win the fight, noted the Mexican's superior fluidity and speed; he got the better of every exchange, Steward observed, whenever he committed to 3- and 4-punch combinations. Conversely, Steward was critical of Austin's ungainly wide stance, which made it impossible for him to throw punches in combination and left him off-balance after getting off.

Stewart had a good chuckle when, between rounds 5 and 6, Austin's trainer Aaron Snowell admonished him to widen his stance and "get in the trench." "Now I see where he gets it from," said Stewart.

At 2:15 into Round 6, Austin found his timing and began to work hooks and digging uppercuts off the jab. Austin controlled the tempo in Round 7, which translated to very few punches (well below the bantamweight average of 62 punches/round), and thrown at a distance suitable to his 70-inch reach. Marquez's fire seemingly tempered, he fought lethargically.

Going into Round 8 Austin had turned things around...Or so it seemed, if not for Nacho Beristain, who bluntly told his fighter he was losing the fight. One senses another trainer might've waited another round or so before sounding the alarm. What was essentially up until now an interesting but somewhat wooden fight, offered an 8th round worthy of Barrera-Morales 1 or even of Gatti-Ward 1.

At the sound of the bell, Marquez established a near frenzied pace. But 30 seconds in, Austin landed several clean power punches; in particular a straight left to the jaw that backed Marquez up and had his eyes rolling back like a couple of slot machine lemons. Just 45 seconds into the round, Marquez was visibly shaken and exhausted. Austin let his punches fly for the first time all night. Marquez managed to hang on and collect himself, though, and exactly halfway through the round, throwing straight lefts and rights to the head, he knocked a dazed Austin threw the ropes. Austin managed to crawl back in the ring and got to his feet at the count of 9—revealing the same mettle as when he once came from behind to defend his title with a broken (not fractured) jaw.The champ was able to stand but do little else, and an emboldened Marquez proceeded to throw punches from every conceivable angle for the next 35 seconds. Referee Vic Drakulich stopped the fight 2:20 into the round.

An elated Rafael Marquez now joins his brother Juan Manuel Marquez, who two weeks ago became the IBF featherweight champion, as one of the few brother-combos in boxing history to become world champions. The Marquez brothers are the first set of brothers to hold titles simultaneously since the Canizalez brothers (Orlando and Gaby in 1991), who incidentally held titles in the same weight class (bantamweight). Tim Austin, who has been marred throughout his career for never having a defining fight as a champion, and for never fighting the best bantamweights of his era—Ayala and Tapia—was gracious in defeat. He will now in all likelihood move up in weight and campaign in the competitive featherweight division.

In the 10-round undercard, 140-pound Ricardo Williams, Jr. (8-0, 5 KOs) lost a unanimous decision to last-minute substitute Juan "Pollo" Valenzuela (15-6, 6 KOs). Williams, a 2000 Olympic silver medallist and recipient of the largest signing bonus ($1 million) among the recent Olympians, was scheduled to fight Juan Carlos Rubio (28-6-2). Rubio, who would have been a formidable opponent for Williams, is a technical fighter best known for spoiling the auspicious beginning of another touted 140-pound 2000 Olympian, Francisco Bojado. Instead, Williams got more than he bargained for in Valenzuela. What Valenzuela lacks in skill he makes up for in determination and cojones. (And I can't think of a more inaccurate moniker than "pollo" (chicken) for this 22-year-old pressure fighter—who, incidentally, derailed the career of another hot prospect Julio Diaz; and also hails from Julio Caesar Chavez's hometown, Culican, Mexico.)

From the opening bell Williams had his hands full with Valenzuela, who is essentially a junior middleweight, weighing 157 the day of the fight to Williams' 149. Williams is a cute fighter with good hand-speed, but he is a genuine 140-pounder who has no business getting into the ring looking soft and overweight (144) as he did Saturday night.

For the first part of the fight, Williams relied on lateral movement and light contact punches in an attempt to fend off the Energizer Bunny Valenzuela. But the Mexican had no trouble popping right hand leads in Williams' face all night long, and as the fight wore on, Williams could no longer box on his toes and was forced to settle down and fight the bigger man. The American demonstrated an impressive defense rarely seen in such a young fighter; angling his body or moving his head just so, he rarely got hit flush. Still, he absorbed more punishment in this fight than in all his other pro bouts combined. To his credit, he fought like a warrior in the 10th round and exhibited the same grit that he did in the Olympic finals when he lost a decision to Mohamed Abdulaev. The CBZ scored it a draw, the judges were not so kind: 98-92, 97-93, 97-93.

Ricardo Williams has all the boxing ability in the world, but until he starts training like a champion, he will not be the $1 million baby as promised. Larry Merchant summed up the verdict well in his post-fight comments: "When you don't take an opponent seriously, he becomes a serious opponent."




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