The Marquez brothers go for a double-hitter

Times Staff Writer

The parents of Rafael and Juan Manuel Marquez were no different from most in their lesson giving: Say your prayers, resist the dead end of gangs and drugs, think positive.

The difference was getting that message to stick in the poor Mexico City borough of Iztapalapa, where the brothers navigated violent streets surrounded by gang members, drug dealers and other “bad people,” as Juan Manuel called them.

Directing the Marquez boys and six siblings were their father, a journeyman boxer, and mother, a housewife.


The sports fields were a haven. The boys played soccer, basketball and football, sometimes alongside those who would stay late to engage in the town’s more dangerous extracurricular activities.

“Our parents told us there are many ways to live,” Juan Manuel said. “We knew about the bad ways of the street guys. We wanted to be nice guys, to play sports and live well.”

They made it.

Beginning Saturday, the Marquez brothers will be fighting to accomplish the unprecedented feat of brothers holding simultaneous World Boxing Council titles, according to WBC executive Mauricio Sulaiman.

Already the International Boxing Federation bantamweight champion, Rafael, 31, is moving up in weight to fight champion Israel Vazquez for the WBC’s super-bantamweight title Saturday at the Home Depot Center.

Two weeks later, former IBF and World Boxing Assn. featherweight champion Juan Manuel, 33, also will step up in weight trying to strip his popular countryman Marco Antonio Barrera of the WBC super-featherweight belt in an HBO pay-per-view bout at Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas.

“This has been something we’ve been waiting for,” Rafael said. “We gave it our all in the past to do something like this. We’re very proud to be part of history.”

The path to joining the list of brother world champions that includes Leon and Michael Spinks, Donald and Bruce Curry, Gabriel and Rafael Ruelas, and Vitali and Wladimir Klitchsko began humbly when Rafael Marquez Sr., now 63, taught his sons to box in a small bedroom of the family’s Iztapalapa home.

“We saw many Mexican fighters down here doing great,” Juan Manuel said. “We thought, ‘Why not make it a career?’ It wasn’t only the money someone like Julio Cesar Chavez was getting, but proving to people, and to myself, that I can do things well.”

Rafael said he “just followed [Juan Manuel] into the gym one day.”

Similarly, Rafael tagged along one day when Juan Manuel went to visit his girlfriend, Erica, and took a liking to her sister Araceli. The brothers wound up marrying the sisters.

“We’ve learned you don’t intervene in either one’s marriage,” Juan Manuel said.

There are differences, however. Juan Manuel is more reserved, Rafael more outgoing.

“My father taught us boxing, but each fight we acquired experience and our styles became different,” Juan Manuel said. “I box more, use a lot of technique. Rafael has no problem just standing in the middle of the ring and trading punches with whoever he’s fighting.”

Away from the ring, their mother, Maria De La Luz Manuel, stressed education and religion. Juan Manuel gained an accounting certificate from a trade college in Mexico. The brothers say they’ve attended Catholic church masses each Sunday since childhood.

The Marquez brothers also have been heavily influenced by their longtime trainer and consultant Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain, whose conditioning routine includes lengthy training stays in the mountains of Nevada de Toluca -- no running water, no electricity, no gas.

“That’s where men are built,” Juan Manuel said.

That grit has been displayed in Juan Manuel’s early-career six-year winning streak, a 2003 knockout of Manuel Medina that gave him the IBF crown, a 2004 WBA title win by TKO over Derrick Gainer and the spirited 2004 draw he gained with Manny Pacquiao despite suffering three first-round knockdowns.

A chance for a lucrative rematch with Pacquiao never materialized, however, as Juan Manuel and Beristain argued with Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, ultimately rejecting a $700,000 offer. Juan Manuel then lost the belts in Indonesia to Chris John. He is now promoted by Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions.

“Juan Manuel doesn’t regret not staying with someone who wants to keep most of the money without throwing any of the punches,” the Marquez’s advisor, Jaime Quintana, said of Arum.

Rafael also said he left Top Rank -- for Gary Shaw Productions -- to seek greater purses. He has won 15 consecutive fights since 2000, including an eighth-round TKO over 5-1 favorite Tim Austin in a 2003 IBF bantamweight title fight and two consecutive TKOs of bantamweight challenger Silence Mabuza.

As the brothers attempt to advance their careers with Rafael fighting a Showtime main event and Juan Manuel taking on the Mexican legend Barrera in a pay-per-view headliner, they will be missing their father in the corner.

Rafael Sr.'s weakened heart has resulted in doctor’s orders to stay home in Mexico City.

“The prescription for his heart not being in great condition is that he try to keep it calm and relaxed and avoid hard emotions,” Rafael said. “He’s still always with us training in the gym, though.”

“We can say this is a tribute to our dad, he taught us everything that we know,” Juan Manuel said. “He didn’t make it big in boxing himself, but if either of us wins, that’s like my father being a champion too.”