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Marquez delights fans in Rio Grande Valley

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Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2012 11:30 pm

HIDALGO — Twelve-year-old Diego Zamora-Strader braved the bitter wind Thursday for a trip to State Farm Arena, where he clutched some boxing gloves and tried to stay warm under his coat.

He knows little of Juan Manuel Márquez, the 39-year-old Mexican WBO light-welterweight champion fresh off his Dec. 8 defeat of Manny Pacquiao in six rounds. All that was on the young man’s mind was the best Christmas gift in the world for his grandpa, autographed gloves from Márquez on an evening the four-division world champion was recognized by the City of Hidalgo with a key to the city during what was heralded as “Juan Manuel Márquez Day.”

“My grandpa’s a huge fan,” Zamora-Strader beamed. “My dad’s here, and I asked my mom if I could go with him, and she said as long as I got my homework done. I did, and now I’m here.

“It’s gonna be a great present.”

Before a raucous crowd that filled up about 30 percent of the arena, Márquez, who holds a career record of 55-6-1 with 40 knockouts, proudly accepted a plaque and the key to the city while being serenaded by a mariachi. It was his first appearance in the United States since his memorable win over Pacquiao, whom he knocked out in the sixth round with a punishing right hand.

It may have been a hit heard around the world, but it was one that was immortalized in Deep South Texas.

“That was amazing,” said Efren Navajar, 26. “It may have been a lucky shot, but you know he’s strong. And, hey, Pacquiao had it coming.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Márquez. I was never really into boxing before him, but he’s made me a fan. He’s great.”

Márquez thanked the audience with a five-minute speech in Spanish that drew passionate chants of “Márquez! Márquez!” Following the ceremony, he signed hundreds of autographs, resulting in a few scrums that forced aggression from security, before heading out through the back of the arena.

Simply by the crowd’s appreciation, it wasn’t difficult to see why the city felt the need to honor someone who represents so much more than an athlete. Thursday’s spectacle wasn’t so much about honoring an individual as it was honoring a people.

“Our culture, being Hispanics and Mexicans, appreciates him as a true champion of Mexicans,” City of Hidalgo Mayor Martin Cepeda said. “We felt we needed to honor this guy, and we did. It’s a celebration.

“This means a lot. Just look at the people here, on a work day during the holidays. We feel honored that he accepted our invitation.”

Immediately after Márquez’s triumph over Pacquiao, Cepeda got in touch with Márquez’s people to bring him to Hidalgo for the presentation. The arrangements came rather smoothly, and his admirers were grateful for it.

“He’s a champion, man,” Navajar said. “He’s the best. He fights for what he believes in.”

Carlos Gutierrez, 32, has been a fan of Márquez since the fighter took down Jimrex Jaca in November 2006 at then-Dodge Arena in this city. A loyal fan, he was there earlier this month in Las Vegas when Márquez knocked out Pacquiao for the first time in 13 years.

Gutierrez brought a photo from the Vegas fight and had it autographed by Márquez, one of many loyalists Márquez left thrilled.

“He means a lot to us,” Gutierrez said. “He helps a lot of poor people down in Mexico, and he’s just a great person overall.

“He’s the type of person people like us want to be associated with.”

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