While hundreds of fighters with dreams of Olympic and professional glory will gather in Lake Charles in December, one man who lived those dreams will hope to be in attendance.
Former Olympian and world champion Raul Marquez hopes to return to Louisiana, a state in which has many connections, to watch his son Giovanni compete for a spot on Team USA in the U.S. Trials. Raul represented the U.S. at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, reaching the quarterfinal round.
Giovanni will compete in a qualifying event in Columbus, Ohio, this weekend in hopes of qualifying for the Olympic Trials in Lake Charles in December.
As a pro, Marquez won the IBF super welterweight championship and finished with a 41-4-1 record. Three of his wins came in Louisiana, two in Kinder and one in Lake Charles. He won the title against Shreveport native Anthony Stephens in 1997 and held his first defense against Romallis Ellis in Lake Charles. Marquez defended the title twice before losing to Luis Ramon Campos and later lost title fights to Fernando Vargas and Jermain Taylor.
Marquez became familiar with the state as a child, making the trip from Houston with his dad to compete in weekend tournaments.
"I've always had a nice, competitive relationship with the state of Louisiana," he said. "I traveled with my father to compete in various tournaments, to get that experience and keep that dream alive. We couldn't afford a hotel room so we'd drive back the same night."
Marquez's path to Barcelona featured an obstacle from Louisiana. At the Trials preceding the 1992 Olympics, he was drawn against Houma's Robert Allen in his first fight. The two were regarded as the favorites to qualify for the team. Marquez stopped Allen in the third round of a fight many called the best of the event.
"At that point I was one of the top guys," he recalled. "This guy was knocking everyone out at nationals. He was trying to take my dream away. He was a Marine. At the draw when our names were pulled to face each other first, everyone went ‘Oooh' because it was going to be a war. It was the fight of the tournament. It was huge for me. I went on to make the Olympics."
Marquez said the trip to Barcelona was a career highlight.
"That is the best feeling in the world, putting on that USA shirt," he said. "The memories that I have, just walking in the opening ceremony, I will never forget those. It was unbelievable. The Dream Team was there — Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson. Athletes from all over the world. It is a big, worldwide event.
"Once you are an Olympian, you will be for life. I wanted to represent my country, as well as my Mexican heritage. It was a great honor. The importance of making an Olympic team is important for your career down the line."
Marquez advised Trialists Michael Angeletti and Virginia Fuchs to not underestimate the opponents they will face in Lake Charles.
"I told these guys to not take anyone for granted," he said. "Everyone is tough, it is so competitive. Train hard and respect all the athletes. It is so hard to get here. I know, I have been there. It is going to be a fun week, the best of the best, USA boxing. I love it."
Marquez, an analyst for Showtime, said the sport taught him many life lessons.
"Boxing was good for me, helped me stay away from the bad influences, helped me be more disciplined," he said. "I have been all over the world and met a lot of great people. Boxing has been good to me, it led me on the right path."