By Thomas Gerbasi
If Manny Pacquiao’s June loss to Timothy Bradley taught us anything, it’s that it really doesn’t matter what the end result is, people just want to see the Filipino icon fight.
Whether it’s on huge screens in Times Square, in Hollywood’s Wildcard Gym, or at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas (the site of his fourth bout with Juan Manuel Marquez on Saturday) all that matters is that the ever-smiling congressman from General Santos City puts on the gloves, steps into the ring, and gives the boxing business the financial and attention-getting jolt he always provides.
The proof is in the fact that Bradley is sitting home in Palm Springs waiting for a possible February bout against the dreaded TBA, Floyd Mayweather is counting his money in Las Vegas with no return date announced yet, and Pacquiao keeps moving along, staying to the two fight a year schedule he’s kept since 2009. Nice work if you can get it, and if he doesn’t have a championship belt to bring into the ring with him on Saturday thanks to Bradley, no problem; he’ll have the extra check in his pocket for Christmas to console him.
So for all intents and purposes, it’s as if the month of June and its subsequent defeat for Pacquiao - his first since a 2005 loss to Erik Morales that was twice avenged by knockout - never even happened.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Pacquiao that showed up that night in Las Vegas looked listless and bored throughout the 12 rounder with Bradley, allowing the Californian to steal a highly controversial decision win. And though I agree that Pacquiao should have gotten the nod, his decision to basically coast in the closing stages of the fight doesn’t leave much room for sympathy.
When it was over, Pacquaio was incredulous, but fairly subdued. It was a classy response, no doubt, but also one that made you wonder how much fire he had left in his belly for this most taxing of sports. Sure, he’s seemingly always at his best in the midst of chaos, with a 20 deep entourage around him, endless media obligations, and countless speculative stories about everything but what he does between the ropes.
Yet as the media walls closed in on Pacquiao over the last couple years, with even greater scrutiny of his finances and personal life, the one place where he would usually find refuge – at least for 36 minutes or less – wasn’t as friendly a place for him.
That was a welcome development for Marquez, who continues to be his greatest nemesis, and especially for Bradley, who seemingly struck gold in June only to find out it wasn’t as much treasure as he assumed. Because let’s face it, the Pacquiao who wrecked Ricky Hatton in two rounds, blitzed Oscar De La Hoya, and punished Miguel Cotto and Morales (in their latter two fights) wouldn’t have let Bradley off the hook when he rocked him early on, and if Bradley did survive, Pacquiao’s continuous pressure and endless swarm of punches would have made eventual escape from the canvas an impossibility.
The early-2012 version of Congressman Pacquiao fought like a politician, careful to not hurt anyone publicly in the course of his duties before ending everything with a smile.
It was a disappointing performance to say the least, and it’s why Saturday’s fight is not only a pivotal one for Pacquiao, but one in which he has the perfect foil in front of him.
Marquez, at 39, has defied all odds in remaining relevant way past what is the usual fighters’ sell-by date, and most of that has to do with the fact that no one has fought so evenly for so long with Pacquiao and still emerged relatively unscathed; so unscathed that there are those out there with solid arguments that the Mexico City native has won all three fights between the two. That’s a remarkable feat in itself, but you would have to assume that on pure boxing physics alone, Marquez couldn’t possibly extend Pacquiao the distance once again and – shockingly – hand him a defeat.
And maybe that’s why Bob Arum, Top Rank, Pacquiao, and his trainer Freddie Roach decided that a fourth fight with Marquez not only makes sense financially, but also aesthetically. What better way is there for Pacquiao to beat the drum once again for a Megafight with Mayweather than by not just defeating, but knocking out his fiercest rival?
In doing so, Pacquiao not only re-establishes himself as the best in the game, but he brings back the style that allowed him to transcend the sport. And in the lead-in to the fight, it looks like Pacquiao realizes that he may have gotten off track in recent bouts by trying to show off more of his boxing ability when the opportunities have presented themselves. This time, it seems as if the Filipino dervish just wants to fight.
“Right now my mind is focused on being more aggressive for this fight,” said Pacquiao during a recent media teleconference. “If there is a chance in the ring during the fight, why not make the fight easy if I have the opportunity?”
Why not indeed, especially since their first fight in 2004 featured three first round knockdowns by Pacquiao before Marquez stormed back to win the majority of the remaining rounds, only to receive a draw verdict for his trouble. If referee Joe Cortez stops that fight, we probably aren’t talking about Pacquiao-Marquez IV today, but Cortez did give Marquez the opportunity to continue, the future Hall of Famer responded, and he hasn’t stopped giving Pacquiao fits yet.
But Mean Manny, the guy who made an immediate impact on the world scene with his destruction of Lehlo Ledwaba in 2001 and kept delivering vicious performance after vicious performance until he recently became the boxing version of civilized, may be back in town this weekend. And for that version of Pacquiao, it’s not about the money, the attention, the Jimmy Kimmel appearances. It’s about the fight and making the guy in the other corner not want to ever see him again.
If Mean Manny shows up in the ring, you can guarantee there will be no fifth fight with Juan Manuel Marquez.