By Cliff Rold
There are times a fight occurs a little off the radar and it’s so good that it doesn’t matter what happened among bigger stars or on bigger stages. 2001 was a little like that, Mickey Ward-Emmanuel Augustus beating out a Bernard Hopkins-Felix Trinidad because it was just that good.
There are other times when an inferior action fight is just so big that it doesn’t matter what happened in the ring elsewhere. 1996 is a great example, Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson I getting the nod over Marco Antonio Barrera-Kennedy McKinney and Arturo Gatti-Wilson Rodriguez. The Heavyweight fight was plenty good; the other two were better in the ring.
But it was Holyfield, and Tyson, and it was huge.
In a 2012 with multiple high quality fights, the question of the very best of them came down to just two. Those two aren’t like the examples in 2001 or 1996. This was a choice between two fights that, on their own, were action classics. One was clearly bigger. The other, second for second, may have had a bit more violence.
This year, a fitting analogy might come from 1982.
In that year, Aaron Pryor-Alexis Arguello I and Bobby Chacon-Bazooka Limon IV stood out from the crowd. The latter took the nod at Ring Magazine only for the former to later be named that publication’s “Fight of the Decade.” Both were fantastic fights (and, admittedly, either would have won out over the choices this year). Chacon-Limon IV, blow for blow, may have been more violent. Pryor-Arguello I featured the higher quality pedigree.
The implication in the “Decade” selection was about a test of time.
Pryor-Arguello I stood it, stands it, more than Chacon-Limon IV.
By a narrow, two-vote staff margin, BoxingScene has sided with the higher pedigreed bout, one that will surely stand its own test of time. The BoxingScene 2012 Fight of the Year is Juan Manuel Marquez-Manny Pacquiao IV.
Pacquiao jumped out to an early lead, taking the opening two rounds with speed and movement. Marquez didn’t necessarily have knockout on his mind, but certainly fought with the mentality of a fighter who wasn’t going to fall prey to the judges any more in this long-running series.
A taste of that came in round three when Marquez shocked Pacquiao as well as the capacity crowd of 16,438 when a right hand dropped the Filipino for the first time in this series. Marquez had previously suffered four knockdowns – including three in their very first round together back in May ’04 – but has come across as the stronger fighter in each of the past two bouts.
Pacquiao shook off the blow but still didn’t seem all the way back. Marquez knew it was a matter of time before he would eventually close the show, but wasn’t about to rush to judgment.
“I wanted to be calm,” Marquez revealed after the fight. “After I knocked him down the first time, I had to be patient. I knew that with one punch, Manny could turn around and knock me out.”
Marquez wasn’t too far off in his logic. Pacquiao rallied back to score a knockdown of his own in a fifth round that – along with the fight and its ending – will be remembered come year-end awards time. A straight left knocked Marquez off balance, forcing the Mexican to touch his glove to the canvas. The knockdown suffered was his first in this series since being dropped in the fourth round of their March ’08 encounter.
“He caught me with a good punch,” Marquez admitted. “After that he was very quick. But I was strong and knew I had it in me to win the fight.”
The thing about Marquez’ trips to the canvas was that he always came back to outbox Pacquiao over the course of the remaining rounds in those bouts, only to come up short on the cards. The pattern didn’t at all hold up here, as he was forced to withstand another Pacquiao rally towards the end of the fifth after stunning the southpaw himself.
Stunning is one of just many ways to describe the sixth round, or at least its ending.
Marquez fell back behind, as Pacquiao began to slice up his old rival. Blood was beginning to ooze as momentum appeared to swing back in the direction of the man who won more championships than any other in boxing history.
Then came the right hand heard ‘round the world.
A counter right crashed on Pacquiao’s jaw, a split second after Marquez was able to avoid the straight left ripping in his direction. Pacquiao crashed upon impact, lying face-first and motionless on the canvas as the fight was waved off.
The official time was 2:59 of round six, leaving fans and viewers in jaw-dropping disbelief. The only two who didn’t seem overwhelmingly surprised were the two fighters themselves.
“He got me with a good shot. That’s boxing. Sometimes you get hit,” Pacquiao said.
Examining the context of the contest, and the possibility of more to come in this rivalry, the following was added in a post-fight report card one week later :
Marquez didn’t get a Pacquiao one could call distracted or out of synch. This was the best Pacquiao anyone had seen since he went primal on Antonio Margarito. His footwork was good. His left was sizzling. The right hook almost decked Marquez in the fifth after Pacquiao scored the balance knockdown with the left that bedeviled Marquez on the cards in the first two fights.
Pacquiao was in his zone.
Marquez knocked him out anyways. That’s a great moment. That’s a great fight.
This fight will force some historical reevaluation of both men. Marquez’s stature rises into a Chavez-esque air. This is arguably the greatest win for a Mexican fighter since Chavez-Taylor and rates with Baby Arizmendi’s wins over Henry Armstrong. While there is lots of scuttle on who was working with Marquez for the fight, and varied PED speculation around him after years circling Pacquiao, if the post-fight tests come back clean (and one should assume they will) all we have is the result.
Consider this: Marquez was at his best at Featherweight and yet made all his greatest victories past 30 years of age above the limit. He finally has the concrete, on paper result that codifies his greatness in a way no debates about scoring ever could have. That he did it to Pacquiao is impressive considering the chin Pacquiao has shown.
Pacquiao had been stopped twice early in his career but neither was anything like this. Rustico Torrecampo sort of landed a punch when a simultaneous headbutt/low blow also crashed home. Medgoen Singsurat landed a fair body shot in a Flyweight title fight where Pacquiao badly missed weight before jumping all the way to Jr. Featherweight.
Pacquiao has shown one of the better beards in the game, not dropped since 2004 and not even too badly hurt since a fight with Nedal Hussein in 2000. Marquez cracked it like an egg in traffic.
The result was a come to Jesus moment for Pacquiao fans much the same way Antonio Tarver-Roy Jones II was for the Jones faithful. The desire to rate their guy with that super rare air of Robinson and Langford was put into some context. One can be among the greatest ever to lace them up, and still have a ways to go to catch the Mount Rushmore types in the sweet science.
In 2009, this scribe noted that if a fighter in this era was ever truly to make a run on those sorts of legends, they would have to do something like what Manny appeared to be doing. After already having a Hall of Fame career through his run at 130, Manny was on the edge of trying for some truly insane stuff following excellent wins over Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto. He might not have got there, but he looked like he was going to try.
He, or his team, or both…they blinked a little. When Team Pacquiao seemed to be more responsible for pulling the cord on a Mayweather fight in March 2010, future choices made balanced money against tests. Joshua Clottey was a solid Welterweight contender; Margarito and Shane Mosley were widely and fairly derided, the latter especially so.
The third Marquez fight was cynically made, only to come back to bite. Timothy Bradley was a step back in the right direction. Had he finished Marquez on Saturday, the buzz would have been back on.
Instead, it was lights out.
It doesn’t mean Pacquiao isn’t one of the best fighters of the last however the hell long anyone wants to measure. He, and Marquez, are Hall of Fame all time greats with a bullet. But late in his run, he succumbed to a sort of business first approach that may have cost him a chance to be rated even higher than he eventually will be.
And that will still be high. He’s still the first fighter in history to win four lineal, legitimate world titles. He certainly won at least one of the Marquez fights. He engaged in an epic rivalry with three of the greatest Mexicans ever to lace gloves, going 6-2-1. He held various belts across eight weight classes from 1998 to 2012.
That is astounding stuff, stuff that rates favorably with immortals like Jimmy McLarnin and Tony Canzoneri. The outcome on Saturday was astounding as well. The only real option left for him in that light is a fifth Marquez fight. For the first time in this epic rivalry, it’s Manny who needs the fight more. It’s Manny who has something more to prove.
Given how great the first four fights have been, regardless of who wins, there isn’t much that would be more worth looking forward to in 2013.
Are Marquez and Pacquiao done making history? Are they done with each other? The world will know soon enough. For now, it was enough to top three amazing fights with the 2012 Fight of the Year.
Brandon Rios TKO7 Mike Alvarado: (Five (5) first-place votes received) – As anticipated a red meat fight as boxing had all year, this Jr. Welterweight clash of undefeated warriors met and exceeded expectations. Both men came in with something to prove. Rios entered having lost his Lightweight title on the scales in 2011 and then, in the eyes of many, just plain losing his only other fight in 2012 to Richard Abril. Alvarado was looking to move to the next level after a come from behind win over Breidis Prescott and crowd-pleasing battle with Mauricio Herrera.
Alvarado jogged out of his corner at the opening bell. Both men tested with their jabs, Rios stepping in with some hard shots to the body. Alvarado, sticking with attempts to establish the jab, fired back to the body after a second Rios salvo. Rios scored with a right over the shoulder guard of Alvarado and then scored with a pair of lefts to the head. Alvarado answered back with a combination to the head and right to the body.
Rios drew first blood, Alvarado’s nose showing a trickle. He didn’t seem to notice as both men fired hard in the trenches down the stretch to the bell.
Again they began with measuring jabs in the second, Rios again going to the body first. The pretense of boxing settled into hard inside fighting before a minute has passed. They traded massive right hands and each man kept their hands moving until a big uppercut broke through for Alvarado. Rios shook it off, landing to the body and with a left to the head. Alvarado answered with a booming right. Rios blocked a right upstairs and they were shoulder to shoulder for most of the final minute, Rios nailing Alvarado with a clean left and a right before the bell.
A small welt was forming under the left eye of Alvarado as the third round began. Rios missed a combo in the first minute and took a right as Alvarado responded in kind.
Alvarado used his right to loop around the high guard of Rios twice, Rios opting to stay close and keep digging. A Rios right landed stiff and Alvarado blasted him with a left to freeze any follow up. Rios connected with two lefts inside the minute mark and this time Alvarado used a right to get his back. A Rios right landed and Rios came on with a series of shots as the crowd chanted his name loudly.
Alvarado’s right eye was also showing bruising as the fourth started; Rios was red across the bridge of the nose. Alvarado worked well of the jab in the first minute, his right hand again coming around Rios’s guard. Rios landed a left as the midway point of the round neared. More and more, Alvarado was trying to create space with the jab as Rios stayed ever ready to get inside. He paid for it, taking a nasty left, but he came back with one of his own. Both men landed jarring lefts in the closing seconds of the round.
The first big blow of the fifth was a right from Alvarado; he did it again before the first minute was done. A right uppercut and two more right crosses came across the bow. Rios, being countered silly in spots, just kept coming, firing and taking the worst of it as Alvarado multiplied leather on his face. Rios came back and found some punches to make Alvarado think. What Alvarado apparently thought was that he’d go back to landing hard and make sure he won the round.
As the sixth began, Rios’s right eye was now showing wear. Neither man fought like they minded. Both men landed short, chopping shots at center ring, Alvarado staying a step ahead in terms of clean, eye-catching shots. After taking the best of some Rios lefts, Alvarado backed Rios off with a right. Rios replied by rocking Alvarado with a right but the Colorado native didn’t stay buckled long, biting down and stepping back in for a crowd pleasing exchange to draw the round closed.
Both men now showing blood from the nose, Alvarado landed the first big shots of the seventh. Rios landed a terrific right hand just inside the halfway point and Alvarado was rocked. His man in trouble, Rios did what he does best.
Another right hand turned Alvarado almost all the way around, sending him into the ropes. Another right hand landed against the ropes and Alvarado, his eyes dazed, held his arms out high and loose, his sense separated from his physical intentions. With Rios coming forward to dish out more, Russell stepped in to save Alvarado at 1:57 of the seventh round.
It was so awesome it appears a sequel is already imminent for the first half of 2013. Get ready for round eight.
03/10/2012: Orlando Salido TKO10 Juan Manuel Lopez – Great once and then again, this rematch for the WBO Featherweight title was the early leader for Fight of the Year honors and was every bit the savage classic the two vote leaders were. Both men were on the deck, Salido in the fifth and Lopez in the tenth, an incredible ninth-round full of two-way action the highlight in between. Ultimately, Salido proved too tough for the talented but vulnerable Lopez, just as he did the first time around.
03/25/2012: Dennis Laurente TKO12 Eusebio Baluarte – A wild night in the Philippines saw the veteran Welterweight Laurente down in the first only to roar back with a vicious body attack. Baluarte couldn’t sustain and couldn’t weather the storm, dropped and then overwhelmed for the stoppage with no time left on the clock.
04/14/2012: Mike Alvarado W10 Mauricio Herrera – Alvarado set the table for his showdown with Rios in this action-packed affair. While he won decisively on two of three scorecards, Herrera never went away. With more of a knockout shot, it might have been a different night. As it was, both men left with their stock raised.
06/20/2012: Kazuto Ioka W12 Akira Yaegashi – The first unification match at 105 lbs. since the Ricardo Lopez-Rosendo Alvarez rivalry in the 1990s, and the first unification match between two Japanese fighters ever, was worth the wait. Yaegashi battled through a bad eye to keep in the face of the less experienced but talented Ioka, reminding fans of the moxie he showed in winning the 2011 BoxingScene Fight of the Year.
07/14/2012: Danny Garcia TKO4 Amir Khan – Behind after two rounds and cut in the second, Garcia scored a knockdown in the third and two in the fourth to unify his WBC 140 lb. title with Khan’s WBA belt. It was as exciting a four round fight as boxing has seen since Jose Luis Ramirez-Edwin Rosario II. It was a reminder of how thrilling the incredible imbalance between Khan’s talent and chin can be for fight watchers.
11/17/2012: Roman Gonzalez W12 Juan Estrada/Brian Viloria TKO10 Hernan Marquez – This pairing at the L.A. Sports Arena may have been the finest 1-2 punch on the same card since the first Jorge Arce-Hussein Hussein and Manny Pacquiao-Erik Morales fights shared a bill in 2005. Gonzalez got a spirited test for all 12 rounds to keep his 108 lb. title and stole the show from the more anticipated main event. The main event still managed to live up to the hype, Viloria scoring three knockdowns over ten rounds to win the first Flyweight unification match since the alphabet organizations first split the crown in 1965.
11/24/2012: Robert Guerrero W12 Andre Berto – Any lingering doubts about the viability of the former Featherweight Guerrero at Welterweight evaporated when he dropped Berto in the first and second rounds. Berto, battling through a badly swollen eye, took a beating in the trenches but never gave in and fans saw the sort of nasty infighting rarely allowed these days for the rest of the night. It was a tribute to the notion of ‘letting them fight’ and may have earned Guerrero a crack at lineal World Welterweight Champion Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]