by David P. Greisman
It will be one of the biggest events of 2012. It will dominate conversation as the year reaches its end. It will be seen by a majority of the citizens in the Philippines, by many of the residents of Mexico, and by a bare minimum of several hundreds of thousands in the United States. It will make millions at the box office and tens of millions in pay-per-view revenue.
The event that is Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez 4 will be made to seem special, but it won’t be as special as their first three. It can’t be.
It’s a surprising conclusion to reach regarding Manny Pacquiao when you realize that despite his ascent from sporting stardom into a sensational cult of pugilistic personality, there’s still only a handful of opponents for him that can truly raise the hairs on the back of your neck.
The long-discussed, long-debated and long-delayed collision with Floyd Mayweather is foremost on that list. With that still not happening, the only opponents mentioned for Pacquiao for the end of this year were repeats that felt like retreads: a second fight with Miguel Cotto, whom Pacquiao stopped nearly three years ago; a fourth fight with Marquez, whom Pacquiao controversially defeated by decision about a year ago; and a second fight with Timothy Bradley, who in June became the first person to beat Pacquiao in more than seven years, although an overwhelming number of observers believed Pacquiao deserved the victory.
Pacquiao-Bradley didn’t excite stylistically. Neither did Pacquiao-Marquez 3. Cotto-Pacquiao thrilled in the first few rounds before Pacquiao took over down the stretch.
Cotto opted against facing Pacquiao again, choosing instead to vie for a world title with a December appearance Dec. 1 in his adopted home arena of Madison Square Garden in New York City, where he will face lesser-known beltholder Austin Trout. On Dec. 8, we will end up instead with the fourth installment of Pacquiao-Marquez, this edition seeming less exciting on the surface than the last.
The first, all the way back in 2004, was highly thrilling. Also entertaining was their initial rematch, which came four years later in 2008. Both of those bouts were close and ended controversially, the first fight as a draw, the second as a victory for Pacquiao, each of those results decided by a single point on a single scorecard.
The third, which came last November, was considered by some the least likely to be competitive. Pacquiao had in the subsequent years risen in weight, winning big fights without losing too much of the speed and power that had so defined him. Marquez, meanwhile, had looked sluggish in his one jaunt even near the welterweight limit, coming in at 142 against Mayweather, who proceeded to make his otherwise great foe look even slower.
Yet Pacquiao-Marquez 3 once again turned out to be evenly matched. Marquez again was 142 when he stepped on the scales, but he was a far better 142 this time when he stepped into the ring against Pacquiao. Pacquiao won for the second time, though there was as much debate about the judges’ scorecards, if not more, than in their previous meetings.
It should seem logical, then, that there should be great demand for a resolution to this rivalry, that no clear winner has emerged despite Pacquiao going 2-0-1 in their three fights. They have gone from a split draw to a split decision to a majority decision. A fourth bout should be big, fueled by controversy and uncertainty, with the promise that this will be the one that will decide who is truly better.
It should seem logical, and yet it doesn’t yet have as much demand. Few were calling for a fourth Pacquiao-Marquez fight, largely because of how disappointing their third bout turned out to be. There wasn’t the pitched battling or swinging momentum of their first and second outings, but rather more of a cautious boxing match between two great fighters who knew too well how great their opponent can be.
Though it’ll be seen worldwide, watched intently in two nations, marketed intensely in a third — and though it’ll bring in millions upon millions in revenue — the event won’t seem as special as it should.
The event can’t be as special going in as they had in the past, given the circumstances, but the fight still can. And that, in turn, can make the event feel like a fitting finale.
For that to happen, the fight must be different than it was a year ago. And for the fight to be different, the fighters must be so, too.
Fortunately, both recognize the need — and not just for themselves
“I need to change something, because he knows me, and I know him,” Marquez said last week in an interview on ESPN’s “First Take” program.
Pacquiao, meanwhile, offered this in a brief interview with the network’s Joe Tessitore: “He’s a good counter-puncher. … If I’m fighting with a good counter-puncher, I have to be a good counter-puncher also. If I do that, then the fight will be boring, because both of us [are] waiting for somebody to come inside and be aggressive. So if we’re fighting, it has to be that one of us will be aggressive”
This is the beginning of the marketing effort, a campaign that will seek to persuade us that Pacquiao-Marquez 4 won’t just be an event because of the names involved and the pay-per-view broadcast, but also because of what could take place between the ropes.
It’s not just about marketing a fight, though; neither Pacquiao nor Marquez are the type to say certain things before a bout just to sell tickets or play mind games with his opponent.
For Marquez, he feels he has beaten Pacquiao three times but never gotten the credit he deserves. What he does, then, will need to be more emphatic if he is to come out with the victory.
It is the same for Pacquiao, who wanted to fight Marquez a third time due to the controversy from the previous two bouts, and who wants to provide a definitive answer this fourth time to any lingering questions. His reputation also matters to him, and the criticism from his recent fights with Marquez and Bradley likely fuel his proclamations of wanting to entertain and not be boring.
It will be one of the biggest events of 2012, but that shouldn’t matter so much to those watching or even to those participating. Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez and their respective fans are hoping for Dec. 8 to bring the fighters one of their biggest victories.
The rest of us are hoping that they bring us one of the year’s best fights.
The 10 Count will return next week.
“Fighting Words" appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter at @fightingwords2 or send questions and comments to [email protected]