By Cliff Rold
Pride is always at stake in boxing. Fighters run miles, spar hours, sweat away pieces of themselves, to protect their pride. There’s little pride to be found in defeat and so the best of professionals give themselves the best chance to avoid it. Anyone tuning in on Saturday night to see the four-years overdue rematch, at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez can be certain: these are the best of professionals.
There are other stakes as well this weekend, stakes that will matter immediately and stakes that will matter later. As these two warriors paint the ring canvas with the fresh blood of combat, they will also take a big step towards painting the canvas of their legacies.
It’s that kind of fight.
So just what are the stakes, the questions, hovering above the action this weekend? Let’s begin with the immediate and work forward from there.
The World Championship: The primary stake on Saturday night is the vacant World Jr. Lightweight championship. When Floyd Mayweather Jr. left the 130 lb. class behind in 2002, he left a void at the top of the division that has been filled with some excellent battles to replace him. It’s taken this long to whittle the field down to these two. The Mexican Marquez (48-3-1, 35 KO, WBC titlist) by virtue of his victory last fall against Marco Antonio Barrera, and the Filipino Pacquiao (45-3-2, 35 KO) by virtue of two wins over Erik Morales and a rematch victory against Barrera last fall, have emerged as the consensus choices at one and two in the division. Ring Magazine will reward their title to the winner of this bout and it’s unlikely that anyone (excepting the consensus choice at three, Joan Guzman) will lodge much disagreement.
For Marquez, victory would be particularly sweet in terms of championship glory. For all the big wins, all the belts, Marquez has never been able to call himself the singular ruler in any class. In one of those moments only boxing can produce, Marquez came into his first bout with Pacquiao in possession of the only sanctioning body belts at play but it was Pacquiao who was the true World champion at 126 lbs., having defeated Marco Antonio Barrera for the honors in late 2003. Pacquiao, by virtue of the draw decision, kept the crown. Four years and four pounds later, the nature of the tangible prize remains.
Beyond the title, there is of course the mano-y-mano result each will be looking for.
Personal Vindication: This is where pride comes to the foreground. In the classic film “Pulp Fiction,” the character of Marcellus Wallace tells a fighter, Butch, that “Pride only hurts; it never helps.” Marcellus Wallace hadn’t seen Marquez’s medieval effort in getting off the deck three times in the first round against Manny Pacquiao yet, or he may have retracted.
Those three knockdowns are at the heart of anticipation for this rematch, the source of fan debates in multiple tongues in the years since their first war. There are those who felt they gave Manny an edge too large to justify the draw verdict. There are others, and I am in this latter camp having scored the bout 8 rounds to 4, that feel Marquez won enough rounds, coming off the deck, to not only earn the draw but victory itself. One thing was certain in 2004: no one was certainly the better man.
The now 34-year old Marquez was denied, for years, fights with the biggest stars at Featherweight. In his prime, he never got a crack at Barrera, Naseem Hamed, Erik Morales. His past-prime (for both combatants) win over Barrera last year would dovetail nicely with a win here, further proving his place with the elite all along, proving that he was just as good if not better than any of them. Pacquiao is one win away from the full hat, or should it be sombrero, trick. He’s stopped Morales and Barrera; stopping Marquez, or just cleanly defeating him, would add to his remarkable resume.
The winner will have the measure of personal satisfaction and that could translate into the even greater dollars that come from the land of imagination.
P4P: That land of course is the place in the mind’s eye where every fighter is the same size and the boxing community hashes out the best of the best. I’m on record about what pound-for-pound has devolved to; it’s largely a corporate hype tool leveraged against the lack of clarity in the divisional world title scene. It’s also a source of great profit for the men at the top of the debate. A win for Marquez pushes him past Pacquiao, obviously, and puts him right there with Floyd Mayweather and Joe Calzaghe in terms of debatable strengths.
For Pacquiao the stake is slightly higher. With Floyd unchallenged in the ring for most of 2008, and his Wrestlemania bout may be more unpredictable than the proposed Mayweather Beats De La Hoya II, a dominant win for Manny puts the whole Floyd v. Manny debate fully back in play. After a lackluster 2007, Manny would have a shiny new title, credential, and momentum going into the rest of the year. In order to make a case against him, one would have to forecast Mayweather’s claim into 2009 because he’s not testing it on the known calendar.
These are all arguments about the days and months ahead. There are a lot of tomorrows to consider as well. One such tomorrow arises five years after a fighter last lays down his gloves.
The HOF: Speaking frankly, Manny Pacquiao, at 29, is already a lock for the Hall of Fame. The why’s of that will come a few finely crafted sentences from now. This section is all about Marquez. If he retired today, his resume as regards the Hall is pretty shallow. One win over a faded Barrera isn’t quite enough to put him over the top. In fact, take away that win and Marquez, a sure Hall of Fame talent, has little in the way of big victories to speak of. Robbie Peden? Manuel Medina? Derrick Gainer? Yeah, Marquez needs a win over Pacquiao.
As one half, along with brother Rafael, of arguably the greatest brother tandem in the sports history, Juan Manuel was considered for years the better fighter. He probably was and is. Yet it is his Rafael who received the big name opportunities (Mark Johnson, Tim Austin, Israel Vasquez) that Juan Manuel did not. If forced to choose between the two before this Saturday, Rafael is the more merited selection. Lose this Saturday, and there isn’t much left to argue.
As much as this bout then means to the personal history of Juan Manuel Marquez, it has even greater historical ramifications for Pacquiao.
Historic First: Pacquiao is already the only fighter, ever, to win the lineal World championships at 112 (Flyweight) and 126 lbs. (Featherweight). Add that accolade to the big name victories he’s collected along the way and there’s your answer to the Hall of Fame question.
Claim the title this weekend at 130 lbs. and he both adds to a special club and becomes a club of one twice over. Needless to say, if no fighter had ever gone 112 to 126, then it’s unlikely that any fighter has ever gone 112 to 130; unlikely and in fact the case. Only one fighter has ever really come close, slightly more than 75 years ago. It was on December 9, 1932, at Madison Square Garden, that 1924 U.S. Olympic Flyweight Gold Medalist and former professional World Flyweight champion Fidel LaBarba dropped a narrow decision to future Hall of Famer Kid Chocolate. In the attempt alone, Pacquiao is in remarkable company.
From that potential first also comes the chance for entry into a select fraternity of less than ten; eight to be exact. That is the number of men to have legitimately won three world championships in three weight classes. Victory under the Vegas lights joins Pacquiao to Bob Fitzsimmons, Tony Canzoneri, Barney Ross, Henry Armstrong, Emile Griffith, Sugar Ray Leonard, Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather; that is more than remarkable company.
Finally, a win this weekend generates an opening for two more clubs of one. Pacquiao and his handlers have indicated that he is short for the Jr. Lightweight class, that his future is five pounds higher. At Lightweight, that probably means David Diaz for a WBC alphabelt; such a win could lead to a bout with the winner of Joel Casamayor-Michael Katsidis (or eventually Nate Campbell if he gets the shot he’s earned first) for the lineal crown at 135 lbs. From Flyweight to Lightweight? Four Divisions as champion? It’s a lot to ponder, and premature until and if Pacquiao’s record features a “W” next to the name Marquez.
With stakes like these, fighters like these, boxing can’t be much better than what’s on tap Saturday night. Given what we know of Marquez and Pacquiao, don’t be surprised if the pride you feel in being a fan is equal to the pride they bring to the ring.
Boxing is thriving in March 2008 and we’re only halfway through an incredible slate. Here’s a few thoughts on things other than the big show this weekend.
The T.V. Fights of the Week: http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=13031
Hot Prospect Fernando Guerrero: http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=13047
I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]