by Cliff Rold
Gene Fullmer knows. So does Dick Tiger. Roberto Duran can speak on it too.
Sometimes, the perfect punch lands and a great fighter gets to be part of another great fighter’s highlight reel.
Manny Pacquiao has, along with Floyd Mayweather, given boxing in the U.S. a two-headed sub-Heavyweight pay-per-view revenue monster since the retirement of Oscar De La Hoya. No matter how much money is generated, boxing remains sport and the other man is hitting back.
Last Saturday, Juan Manuel Marquez was the other man. He was the greater man. Down slightly on points and taking a bit of a thrashing in rounds five and six, his Homeric quest of almost a decade to add the “W” he wanted more than any other was concluded.
And the hints of a chapter five in this most epic of fistic stories are already there to be heard.
Let’s go the report card.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Pacquiao A; Marquez B/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Power – Pacquiao A-; Marquez B+/Post: A; A
Pre-Fight: Defense – Pacquiao B; Marquez B+/Post: B-; B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Pacquiao A; Marquez A/Post: Same
It’s not often the year-end awards of boxing get rewritten on a single punch. It happened Saturday. Nonito Donaire was seen as the likely Fighter of the Year in many circles before last Saturday. Marquez put his hat in the ring in a big way. Knockout of the Year? Fight of the Year?
We got both of those two.
The latter is remarkable when one considers Pacquiao has never been in a Fight of the Year. He’s been in classics, but the one that will likely add the honors is the one he’d most like to forget.
Assuming he remembers anything about the fight at all.
In a turn of fate, Marquez was both able to score a knockdown for the first time in four fights in round three only to begin looking the part of the outboxed man before he launched his weapon of Manny destruction.
It’s part of what makes this a tremendous outcome. 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.
For now, we have the memory of a great fight contested between two of the greatest fighters anyone reading has seen in their lifetimes. We have memories from the two of them of so much more.
It’s hard not to be in awe of it all and love boxing just that much more for their being around.
Report Card Picks 2012: 60-23
Cliff’s Notes… For those wondering, the references in the first line are to Fullmer’s KO loss to Ray Robinson in their second fight, Bob Foster’s Light Heavyweight title win over Tiger, and Tommy Hearns Jr. Middleweight title destruction of Duran…Usually ratings updates accompany the report cards. This week, that’s being split up. Divisional ratings later in the week…Pound-for-Pound updates will wait one more week for the Nonito Donaire-Jorge Arce outcome…Finally, last week’s post-fight report card was missing for Austin Trout-Miguel Cotto. The score here was 7-5 for Trout, who earned the win and showed tremendous class in and out of the ring. Congratulations to him and to a valiant Cotto who showed up like a gentleman at the post-fight press conference.
Correction: The pre-fight report failed to give Juan Manuel Marquez credit for a win over former champion Julio Gervacio and omitted his reigns as the WBC, WBO, WBO, and Lineal World Lightweight Champion. Apologies.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]