By Thomas Gerbasi
It was violent, frightening, dramatic, and beautiful. Nothing can quite encompass all those feelings in one 17 minute 59 second segment of time, but Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao managed to do it in the best and most exhilarating of their four fights last Saturday night.
And that's what the bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas was - a fight. Though unlike some of the storied brawls celebrated throughout the years, this wasn't something you would see in a smoky club or in a back alley, as this was boxing at its highest level contested by two of the best of this or any other era.
Yet what made it special was that for the all the tactical brilliance displayed by Marquez and Pacquiao in their first three bouts, this one had an edge to it that's hard to describe but that was evident as soon as the bell rang.
We all hear fighters saying that they will leave it all in the ring or that they're willing to die in pursuit of their art. Marquez and Pacquiao made no such bold proclamations, opting to instead let their actions speak for themselves.
What followed was a fight in which every punch was meant to do damage, every round was tenser than the previous one, and every drop of blood shed was a signal that the end was near.
Who would achieve that endgame though? Would Pacquiao put a cap on the series with a 3-0-1 finish, or would Marquez finally get the official nod many believed belonged to him in the previous three bouts?
Early on, it appeared Pacquiao - fighting with a ferocity he hasn't shown in a while - would finish his series with Marquez with a flourish. That all changed with a flush right hand in the third round that stunned the capacity crowd.
The Filipino icon rose, and as a credit to his reputation and popularity, most saw the knockdown as a mere hiccup, not a premonition.
This notion was backed up by Pacquiao's own knockdown of Marquez in round five, and as the always underrated Mexican battler's nose got apparently shattered by Pacquiao's punches, it appeared that the Philippines would be partying for days in celebration of yet another victory for their smiling congressman.
If everything ended there, it would have locked up Fight of the Year honors, but what happened next elevated the fight and the combatants to another level, as they continued to battle as if more than a win was on the line.
Boxing Hall of Fame writer Michael Katz once told me that former heavyweight champion Chris Byrd was the bravest man in boxing because every time he walked into the ring he knew that he couldn't hurt any of the behemoths he fought with the punches he had. This is true, but even though Marquez and Pacquiao knew that victory could always be one punch away for them, defeat could also be determined with one swing of the fist.
Yet it didn't matter. Fighting with a determination bordering on reckless, Pacquiao tried to send Marquez into the realm of unconsciousness with his laser-like left hand, and when he would set his feet and fire off combinations, it was something you would put in a time capsule to show future generations how it's done.
As for Marquez, with his nose spewing blood and each breath a precious one, he fought like no 39-year-old has a right to, likely spawning a tribe of soon to be 40-year-olds that will feel that they’ve got one fight left. But no one would match “Dinamita,” always known as the technician and not the blood and guts warrior that Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera were.
At least not until Saturday night, when the blood flowed freely and the guts were on display for all to see. As Pacquiao brutally attacked him with a fury that belies his sunny demeanor, Marquez didn’t run, he didn’t go into a defensive shell, and he most certainly didn’t try to box, although all options would have been excusable under the circumstances. Instead, he attacked as Pacquiao threw, expecting that one or more of his flush counters would either deter his opponent or lay him out.
He got the latter, landing a right hand that put Pacquiao face first on the canvas. It was one of the scariest knockouts I have ever witnessed, and as Marquez celebrated, the HBO commentators wondered about his future and a hundred other banalities, and countless others rushed the ring, one of the best boxers of this generation lay motionless on the canvas. It was an eerie scene, making you question, if only for a second, why you love this sport so much when this is the equivalent of what in baseball would be a walk-off home run: a top level athlete unconscious at the end of something that had been so thrilling and captivating just seconds before.
Thankfully, Pacquiao soon rose, he and Marquez exchanged words of admiration, and while the boxing world had been rocked off its axis, two men who fought so fiercely in an effort to hurt each other showed the respect that only fighters know. To them, it was another night of combat. One wins, the other loses. It was on a much different stage than Marquez fighting in Mexico City or Pacquiao doing the same thing in Mandaluyong City. There were millions of dollars involved, worldwide television broadcasts, and future paydays at stake, but for nearly 18 minutes, that didn’t matter to Marquez or Pacquiao. This one was for pride, for honor, and for bragging rights, and as bizarre as that may seem to the civilians outside the ropes, sometimes that’s more important than business. As Sonny Corleone said in The Godfather, “well, then business will have to suffer.”
And it may have, at least for Floyd Mayweather Jr., whose prayed for Superfight with Pacquiao may have hit the skids forever. Maybe it won’t. Maybe this was the opening Mayweather wanted to allow him to take the lion’s share of the purse for the fight and make it a reality. Or perhaps Marquez and Manny will do it again for a fifth time, a bout which will certainly sell its share of Pay-Per-Views and pack whatever arena it decides to land in.
But that’s all talk for another day, isn’t it, though the speculation on the futures of all three men has already begun. For now, I’m choosing to focus on nearly six rounds of what makes this sport so great. If the previous recap of Marquez-Pacquiao IV reeks of melodrama, well that’s because it had that. In fact, it had everything: drama, blood, sacrifice, skill, and technique. And if for only one night, boxing wasn’t about business; it was about the fight, and two competitors that could have just showed up, fought safely and collected a paycheck did anything but that.
You almost want to freeze that moment, remember Marquez and Pacquiao trading punches with a roaring crowd behind them and keep it. No more rematches, no more fights, just one frozen moment of two men daring to be great. One won, one lost, but in a battle like that, the final result is an epilogue, not the end.