by David P. Greisman
The measure of a fighter rests not just in what he is capable of, but also in how he applies his abilities against those who oppose him. The greatest boxers can examine what his opponent is, and then exploit what he is not.
Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez were two very different fighters, Pacquiao a whirling dervish of speed and power, Marquez a wizard with skill and precision. But when faced with the other, they were as close as two very different fighters could be.
One point separated them in their first fight, which ended a draw, one point on one scorecard keeping Pacquiao from victory.
One point separated them in their second fight, which ended a split decision for Pacquiao, one point on one scorecard keeping the result from being a draw.
One punch separated Pacquiao from his senses in the fourth fight.
The scorecards didn’t matter. The only number that mattered was the 10 count that Pacquiao would not be able to beat. He was unconscious, face down, flat on his stomach. Marquez stood on the second rope, raising his fists exultantly from a blue cord less than 20 feet from where his fallen rival lay prone. He was celebrating a triumph that had long eluded him.
Their first fight was in 2004. Their second fight was in 2008. Their third fight was in 2011. Their fourth fight was Dec. 8.
The greatest boxers can examine what his opponent is, and then exploit what he is not. It took eight years and four fights for Juan Manuel Marquez and his Hall of Fame trainer, Nacho Beristain, to successfully exploit Manny Pacquiao — with one punch.
With one punch, Marquez caught Pacquiao coming forward, defenseless, led deliberately into a trap.
With one punch, Marquez landed the perfect shot at the perfect time, ending what had been yet another competitive contest, and ending any possibility of controversy on the scorecards.
And with one punch, Marquez showed that this skilled scientist had momentarily turned alchemist, exploiting Pacquiao not in the form of what he had become, but by transforming him into what he once was.
It was Pacquiao’s aggression that had posed problems for so many. His speed was faster and his punches harder than expected. He would knock Marquez down three times in their first fight, forcing him to adjust on the fly and down the stretch, initially just to survive, eventually so he could vie for victory.
Marquez was long lauded for his ability to adjust, to dissect and then to defeat. His combinations and counters often were placed and timed perfectly, their trajectories sometimes switching along the way. He had not been able to beat Pacquiao despite this — at least, not officially — but he had earned his respect.
Perhaps Marquez had earned too much of Pacquiao’s respect.
Pacquiao’s earlier successes in his career, founded upon unrestrained aggression, had been redirected and refined by his own Hall of Fame trainer, Freddie Roach, accentuating evasive movement and an expanded arsenal. Yet that killer instinct that had nearly stopped Marquez in a single round, that had broken down bigger, stronger and slower men, had seemingly disappeared.
Manny Pacquiao had grown increasingly cautious around Juan Manuel Marquez, and that had nearly been to his detriment. Their first two fights were pitched battles. Their third, however, had been more of a tactical affair, and despite what two of the three judges ringside had ruled, many felt that Pacquiao had not done enough, that Marquez had done more and done better.
If only Pacquiao had known that abandoning this caution would be even worse for him.
His return to aggression would bring him as close to beating Marquez convincingly as he had been since the first round of the first of their four fights. And it would bring him to unquestionable defeat in what is, for the moment at least, the final round of an extended, outstanding rivalry.
“He’s a good counter-puncher,” Pacquiao told Joe Tessitore of ESPN more than two months before this fourth fight. “If I’m fighting with a good counter-puncher, I have to be a 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.”
Pacquiao had to be directed back toward his corner by the referee before the opening bell even rang. He then beat Marquez to the center of the ring, ready for action. It would be Pacquiao that would bring the fight to Marquez, though without reverting to the careless attacker that had been out-boxed in their first fight. Instead, he stood in front of Marquez, using feints and head movement to set up his shots and to try to throw off Marquez’s timing.
Pacquiao was still wary of Marquez’s counters, though not rendered inactive because of them. Instead, when Marquez would counter with a straight right, or even when Marquez would feint with that shot, Pacquiao would move slightly backward. Sometimes that left Pacquiao’s body exposed. Marquez, ever able to change trajectories, would land there instead.
Marquez may have appeared cautious, but there is a difference between tentative and tactical.
Those counters, as well as his jabs and left hook leads both upstairs and to the body, were setting Pacquiao up for a thunderous shot. About halfway through the third round, Marquez led with a half-jab that stopped short of Pacquiao’s gloves. He then stepped in and bent his body forward, as if to throw another hooking right to the body. Instead, as Pacquiao brought his left elbow downward and leaned his body slightly back, Marquez looped his right hand high and landed it flush to the left side of Pacquiao’s face.
Pacquiao crumpled to his back, as suddenly and surprisingly as had happened to Marquez eight and a half years ago.
Now Pacquiao would have all the more reason to be cautious of Marquez, who wasn’t just seeking to counter, but was loading up those counters with well-placed, well-timed power. Or perhaps Pacquiao would become even more aggressive, would seek to retaliate, to regain control.
Either idea could play Pacquiao right into Marquez’s hands. Except Marquez still had to deal with what Pacquiao’s hands could do.
After a cautious fourth round, Pacquiao got the knockdown back about a minute into the fifth, landing a straight left hand from his southpaw stance that sent Marquez teetering to his side. Marquez righted himself with his left glove, listened to referee Kenny Bayless issue his mandatory eight count, and then set a trap. He feinted forward, then moved back, inviting Pacquiao to come at him. Pacquiao led with a right hook, and Marquez countered with a hard, flush right hand to Pacquiao’s head.
It was the same punch that would knock Pacquiao out one round later.
Once again, Pacquiao retaliated. Pacquiao had long ago learned the lessons imparted in boxing, some of which are the same lessons revealed in his newfound religious observance: an eye for an eye, a knockdown for a knockdown, a big punch for a big punch. With 45 seconds to go in the fifth round, he threw a left hand lead that fell short, but followed with a short right hook that caught Marquez on the nose and put him on unsteady legs.
Marquez remained standing and withstood the barrage, firing back amid Pacquiao’s flurries, sustaining a cut on the bridge of his nose but surviving the round.
They exchanged combinations in the sixth, standing and trading. And with 10 seconds to go in that round, one point, fittingly, separated Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez on all three judges’ scorecards.
And with one second to go in that round, one punch separated Pacquiao from his senses.
Pacquiao and Marquez had exchanged what were largely missed combinations in the final 10 seconds, spurred on by the stick clapping that signals that the round will soon end, each wanting to land the last emphatic shot to steal the round. Pacquiao then feinted with a jab, his gloves down toward his waist. Marquez took a slight step back, then another, and then a third.
Pacquiao charged forward to close the gap, first feinting with a jab, and then beginning to throw it in earnest. Marquez stepped forward with his left leg and looped a short right hand to Pacquiao’s head.
Pacquiao had begun to throw the same combination that had long ago been his signature — jab, jab, left cross — with the same reckless abandon. He had fallen into Marquez’s trap, just as Paul Williams had fallen into Sergio Martinez’s trap two years ago, when Martinez had used the same technique, the same counter, and gotten the same result.
It was the greatest win yet for one of the greatest fighters ever, who long ago had been measured against Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales, Mexican counterparts whose fame had long eluded Marquez.
It was Marquez’s first fight with Pacquiao that brought him, deservingly, into the same spotlight, and it was his pursuit of Pacquiao through the years that brought him from being respected as skilled to being recognized as sensational.
It was his wins over fighters such as Barrera, Joel Casamayor, Juan Diaz and Michael Katsidis that kept him in the ranks, and kept him in the running for a rematch with Pacquiao, and then for another sequel.
And it was his ability to give Pacquiao a close, competitive fight that brought him back for one more match.
The measure of a fighter rests not just in what he is capable of, but also in how he applies his abilities against those who oppose him. Marquez had come close, but he had never come out victorious, at least, not officially.
It took eight years, four fights — and one punch.
The 10 Count
1. This is where I eat some crow — about as much crow as the amount of canvas that Manny Pacquaio ate on Saturday night.
In September, I wrote that “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. […] despite his ascent from sporting stardom into a sensational cult of pugilistic personality, there’s still only a handful of opponents for [Pacquiao] that can truly raise the hairs on the back of your neck.”
And, later on in that same column…
“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.”
But I was wrong — although I had couched my opinion with the fact that I was referring only to how the event would feel before the fighters stepped in the ring, and not to the fight itself.
Nevertheless, there was palpable tension in the air on Saturday before the first punches were even thrown. While there wasn’t the immediate anticipation for Pacquiao-Marquez 4 as there had been for the first three bouts, that anticipation only grew as we got closer to fight night, and as we realized that perhaps Pacquiao and Marquez were speaking the truth about going all out or for the knockout in this fight, and that we could see something truly special.
Which, of course, we did.
2. And this, then, is where I take the tiniest bit of credit.
In that same column, I said that “the event can’t be as special going in as 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,” I wrote. “the fight must be different than it was a year ago. And for the fight to be different, the fighters must be so, too.”
They were. Pacquiao was clearly more aggressive. Marquez was clearly looking for the single shots that could change the outcome of the fight. Neither wanted there to be any question on the scorecards.
We got exactly what they had promised. We got exactly what we were hoping for. And we got what Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez had given us three times before — a fight that everyone will be buzzing about long after the lights got turned out in the arena (this time, both literally and figuratively).
And this time, just like the first two fights but not like the third, the talk is of how great the action was. And this time, unlike any of the previous three bouts, there is absolutely no debate over who won.
3. Except Pacquiao-Marquez 4 doesn’t need to be the end. Count me among those who would actually be excited for a fifth installment.
The fourth fight was competitive and exciting, producing a candidate for Fight of the Year and likely the clear winner of Knockout of the Year. Pacquiao was ahead on the scorecards before Marquez landed what is appropriately being labeled as the “perfect punch.” The kayo cemented that Pacquiao-Marquez 4 will forever be spoken of as a truly special fight — though the fight was already well on its way to being so even had the knockout never happened.
If Pacquiao-Marquez 4 could be sold at the box office and on pay-per-view after the lackluster nature of the third fight, then Marquez-Pacquiao 5 could be marketed quite easily after the way this latest sequel went down.
There’s more money in Marquez-Pacquiao 5 than there is in any other fight involving the two that could still be made right now.
4. I still would love to see Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Brandon Rios.
The line of thinking had been that Manny Pacquiao would be facing Rios, potentially on April 20, had he come out triumphant this past weekend.
Marquez-Rios is just as makeable. And just as marketable. Let Pacquiao take off whatever time he needs to figure out his career (or careers, really) following this loss, and then he can face the winner of Marquez-Rios should he choose to return.
5. One common line following Marquez’s knockout of Pacquiao was that it finally put to bed any talk of a fight between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather.
That fight was never going to happen. Never. It had taken up far too much conversation in the past few years — yes, years — all because of the sheer amount of stubbornness on both sides.
I’ve often been asked whether Mayweather was afraid of Pacquiao, or if Pacquiao was afraid of Mayweather. The answer has always been “Neither.” The problem has always been that each wanted to win at the bargaining table before ever getting the chance to win in the ring.
The problem has always been that neither ever needed the other in order to make a big fight and to make millions.
There was a time that I wanted to see Mayweather-Pacquiao, but that time had long since passed. It had become a tiresome to talk about.
Of course, had the fight ever finally been signed, my tune would have changed.
And my pick, as I’ve said for these past few years, would have been Mayweather.
6. It’s not like Mayweather would have fought Pacquiao in 2013 anyway. That’s not how the cards were playing out on Pacquiao’s end, and it isn’t the way things seem to be going for Mayweather either.
Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy Promotions told reporters last week that Mayweather will likely be fighting twice next year — on May 4 and on Sept. 14, timed with the traditional big boxing weekends around Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day.
The obvious speculation is that Canelo Alvarez will be involved in some fashion — that perhaps Mayweather will face Robert Guerrero or another opponent in May, with Alvarez sharing the card, and that Mayweather and Alvarez will then meet each other in September.
One wonders if Miguel Cotto’s loss earlier this month to Austin Trout actually works out better for this scenario — Cotto might seem less likely to defeat Alvarez in their anticipated clash, which paves the way for Mayweather to face Canelo.
7. No one’s talking anymore about how unappealing those first two televised undercard fights were.
We still deserve better.
We won’t get better, though, not at least on cards of this stature. When we’re still selling out arenas to the tune of millions of dollars, and when we’re still ordering pay-per-views in droves solely because of the main event, then we give no reason for the promoter to invest more in better action — or for the boxers in the main event to be willing to be paid just a little less to help pay for an undercard, all so that the fans watching can enjoy the evening that much more.
At least Yuriorkis Gamboa’s return bout against Michael Farenas turned out to be a good scrap. That wasn’t the case with Javier Fortuna vs. Patrick Hyland or with Miguel Vazquez vs. Mercito Gesta.
8. It certainly wasn’t the worst undercard ever. As others on Twitter were quick to remember — and it’s amazing that forgettable undercards are actually memorable — one of the absolute worst undercards in recent vintage was when Manny Pacquiao fought Oscar De La Hoya four years ago.
That show saw Victor Ortiz dispatch of Jeffrey Resto, Juan Manuel Lopez put away Sergio Medina, and Danny Jacobs take out Victor Lares. That left a lot of time to kill before the main event.
As I put it at the time:
“Those who tuned in Saturday to the Pacquiao-De La Hoya pay-per-view saw three undercard fights featuring future stars in uncompetitive bouts. The first two hours of programming saw less than five rounds of action, a total of 11 minutes and 41 seconds of house fighters barely breaking a sweat in victory.”
9. It was a wise choice on the part of NBC Sports Network to re-air its boxing broadcast from Saturday night — which had an unfortunate placement opposite the Pacquiao-Marquez 4 pay-per-view — at 1 a.m. Eastern Time on Sunday morning, just as the PPV was coming to a close.
Boxing fans who were still riding high after the Marquez knockout could then tune in and see heavyweight prospect Bryant Jennings score a highlight reel kayo of his own, putting away Bowie Tupou with a beautiful uppercut.
10. A sentence I never thought I’d utter:
Snooki has promoted more boxing cards than 50 Cent…
“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 @fightingwords2 or send questions/comments via email at [email protected]