By Chris Robinson
In a move that was pretty much anticipated on all fronts yet still welcomed by many, Manny Pacquiao will defend his WBO welterweight title against heated rival Juan Manuel Marquez this coming November 12th at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada. The fight marks the third encounter between the two fighters, as they fought to a split-draw in May of 2004 while Pacquiao edged Marquez via split-decision almost four years later in March of 2008.
There were other names floating around with hopes of getting in on the 'Pacquiao Sweepstakes', such as IBF junior welterweight champion Zab Judah and WBC and WBO titleist Timothy Bradley, but it is Marquez who is most deserving. While Pacquiao has torn through a varying list of larger opponents in recent years it has been Marquez who has always found a way to fight tit for tat with the Filipino buzz saw.
Wanting to get an insider's take on the matchup, I reached out to HBO's color analyst Larry Merchant for our weekly column. With his opening thoughts on Pacquiao-Marquez III, you could tell instantly that Merchant was somewhat on the fence in terms of his favoritism towards the showdown.
"I think it's a natural prequel to their first two fights," Merchant coined. "I think, in general, the guys who are going to give Pacquiao problems are not going to be welterweights who are naturally bigger and stronger than him but maybe welterweights or junior welterweights who are as quick as he is or quicker. But my general impression, off the top of my head, at this early stage, is that Marquez has earned the fight but he's getting older and Pacquiao's been getting better and stronger."
Their first fight took place inside of the MGM Grand and saw Pacquiao storm out of the gates with three first-round knockdowns before Marquez regrouped to take command in the middle rounds. The second fight was just as wild, as Marquez again overcame a third-round knockdown before turning the tide of the fight only to see Pacquiao close a bit stronger in the championship rounds.
Merchant was ringside for both contests and says that you can't look past the competitive nature of those fights when looking towards the third chapter.
"I just remember that Marquez had the kind of quickness and smarts that would give Pacquiao problems," Merchant continued. "In the last chapter of Marquez's career he has just become a real boxer-puncher where he used to be a pure boxer. And listen, if they fought twenty-four rounds as close as they did the first two times, then there's a natural expectation that rounds twenty-five through thirty-six will be pretty good too."
A positive sign of the fight being made was that Golden Boy Promotions, who had promoted Marquez in recent years and had the contractual right to match Top Rank's offer on the trilogy with a fight of their own, reportedly backed off in order to make the fight happen. Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer and Bob Arum were said to have had a lengthy discussion about the two companies working together down the road, a thought that is intriguing given the talent on both of their rosters.
Golden Boy and Top Rank have been in the middle of a cold war with one another, something that ultimately is damaging to the sport, yet Merchant feels that Arum is wise enough to recognize the type of benefit that could come from a union between both parties.
"Look, I think it could mean something. I've always said that, as soon as Bob Arum saw that there was a chance to make real money by fighting a Golden Boy fighter in some way, he'll make nice the way he did with Don King when they were feuding. I think the best thing that Golden Boy has going for them now, and I think Arum is very shrewd and smart enough to know this, is that they have two of the hottest young fighters in boxing in 'Canelo' Alvarez and Victor Ortiz.
"If he's making nice I assume it's because he sees that there is going to be a chance somewhere down the road to match his fighters with those guys and make a lot of money. In boxing, if you want your opponent to show respect you have to earn respect. Golden Boy, by having these two young fighters, has rearmed themselves, put it that way," Merchant continued.
I also asked Larry whether he felt that the public is getting tired of Pacquiao facing formidable yet worn champions, such as Shane Mosley earlier this month and to an extent Marquez, as well as the constant 'in-house' tactics by Arum.
"It's not like Pacquiao has ducked anybody so far," Merchant pointed out. "He's fought everybody the boxing world and media has wanted to see. You have the fight with Marquez, apparently they're going to get it. I think that Pacquiao has created such a high standard for himself that he's going to need some serious opposition eventually to convince people that when fights they are going to see a fight and not a performance or a concert."
The Marquez fight is intriguing and in taking it in for what it's worth, you know that you are going to get a fight at the end of the day. Merchant seems to hint that it will do for now but when looking towards the 32-year old Pacquiao's future he is adamant about his preferences.
"Right now the number one challenger in the world is Ortiz. Now maybe the public doesn't know him. Maybe he's only a boxing world figure at this point but another win or two and he'll be a hot opponent. So, I think that Manny needs some good opponents to show himself at his best and when you intimidate opponents the way he did Mosley I don't think that the casual fans are attracted to this phenomenon were very entertained. He's going to need somebody who's going to bring out the best in him so that's it's not just a one-man show and instead a two-man drama."