Manny Pacquiao’s Bottom Line

Sometimes there is no answer, no closure. Boxing is like that.
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An exultant Juan Manuel Marquez raised his hands in triumph while Manny Pacquiao prayed somberly in the corner. Then, after it was announced that Marquez had lost by a narrow majority decision, he stormed from the ring as the arena of Mexican partisans and outraged boxing fans rained boos on the winner.

Max Kellerman and his HBO film crew tracked Marquez down in his dressing room a few minutes later. Both of his eyes were swollen and he had an ugly red mark high on his forehead. He had given perhaps the finest performance of his career, a brilliant display of technical counterpunching, balance, and discipline. It was the third time he felt he had defeated his longtime rival and been denied by the judges. And yet he showed no outrage, only resignation. There he was, slouched naked on a chair, his legs splayed, with only a black sombrero covering his groin.

When Kellerman asked him if he wanted to fight Pacquiao for a fourth time, Marquez responded by raising the possibility of retirement; it was difficult, he said, to fight against Manny as well as three judges. He slid down in his chair, frowning, and shifted the sombrero as if to say, “I just beat the greatest fighter in the world, and all I got was this lousy hat.”

***

Scoring in a boxing match operates kind of like the Electoral College. Regardless of how many punches or votes you rack up, you get a set number of points from the judges. A fighter can land the better punches and put the deeper hurt on his opponent throughout the course of the match, but if he doesn’t finish the fight having won more points on the judge’s scorecards, he’ll still lose. It may not be particularly fair, but it’s how the sport works, it gives some arithmetic to the interpretation.

Juan Manuel Marquez won his rounds more decisively. Despite the PunchStats showing that Pacquiao had landed more punches, Marquez’s had been the cleanest and most impressive blows. He seemed to be the better fighter, but that didn’t mean he won the fight.

***

Going in, Manny Pacquiao had been the overwhelming favorite. It seemed a mere formality that he would finally score a conclusive win over the one man he had never really mastered. Since they last met, Pacquiao had gone on one of the most impressive runs in the recent history of boxing, having dominated and won titles in three separate weight divisions while rarely losing a round. The men he beat were bigger, stronger, and perhaps even faster than an aging Juan Manuel Marquez. But Juan Manuel Marquez is his bogeyman. “Styles make fights,” is boxing gospel, but really it’s more about quality than styles. Everyone knows Manny has trouble with counterpunchers, who can exploit his sometimes reckless aggression, but Marquez is one of only two fighters fine enough to execute and use it to their advantage.

The controversial ending obscured just how excellent the fight was. While not as electric and violent as their first two meetings, this one was more cagey and refined, more nervy. There were long periods of attentive silence from the normally talkative announcing team. Pacquiao landed some terrific right hooks to the head and was generally more responsible defensively. Marquez, though, is his match. Whereas recent Pacquiao opponents have covered up when he goes into his strafing attacks, Marquez responded by subtly taking a step back and to the left and unleashing counters on a Pacquiao desperate to make contact. Pacquiao would rush in, and though he landed his share on Marquez, the more controlled Mexican made him pay with clean counters most every time..

It was close, and a seemingly overconfident Marquez gave away the final round, costing himself a chance at a draw.

***

I scored the fight narrowly for Pacquiao. I had him down going into the late rounds, but he swept the final three on my scorecard. Still, I have no problem with anyone who scored it for Marquez. The shrill calls of robbery are a little misplaced; but then some of Marquez’s support might be so invested because he had so far exceeded expectations..

They’ve fought three times, thirty-six rounds, and I won’t argue with the official results of two Pacquiao wins and a draw. Nor would I argue with someone who believes Marquez won all three fights. If they were to meet again twenty years from now, both long retired, I’d expect a similar result.

But that’s not enough for Manny Pacquiao, now accustomed to destroying guys one after another. Against, Antonio Margarito, Pacquiao caved in his larger opponent’s orbital bone. In his fight with Shane Mosley, the well-respected former champion begged his trainer to stop the fight. Oscar De La Hoya cringed pitifully in the corner, a broken man. Ricky Hatton lay gasping on the canvas before the end of the second round, the victim of a left hand that ‘bout killed him.

When you’re the best boxer in the world it’s not enough to win a fight on the margins, to steal it with flurries late in the round. You’re not supposed to fight, you’re supposed to perform. Thirty-six inconclusive rounds against a hard man isn’t what we expected and wanted from this generation’s candidate for immortality. It’s a frustrating thing to have waited so long and to still not know.

Sometimes there is no answer, no closure. Boxing is like that.

***

Bob Arum, Pacquiao’s widely loathed promoter, discussed the possibility of a rare fourth meeting between Pacquiao and Marquez. Perhaps it will happen at some point, but the time has come for the big one, Pacquiao–Mayweather. If it happens, it will be the most lucrative bout in boxing history.

Manny and Floyd have been dancing around one another for years, neither willing to fight on the other’s terms. Much of the acrimony has been over drug testing, but it’s always really been about who has the biggest cock, and neither believe even Marquez’s outsized sombrero is large enough for them. Now, though, Floyd’s team will have seen Manny at his most vulnerable, and Pacquiao and his team may think it’s best to go for the biggest fight now, before his high-energy style fades and he loses to a lesser light. Mayweather will be the favorite, that’s clear. He dominated Marquez when the two fought, and—more importantly—he’s bigger, faster, and better at the counterpunching style that gives Pacquiao fits.

But you just never can tell. There are too many variables. Pacquiao should have beaten Marquez. Willy Pepp should have beaten Sandy Saddler. Mayweather shouldn’t have had so much trouble against Jose Luis Castillo.

Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez have completed their exciting but ultimately unfulfilling trilogy. We may never get closure between the two, and Marquez’s smoldering disappointment might never go away. It’s unfair, but it’s boxing.


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I'm still waiting for Manny Pacquiao to fight with Floyd Mayweather, and I know they've had some talks about it over Facebook.. But I wish they'd just get on with it and give the MMA fans exactly what they been asking for, for a long time now. Maybe it's Bob Arum calling the shots, who knows? The MMA seems to be slowly dying back down again, but it did get popular so maybe it's a trend. Manny is destroying guys in almost every single fight and regardless of his losses, he's still someone people inside and outside of MMA can look up to. I really like how he's promoted himself as a man.