Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind
Pacquiao maintains, “I still love boxing. It is what made me who I am. It is my first priority right now. After the bout, my focus will go back to politics…”
Manny Pacquiao (54-4-2, 38 KOs) and Juan Marquez (54-6-1, 39 KOs), two of the best boxers of their generation, have fought three grueling bouts. On Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas they will exchange punches again.
For much of boxing history multiple meetings were common fare. Jake LaMotta and Sugar Ray Robinson fought each other six times, enough for LaMotta to crack, “I fought Ray Robinson so many times it’s a wonder I don’t have diabetes.” Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez, Joey Giardello and Dick Tiger, Ezzard Charles and Jersey Joe Walcott, among others, fought four times.
Today major fights are less frequent and the promotional leads much longer, so fistic trilogies and tetralogies are very rare. Nonetheless, as HBO analyst Larry Merchant observed, “Sometimes too much of a good thing is a good thing.” And the Pacquiao vs. Marquez saga has been a very good thing both for boxing fans and the box office. According to Bob Arum, CEO of Top Rank, the last battle between these two diminutive giants garnered 1.3 million pay-per-view buys.
In their 2004 fight, Marquez visited the canvas three times in the first stanza but the ever resilient “El Dinamita” regrouped and managed a draw. Pacquiao eked out controversial split decisions in their 2008 and 2011 meetings. Marquez vehemently insists “I won all three fights,” and on the reckoning of his Hall of Fame trainer Nacho Beristain, “The last decision was a disgrace to boxing.”
Since their 2011 encounter, Pacquiao dropped a wildly unpopular split decision to Timothy Bradley. That night, Pacquiao landed more blows, and did more damage than Bradley, but he looked slower than usual and was not able to put together his customary dazzling combinations. In April, the 39-year-old Marquez looked good in throttling Serhiy Fedchenko to win the interim WBO light welterweight title.
Much as he respects his rival, Marquez’s resolve to beat Pacquiao verges on obsession. Recently, Marquez emphasized that getting a win over the fighter known as the Mexicutioner is “Very, very important. I have this opportunity and the victory will be mine on December 8th and I will be able to retire with a victory over Manny Pacquiao.”
A southpaw, Pacquiao was voted fighter of the decade and has won world titles in a record eight weight divisions. But there have been questions about Pacquiao’s focus of late. He is a congressman in the Philippines and his wife Jinki is also running for political office. Pacquiao maintains, “I still love boxing. It is what made me who I am. It is my first priority right now. After the bout, my focus will go back to politics.”
When they met in 2004 it was at 126 pounds, but this collision will be take place at the welterweight limit of 147 pounds. At bottom, the principals in this bout are Pacquiao’s uniquely concussive left hand and Marquez’s counter-right. At various times, Pacquiao has come close to turning Marquez’s lights out with his bullet of a left. Nevertheless, Marquez has always had more success than anyone in answering Pacquiao’s power shot with own punishing straight right, which he sometimes manages to chase with a left hook or uppercut.
When pressed as to how he will avoid the counter right Saturday night, Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach responds, “By being aggressive and keeping Marquez backing up. When we go back and look at the tape at what worked and what didn’t, it is clear that Manny did his best when he was dictating the pace and keeping busy, using his speed.”
Longtime pound-for-pounder Roy Jones Jr. concurs. “Manny has to attack,” he says, “get Marquez to counter and then counter his counter.” But with a sharpshooter like Marquez “aggressive and busy” are easier to talk about in press conferences than to execute in the squared circle.
Bob Canobbio, founder of CompuBox points out, “When Manny fights Marquez, his overall punch numbers go down by almost 30 percent. And in their last fight he threw more jabs than Marquez, 304 to 184, and fewer power punches than he usually does, which tells you Manny is cautious with Marquez.”
Pacquiao, who is guaranteed 23 million for this tiff to Marquez’s 6 million, is younger, faster, and packs a more potent punch. Pacquaio has flashdance footwork, allowing him to move very quickly in and out of range. However, when he is off his game he has a tendency to square up and fall of balance, especially when he launches his signature right jab/straight left combination. And as Freddie Roach has often conceded, there is no one better at timing Pacquiao than the master boxer he will confront a fourth time.
For all the aggression that these warriors talk of mounting, both are gun-shy of boxing judges. Pacquiao and his team were appalled by the Bradley verdict. Moreover, there is a perception that the Pacman got a gift in his last fight with Marquez. As Freddie Roach sees it, “Manny needs a knockout to win this one.”
True to Roach’s prescription, Pacquiao is bringing the heavy leather in training. “Manny has knocked his sparring partners down three or four times already,” Roach says. “He hasn’t done that since the Cotto camp.” Ray Beltran, Pacquaio’s sparring mate for almost a decade, remarked, “Manny always hits hard but this time around when we are sparring, he is doesn’t take any breaks. There is no laying on the ropes.”
Convinced that he has been thrice robbed in his bouts with Pacquiao, Marquez believes that his victory will have to be decisive. He, no less than Pacquiao, is promising an uptake in fury. “I am going to be aggressive in this fight,” said Marquez. “I won’t go for the knockout right away, but if I get the opportunity for the knockout I will go for one…To win the fight clearly, I need to get a knockout.”
Naazim Richardson, legendary trainer of Bernard Hopkins, was the man in the corner when Shane Mosley lost a unanimous decision to Manny Pacquiao. He waxes enthusiastic about Pacquiao’s one-punch power, but believes that Marquez is the superior boxer and might have an edge. Still, the renowned maestro warns, “You have to understand. Champions like Marquez and Pacquiao are very special people, people with tremendous mental strength and a will to win. When something doesn’t work for Pacquiao, he isn’t going to give up. You’ll see him stamp his feet and shake his head, and like the tiger that he is, find some other way to attack.”
A professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College, Gordon Marino writes on boxing for the Wall Street Journal. He is on the board and works with boxers at the Circle of Discipline in Minneapolis, as well as at the Basement Gym in Northfield, MN. You can follow him on Twitter at @GordonMarino.
Special thanks to the Wall Street Journal.