Game of Thrones: The Thrill & Agony of Pacquiao-Marquez
Boxing truly is the Game of Thrones of modern sport. Nobody is safe. Every kingdom has its reign, and its fall. New kings are crowned out of thin air…
Saturday night represented everything that is both glorious and tragic about the sport of boxing. In a superfight that actually lived up to all of its considerable hype, Pacquiao-Marquez 4 was epic, and was packed with the kind of density that requires reflection, analysis, and yes—even investigation.
This was by far the most electrifying chapter of this storied rivalry. While most were expecting something similar to the lukewarm performances exhibited in their third fight, Saturday night saw the Pacquiao-Marquez rivalry reach a scintillating crescendo of warrior poetry such that fans are now calling for Pacquiao-Marquez 5. It was as if both fighters decided that they were going to fully commit this time around. Punches were being thrown with knockout intent throughout the six rounds of the fight, which felt like an entire 12-round war. Both fighters know each other’s habits and intricacies with such heightened familiarity—and the ultimate war of dynamically contrasting styles ensued: Manny’s high-risk flurrying vs. Juan Manuel’s masterful timing. Both were executing beautifully and traded a pair of knockdowns with incredibly precise punches that everyone knew something special was brewing.
It wasn’t just skill that made this fight special. It was the incredible fighting hearts and souls of Pacquiao and Marquez. Pacquiao was dropped early in the fight in a fashion so foreign to fans that you couldn’t help but raise your eyebrows. Just when it seemed as if he was hurt, Pacquiao—in signature fashion—put his hands up and nodded to Marquez as if to say “Okay, let’s go.” The tide suddenly shifted quickly as Pacquiao bounced back with his most dominating rounds of the four-fight rivalry. Rounds five and six featured Pacquiao at his absolute best, reminiscent of a few years ago. He was committing to every combination, using his legs to dart in with unbelievably high-risk assaults, and outscoring Marquez significantly as he was landing two punches to every one by Marquez. This prototypical Pacquiao style is why so many love watching him fight. He was busting up the face of Marquez something serious. The nose of Marquez was broken, he was breathing through his mouth, and just as it seemed that this Pacquiao tidal wave was going to crash into him and capsize his ship, Marquez navigated the stormy waters with the kind of resolve legendary warriors are made of. As round six concluded, Pacquiao darted towards Marquez, trying to punctuate what had been a one-sided round. Meanwhile, Marquez was backpedaling into the corner, setting up the trap of the decade. Seeing that Manny was going to predictably dart in as he had done many times in that round, Marquez all of a sudden set the anchor as Manny lunged in with a double-jab pump fake to set up his straight left hand. Then, just as Manny went to throw the left after his jab feint, Marquez sat down on a perfectly thrown counter short right hook that pulled the Pacquiao plug out of the socket at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Manny didn’t see it coming, and Marquez barely saw it land as his head was down in an effort to land the punch and simultaneously slip the Pacquiao left hand. As he turned around, Marquez saw his archrival laid out on the canvas, unconscious.
Enter the ugly underbelly of boxing. As one of the sport’s most celebrated figures lay motionless on the canvas, collapsing as if he had been rushing in on the front lines of Normandy Beach, a frenzied hyena-like laughter broke out before anyone even checked to see if Manny Pacquiao was still alive. In fact, the first hand to be laid on Manny was from a gentleman at ringside who felt the need to press his fingers against Manny’s neck in order to find a pulse. Manny was out for several minutes as his wife tried to rush the ring in a hysterical state of mind. Meanwhile, cropped photos were already being InstaGram’d making fun of Pacquiao’s unconscious state. Nobody seemed to particularly care if Manny was going to be okay. Even in the midst of the most exciting moment of his career, the great Juan Manuel Marquez went to Manny multiple times to check in on his biggest rival and comrade, and was concerned. But most fans didn’t seem to share that kind of regard for the fallen champ. He had provided the highest thrill for the blood-lusting coliseum crowd, and just as great gladiators were celebrated and honored at the height of their ascent and then spit on and thrown in a ditch after they died and were of no further use, the sports world discarded Manny Pacquiao in similarly symbolic fashion. Problem is, this is 2012, and this artistic rendition of ancient warfare that is boxing is supposed to be a more civilized version of savagery that both honors and provides the highest safety possible for its warriors, right?
Unfortunately, in the aftermath of this unbelievable fight, we must talk about PEDs as it remains the elephant in the room. So, let’s talk about it. Here’s what you should know: There were no random drug tests leading up to Pacquiao-Marquez 4. There was no EPO, HGH, or synthetic testosterone testing whatsoever. This in itself is absurd and a huge red flag. Both camps knew this going into their respect training camps—which meant that the trainers were able to deliver supplements and perhaps even substances to their fighters knowing that they wouldn’t be tested throughout the camp. So, as long as the substances cycled out of the system—or remained undetected in the event there actually were going to be drug testing either directly before or after the fight—the camps hypothetically could get away with juicing.
Further, Marquez is now being trained by Angel “Memo” Hernandez—who in the past has supplied illegal drugs to athletes (Marion Jones, for example)—and testified for the federal government in the BALCO case. Considered a “wonder” of a chemist by many of his peers, Memo is certainly capable of concocting performance enhancing “supplements”—as his background would suggest. Even when there are random drug tests administered throughout training camps leading up until the fight, such master alchemists are still able to create designer substances that can evade the present capabilities of drug testing in boxing (which require immense modernization/improvement). However, how challenging is it for a master chemist to create performance enhancers that can circumvent no drug testing whatsoever? It’s laughable, and a shame that random drug testing was not instituted for this fight.
Finally, for anyone who has been paying attention to the illustrious career of Juan Manual Marquez, we know he comes into fights in spectacular shape and works extremely hard in training. However, the physique unveiled at Friday’s weigh-in before the fight was incredible. The size of Juan Manuel’s neck and shoulders were noticeably bigger, he was more vascular/defined than ever, and the muscular bulk in his arms were striking, particularly his right bicep which looked like it had the work of a veteran bodybuilder in its inflated flex. At 39, Juan Manuel’s body had never looked better, bigger, or stronger than it looked this past weekend. In fact, even before this weekend, many insiders in the sport were commenting on the remarkable difference in the Marquez physique as they observed him squatting absurd amounts of weight for a man who weighs around 140 pounds. Amongst those insiders is none other than Victor Conte—who has been an unlikely but much needed sobering voice in the sport—consistently demanding stricter drug testing in boxing. In a recent interview with Yahoo! Sports, Conte had this to say about the unusual squatting power of Marquez:
“If you want to stimulate speed, power and strength, you do it using heavy weight and exploding from under that weight with enough on your shoulders in the squat rack.
“But how many boxers do you know who are in the weight room squatting huge poundage? You don’t see that. That in and of itself would make you stiff and sore and unable to walk for two or three days unless you are using testosterone or other steroids to accelerate the healing, where instead of it taking three days to recover from that type of workout, you’d recover in one day.”
The power generated from Juan Manuel’s punches was nothing short of shocking on Saturday night. The first right hand he landed knocked Pacquiao straight on his back with incredible force. The second such overhand right hand knocked Pacquiao out cold, instantaneously. Remarkable for two reasons: (1) Manny Pacquiao has absorbed huge power punches from guys much bigger and stronger than Marquez. Be it Antonio Margarito, Miguel Cotto, Joshua Clottey, or Shane Mosley, Pacquiao has taken their shots fairly well, and these are guys who considerably outweigh/outsize Marquez. Manny has been widely regarded for a tremendous chin and an uncanny ability to take a punch; and (2) Marquez—while considered a very good puncher—has never been a one-punch knockout artist. He has hit Pacquiao with that same right hand time and time again in their three previous fights, and while he has certainly buzzed Pacquiao (particularly in their second fight)—he has never generated power such that it would render Manny unconscious, with a single punch. So what was different this time?
Let’s be clear, this is simply a call for investigation, not an accusation. Given the incredible work ethic of Juan Manuel Marquez, I do believe it’s still plausible that he simply had the training camp of his life, and that he put his entire being into his training to get as big and strong as he has ever been—even at 39. I want to believe that this is the case here, and I do think it’s possible that he was clean, but without the requisite drug testing to ensure an even playing field, we simply are left to speculate the unusual developments surrounding Pacquiao-Marquez 4.
Further, we cannot forget all of the PED (Performance Enhancing Drugs) controversy that has surrounded the career of Manny Pacquiao, who was once a guy pulling plugs out of sockets himself (see: Ricky Hatton). During that ascent in Pacquiao’s career, his body had also gone through a notable transformation in terms of musculature and vascularity, and he was landing such thudding power shots that he was knocking out guys far bigger than him. Since that controversy Pacquiao’s body seems to have reverted back to its normal shell—still strong, muscular, vascular—but not superhuman. His punching power also has seemingly normalized, as he hasn’t scored a knockout since 2009.
Of course, PEDs are not specific to boxing, they are rampant in all professional sports where big business is high performance. The difference, however, is that the stakes are higher in boxing. In basketball, if a guy is juiced on something, he jumps a bit higher, dunks the ball a bit harder. In baseball, a juiced slugger is hitting the ball 50 yards further than usual. In boxing, a juiced pugilist is cracking his fist up against a guy’s skull with unnaturally dangerous velocity that could result in death, which is what many ringside observers actually feared when witnessing Manny Pacquiao collapse like Neo in the Matrix when trying to stop sentinels as he was hit with that brilliant Marquez counter.
When we finally acknowledge the elephant in the room—that guys have been using PEDs in boxing for a while now—and that it is still far too easy to circumvent drug testing standards (if they are even administered). Floyd Mayweather was right when he demanded stricter drug testing, and anyone who cares about the sport should want to ensure that warriors are exchanging punches organically, built on human spirit, willpower, and natural training/nutrition regimens. Of course, home runs are big business in baseball, just as knockouts are big business in boxing. With this in mind, it becomes even more imperative that capable systems are instituted to safeguard fighters and the sport against those forces that would sacrifice human dignity for unnatural performance.
Boxing truly is the Game of Thrones of modern sport. Nobody is safe. Every kingdom has its reign, and its fall. New kings are crowned out of thin air. This theater of the unexpected has provided so many plot twists throughout the years that it becomes increasingly enticing to be seduced by the mysterious science that is boxing. For those who hold the sport dear to their hearts, it’s time we did some real investigative work to demand transparency, competently designed and modernized drug testing standards, and above all else—the restoration of a sense of humanity to do more to look out for the beloved warriors that provide us with the ultimate in sporting entertainment.
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