In the third act of their trilogy of fights, Manny Pacquiao was supposed to decisively solve the Juan Manuel Marquez riddle. Marquez was now 38 years old, much smaller in real weight than Pacquiao, and not supposed to be at his level any longer. To borrow a slangy phrase from one of my favorite sitcoms of my youth, Marquez looked at us all and said, “Somebody done told you wrong.”
On Saturday night, Juan Manuel Marquez fought one of the smarter fights you’ll ever see. How do you contend with someone who is bigger, faster, and stronger than you? You fight smarter. Marquez fought Pacquiao like he was with him in a phone booth. When Pacquiao moved, Marquez moved (just like that). When Pacquiao turned, Marquez turned. Marquez was never out of balance, always with his shoulders squared against his opponent, ready to unleash a counter straight right hand or left hook. He made Manny Pacquiao look quite human.
But that’s how he’d fought Pacquiao in their first two fights too. In 2004, Pacquiao was a whirling dervish, unleashing bombs on Marquez in the first round and dropping him three times. Marquez also got up three times, and had to win the majority of the remaining rounds to secure the draw.
In 2008 they fought again. Pacquiao was on the verge of megastardom and would soon decisively beat David Diaz and Oscar De La Hoya and take his career into the next level. Marquez was facing a man who was increasing in strength and coming into his own as the Manny Pacquiao we know today. Marquez fought brilliantly, unleashing straight right after straight right and again, had to come back from a knockdown. He slowed down in the end, allowing Pacquiao to win the decision in a tremendously close fight.
And on Saturday night, Marquez did it again. He fought cautiously early on, making Pacquiao come to him and engage first. Once Pacquiao picked up the action, Marquez started landing big shots. Once Pacquiao’s offense picked up, so did Marquez’s. He was landing the cleaner punches, ones that were making thud-like sounds on Pacquiao’s face and body. It looked like he was finally going to do it. He was finally going to take down the legend. But much like in their second fight, Marquez slowed down in the last rounds, and maybe by choice. The HBO crew of Jim Lampley, Emanuel Steward, and Max Kellerman who called the action, said that Marquez’s trainer Nacho Beristain told Marquez that he was winning the fight while giving him instructions in his corner between rounds.
Personally, I had Marquez up 5 rounds to 4, with one round a draw going into the 11th. And to me, that’s exactly where Marquez lost it. Pacquiao was the more active, aggressive, and scared fighter, making sure that he threw the most punches possible to pull out the last two rounds. Marquez was cool and collected, fighting like someone who had it in the bag. Those last two rounds might’ve been the difference in the fight. When the score cards were read, one judge had it clearly for Pacquiao, but one judge gave Pacquiao the fight by just two points. The third judge had it as a draw. In the end, Pacquiao fought like he knew he needed those last two rounds. Marquez fought like he’d already won.
If both their careers ended today, the story of the trilogy would be that Juan Manuel Marquez gave Manny Pacquiao everything he had, fought him more brilliantly than anyone ever did, yet still didn’t have enough to win the decision. If Bob Arum and Freddie Roach get their wishes, both men will fight again next spring. Will Juan Manuel Marquez finally get his win? Or will Manny Pacquiao finally get his decisive, unquestioned victory? As a fight fan, I can’t wait to see them together again. But if you are a Marquez fan, it might be heartbreaking if victory escapes him once more.