Photo via Bleacher Report

On Saturday night, Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao went back for fourths. After three fights which saw one draw and two close wins for Pacquiao that many saw go the other way, the fourth fight was put together more so because neither guy had a better business fight than because the public was asking for it.

The Pacquiao/Marquez rivalry is boxing’s best. And there is no bad guy. Both fighters are loved by their respective countries – the Philippines for Pacquiao and Mexico for Marquez and both see them as the true better fighter. Neither guy is too disrespectful to one another in the press, with maybe the worst insult thrown around by either camp being Freddie Roach’s questioning of whether Marquez’s new physique was natural or not.

Their first fight in 2004 was a draw and Pacquiao won razor thin decisions in the next two fights (2008 and 2012). Marquez thought he won all three fights while Pacquiao’s sure he won all three. The story of the fourth fight was clear; Marquez was closer to victory than ever in the third fight and it was possible that he could win the fourth. It was much more about Marquez’s will to get his hand raised than anything else. And finally, in the fourth fight, it happened.

One of our new writers Duan Greally (who also writes with me at our combat sports blog Fight Game Blog) is one of the smartest boxing minds I know. He was one of the boxing fans who thought Marquez won the last two fights that went to Pacquiao (I thought the decisions were correct). We were in discussion about Marquez’s brilliant, yet surprising knockout victory in the fourth fight.

On both of our scorecards, we had Pacquiao winning the first round. Pacquiao landed the cleaner shots and he looked a half second quicker than Marquez. He was moving his head a lot and Marquez wasn’t hitting the moving target. Pacquiao delivered a straight left on the button in the first, though Marquez didn’t even flinch. It wasn’t until the third round that the first big punch was scored.

Marquez knocks Pacquiao down in the 3rd

Marquez landed a very wide and looping right hand that Manny Pacquiao should’ve seen coming. It’s a punch that isn’t landed against a top fighter like Pacquiao.

Duan: I was surprised Pacquiao was caught with such a reckless shot. I was expecting Marquez to come alive in round 3 after giving up the first two, but I didn’t see that sort of breakthrough coming. It was the the kind of shot you usually only see land late, when guys are running on empty and chasing a finish – real hit and hope type stuff. Marquez really telegraphed the shot the way he loaded up on it and looped it over. I know that his right hand has been Pacquiao’s worst enemy in the three previous outings, but he never walked into anything as deliberate or with that amount of conviction before. When I saw it land so cleanly, I knew at some point it was going to find it’s mark again.

In reflection, I wonder if it should’ve been sign. The punch was so reckless that it should’ve left Marquez in a bad spot for Pacquiao to counter. I would’ve never expected that kind of punch to land and when it did, I was shocked. I started to wonder if Pacquiao’s reflexes had abandoned him and the first two rounds where he looked great were just a mirage. I’d be wrong. Sort of.

Pacquiao knocks Marquez down in the 5th

Pacquiao didn’t look to be bothered by the knockdown and won the next round on my scorecard, though some scored it for Marquez as they thought he’d found his rhythm. In the fifth, Roy Jones Jr. who is an analyst on the HBO Boxing PPV telecast, said that Pacquiao looked to be sitting on his punches and that Marquez needed to be careful. Right as he finished his comment, Pacquiao knocked him off-balanced with a left-hand and Marquez’s glove touched the canvas which counted as a knockdown. Pacquiao looked to be in clear control of the round and by the time it was over, Marquez looked old and tired.

Duan: I figured Marquez was done at that point. It was the first time since the first round of the first fight that I felt he was in real danger of being stopped. In truth, he looked very uncomfortable on his feet from the count right through to the finish (of the round). I’m not sure if he suffered some kind of leg injury in that 4th or if it was just the effect registered by one of Pacquiao’s punches, but his legs looked very weary underneath him. There didn’t appear to be a whole lot left at that point. I felt Pacquiao had largely bossed the fight to that point with the exception of the scare in the 3rd, which he looked to have fully recovered from. I thought, as a contest, it was over.

Like Duan, I thought we were nearing the end and at that point, I started to feel for Marquez. I wondered if he’d be able to be at peace without a victory and if Pacquiao knocked him out, there wouldn’t be another chance.

For most of the 6th, it didn’t look better for Marquez. His nose was bleeding, broken from one of the shots he took in the fifth. And Pacquiao was in control and looking for the stoppage. He hadn’t looked this confident when it came to a finish since stopping Miguel Cotto in 2009. And then it happened.

Marquez’s short right ends the night

With just a couple of seconds left in the round, all of a sudden Pacquiao was face down near the ropes and not moving. The live camera angle missed the punch because it was fixated on Pacquiao’s back as he was closing in on Marquez. The replay showed that Pacquiao’s confidence may have been his undoing. Defensively, he was wide open, as if Marquez couldn’t or wouldn’t hurt him. And that right hand that Duan was talking about came back to haunt him. It hit him flush and he was immediately out.

Was it a case of Pacquiao’s strong chin evading him? Or was it the perfect punch?

Duan: I certainly don’t think it’s a case of his punch resistance eroding that’s for sure. Each of those (knockdowns) were caused by fight ending shots – either would have put away most guys in the division. The way Pacquiao came back from the first knockdown speaks for his durability. Yes, he has taken his knocks from bigger fighters, but never with such clean, full-blooded shots.

The HBO team talked a lot about Pacquiao’s head movement in this fight. And they were right, he was using it effectively at times to befuddle Marquez and make him miss, but I wonder if he became over-reliant on trying to slip rather than getting his hands up to block. As you said, it was his defense which let him down. Those shots that did the damage really shouldn’t have been allowed past his guard.

Marquez finally got his hand raised and he did it in the most impressive fashion possible – he laid Manny Pacquiao out cold. It would be the third time Pacquiao’s been stopped in his career and the first since the great Medgoen Singsurat knocked him out in 1999. But that’s before he was the Manny Pacquiao we know. Marquez’s knockout victory may not have shocked the world, but it sure did surprise it.

Will there be another fight?

Marquez finally got what he believes was rightfully his; the win that evaded him on the scorecards and in the public eye. If he received the wins he thought he deserved in the prior fights with Pacquiao, maybe it would’ve been him raking in tens of millions of dollars on PPV instead. Is Marquez at peace, or does he want more? Pacquiao gave him his chance for redemption. Will he give Pacquiao a chance?

Duan: It was clear from the post-fight that a weight had been lifted. I think those first two bouts especially have been haunting him for a long time. I have always felt that he honestly believed he won fights one and two, and he probably needed this just to put them behind him and move on – maybe if only to prove it to himself. I think he could retire in peace now if he wanted to.

That’s not to say another fight won’t happen. A fifth bout has become big business now – bigger than any of the four that preceded it. People will want to see if Pacquiao can come back from it. When there is that much money on the line, you always favour the fight to get made. Maybe if it does happen, Marquez won’t have the same determination and desire now that his demons have been exorcised.

I agree with Duan. If Pacquiao wants it, we’re going to see it again. Marquez won’t be able to make more money in a different fight. It will be his one chance to really break the bank. And the story is perfect. For the first time since he became one of the best boxers in history, we’ll have a Manny Pacquiao redemption story. It’s the Manny Pacquiao comeback fight.

But what if Pacquiao calls it quits instead? Could it happen?

Duan: That’s up to Manny. I don’t think he looked like a shot fighter in there. I felt he was winning the fight up until the stoppage. Had he not got careless, he may have stopped Marquez in that very same round; then we would all have a very different perspective on it. It’s possible that knockout could have taken something out of him moving forward, but we won’t know until we see him back in there. Freddie Roach has been on the fence for a while as to whether he should box on, so Freddie might ask him to hang em up, or maybe Manny’s wife will. I don’t know. I would suggest he takes some time off to rest up. Then when he’s ready, see what he looks like in the gym and take it from there.

I think Pacquiao will want to fight again and if he can’t make a fight with Floyd Mayweather (which probably has even a worse chance of happening now), Marquez is the next best fight for him. To use an 80s clichéd movie reference to describe what Pacquiao may be lacking; he may have lost his eye of the tiger. Avenging this loss to Marquez may get it back. But just like Marquez needed his arm raised like he needed oxygen to breath, Pacquiao might need that for himself.

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