Coming up Saturday on HBO: The second most important fight that can be made in boxing, behind only the possibility of Floyd Mayweather-Miguel Cotto. A long-overdue rematch of a thrilling 2004 draw. Two of perhaps the top three boxers on the planet, once again behind only Mayweather. One half of the best boxing brother combo ever versus one national icon, looking to stomp down the last of another nation’s great fighters to complete his wall of trophy heads. A made-in-heaven style match-up between a gifted, slick, offensive-minded counter-puncher and an aggressive, go for broke, all-action supernova. Yeah, you should probably check out Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez II. The two brothers many consider the finest boxing sibling pair ever are separated by eight pounds and two years, and in this month of March, they could not be more alike. Little brother Rafael Marquez just two weeks ago took on an all-out warrior, Israel Vazquez, in a rematch of a previous stunning exchange of blows that left mystery behind instead of conclusive answers. Little brother fell just… that… short of winning, but he made history in how he fought. Now it’s time for big brother Juan Manuel Marquez to answer the questions that linger from his own inconclusive war with a fiercely explosive foe, Pacquiao, but the stage is bigger, the two fighters more accomplished and familial and national pride are more heavily at play. Junior lightweight (130 lbs.) Pacquiao, one of boxing’s true superstars and the most famous person in the Philippines, is considered by nearly everyone the second-best fighter active today, but Juan Manuel Marquez isn’t far behind — some see him just behind Pacquiao, in the three slot, in large measure because the pair fought to a draw in 2004. (Junior featherweight [122 lbs.] Rafael Marquez also falls into most everyone’s top 10 because of his closely-split three battles with fellow pound-for-pounder Vazquez over the course of 2007 and 2008.) It will be hard to top the finale of the Vazquez-Marquez trilogy. But if you’ve had the fortune of catching the inaugural Pacquiao-Marquez bout, you know that Pacquiao-Marquez II is a Fight of the Year contender in any year it happens. And, like I said: There are some different factors at play here that Vazquez-Marquez just doesn’t have. For one, if not for the outcome of Vazquez-Marquez III, Juan Manuel doesn’t have the extra incentive of avoiding back-to-back brotherly losses. A more obvious motivator, though, is that Pacquiao has wrought havoc on Mexican fighter after Mexican fighter, including two all-time greats, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales. In popularity, Marquez has always been held a notch below those two. But after Pacquiao knocked Morales out in two of three and beat Barrera in both meetings, Marquez is the last line of defense south of the border. He is the only remaining truly great Mexican fighter around Pacquiao’s weight who can say, “Yeah, but he didn’t beat me.” Pacquiao, who has embraced his “Mexican Killer” persona, surely doesn’t like him saying it, as much as it is not satisfactory for Marquez to say, simply, that he didn’t lose. He wants to win. Pacquiao wants to erase the doubts conclusively, and the doubts he’s fostered about his career of late. It is unwise to buy into the hype that “X fighter is having the best training camp of his career,” but when the emotions run this deep, and when credible reporters are reporting it from their own eyes — as they are for Pacquiao-Marquez II — why doubt it? The respective ring personas of Pacquiao and Marquez made their first fight fantastic. Pacquiao, at his best, comes at his man like a force of nature, fast, hard and without any regard for what’s in his way. I should say: At his best, Pacquiao does all that, but with more than just one hand aimed straight for the noggin. The Pacquiao that met Marquez in 2004 really only punched with his left, and only at the head, because he’d had little need for much else. He’d sliced through everyone with it, including, shockingly, Barrera. For all his ring wars, no one had so one-sidedly battered Barrera the way Pacquiao did with all that speed and power. Marquez was the one who exposed Pacquiao’s limits. Pacquiao looked on the verge of another one-sided beatdown of a Mexican great when he dropped Marquez three times in the first round. I thought it should be stopped. I was wrong. Marquez got back up and figured out how to time Pacquiao’s incoming left hand, and, suddenly, it was a fight. When Morales fought Marquez in 2005, he took his game plan straight from Marquez, and he won with it. Pacquiao had no choice but to learn to use his right hand, and punch to the body. He did, and that made him not just a dangerous fighter, but a great one. Morales paid the price for the improvement he forced on Pacquaio, getting knocked out twice by the Pac-Man in 2006. But then, Pacquiao’s focus seemed to wander. He ran for political office. He looked pedestrian, by his standards, beating some decent contenders and then Barrera in a rematch. In that fight, he showed more technical polish than ever, even acting like he was interested in defense (gasp!), but he wasn’t his old whirlwind self, had trouble making the weight, and by the end of 2007, he was making New Years’ resolution to end his many bad habits, like gambling. Marquez, in the time since 2004, has become more like Pacquiao, even as Pacquiao has become more like him. Marquez is the all-around excellent boxer, who has the total array of punches, craft and skill that ought to be in textbooks, and even defense, when he wanted to employ it. Earlier in his career, he employed it too often for some. But much as Marquez, via Morales, forced Pacquiao to become a better fighter, Pacquiao forced Marquez to put on display his warrior heart. It takes a lot to get up from three knockdowns in one round, especially if it’s the first, and outbox one’s opponent for the balance of the fight. Marquez said he became even more offensive-minded after his close, disputed decision loss to Chris John in John’s home country of Indonesia, because he realized that if he wanted to erase all doubt of whether he was a winner — and Marquez has caught some bad breaks in his career, with close decisions often not going his way — he needed to go for the knockout. He did just that in his subsequent fights. He did it most especially against Barrera in his career-best win in 2007. He got knocked down once, sure, but he went for it, and it paid off in the end when he got the decision victory. There are some who believe Marquez has slipped a little bit. I don’t. There are many who think Pacquiao has gotten better. I do, but I also think he has allowed rust to collect on his newfound skills by basically wasting 2007. I think this fight boils down to basically one thing: Will Marquez try to play Pacquiao’s game, or will Pacquaio try to play Marquez’? To those who say “Marquez gets hit more these days,” I say it’s he’s merely because he’s opted to trade more, lead more. He’s a counter-puncher by nature, preferring to let his opponents make mistakes before initiating his offense, and he can shift back to it when he wants. Look at what he did to Rocky Juarez last year — he practically shut him out with counter-punching. Juarez isn’t a great, but he gave Barrera all he could handle. Now, maybe you say, “Marquez had a rough time with Barrera, but Pacquiao beat him handily twice.” I answer with a boxing cliche: Styles make fights. Barrera vs. Marquez is a different style match-up than Barrera vs. Pacquiao, and Barrera fought far more cautiously against Pacquiao the second time around than he did against Marquez. Pacquiao has a significant age advantage, but I think Marquez may have the slight edge on desire right now over Pacquiao, who surely wants to win this fight badly but is thinking about what’s next. Like Nate Campbell last weekend toppling young Juan Diaz, Marquez is the older of the two, and knows that this is very much like his last stand. All he’s ever wanted is to beat Pacquiao and now he’s getting his chance. So back to the question: Will Marquez fight aggressively, like he has been lately, and forget about counter-punching? If he does, I bet he loses. Or will Pacquaio fight smartly, like he has been lately, and forget about all-out aggression? If he does, I bet he loses. But whatever the mathematical match-up — smart vs. smart, aggressive vs. aggressive, smart vs. aggressive — it should be fantastic. My prediction: Marquez by an extremely close decision. Marquez says that as Pacquiao has become more polished, he has become more predictable, and that makes him less dangerous. I don’t think Marquez will come out swinging wildly, and instead will fight a very smart counter-punching fight. Even though Pacquiao’s improved, he’s still not in Marquez’ league when it comes to technique. Confidence: 60%. That may be a little high. The conventional wisdom is that Marquez will “have to fight a perfect fight” to deal with Pacquiao. If Marquez comes out early deciding to trade, he’ll be put back into his place fairly quickly by Pacquiao, who always gets the better of trades with his superior power. My allegiance: Marquez is, admittedly, my favorite fighter. “Pacquiao at his best” is in my top five. What’s not to love about either of these guys? But I feel like, even if Marquez wasn’t my #1, he’s still the easier man to root for. Beating Pacquiao is his holy grail, and he’s got to be the underdog coming in. I can root for Pacquiao the next day.
At Long Last: Manny Pacquiao – Juan Manuel Marquez II Preview And Prediction
Posted by Tim Starks on Mar 13, 2008 23:14