In my preview and prediction of Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez II — which was just as exciting as the first meeting, laced throughout with high-level action and considerable drama — it turns out I was only half-right about the key question in a moment that ended up being the most crucial of the night. I said Pacquiao couldn’t win by out-smarting Marquez. I said Marquez couldn’t win by out-attacking Pacquiao. But in the third, when Marquez got over-aggressive and charged in, Pacquiao got smarter, landing a perfect, short, counter left hook in the precise millisecond he had to, decking Marquez to win a one-point victory that he earned with that knockdown on the decisive scorecard.
I personally still scored the fight 114-113 for Marquez, although I have no dispute with the judges who scored it for Pacquiao. That said, there’s something exceedingly tragic about the career of Marquez, who has, in every close big fight in his career but one, come out on the losing end. And when he tried to rectify that equation and end matters conclusively in his most important battle ever, he lost because of that, too.
Besides that, I’d like to add some thoughts to complement my admired comrade Sean’s, whose post just below I agree with in full.
The fight itself lived up to the hype. It was somewhat more tactical than the first, as HBO’s Jim Lampley described it, but it had flurries of brawling, generated tense excitement because of how close it was overall and usually within each round, and had momentum swings that saw both men wobbled at various points. In any year other than one that includes Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez III, this is a strong candidate for Fight of the Year. As it is, it is merely a finalist. In many ways, it was very much like last year’s Miguel Cotto-Shane Mosley fight. Two evenly matched combatants; one in each — Marquez and Mosley — older, perhaps wiser, but still remarkably fresh; the other two — Pacquiao and Cotto — younger, stronger and more technically sound than they are usually given credit for; very similar punch numbers (at least for most of the fight in Pacquiao-Marquez, which I’ll get to momentarily); intelligent, hard exchanges, enhanced by the “wow” factor about both men taking such blows so well; and a highly competitive fight where the outcome was always in doubt.
First, let’s take a look at what Pacquiao — and just as important, his corner — did and didn’t do.
I’ll start with some nice: His defense has gotten way, way, better, even if he’s still no Floyd Mayweather in that department. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him get his gloves up so fast to block incoming blows, and after firing off punches, he’s much, much better at getting back into defensive position, although he’s still frequently off balance. He is also a significantly more versatile boxer these days. His straight left hand remains his devastating weapon, but it’s something like Michael Jordan past the early stages of his career; it’s surrounded by a little bit more, similar to the improvement of the rest of the Chicago Bulls. He’s become a very good counter-puncher, too. In the eighth round, Marquez opened up a very dangerous cut on Pacquiao’s eyelid that was badly bothering him. In that round, because of that cut, Marquez swamped him. He landed 21 punches to Pacquiao’s five. But if I was Pacquiao, I’d be buying cutman Joe Chavez a sumptuous dinner or three. The cut really only bothered him a little bit by the middle of round nine, thanks to Chavez’ incredible work. The gash was in a very, very bad place, and while Pacquiao showed guts in the eighth by still winging punches, he couldn’t have been as effective as he was in some of the late rounds if not for Chavez. Pacquiao also sucked it up in the second after Marquez hurt him worse than I’ve ever seen him hurt in his career (knowing, of course, that Pacquiao was knocked out twice earlier in his boxing life, but I didn’t see those fights). What did he do? He scored a knockdown in the next round. That Pacquiao is one gutty, iron-chinned mother.
Like Sean, though, I was disappointed that he never reverted to the old whirlwind Pacquiao. I wrote for TheSweetScience once that I feared we’d seen the last of that version of Pacquiao in 2006. Look, I think Pacquiao is a better fighter now than he was then, relying less as he does on his sheer speed and power. He’s also still pretty exciting. But he’s nowhere near as exciting as he once was. In the case of Saturday night, with the exception of the knockdown, it wasn’t just an aesthetic matter — Pacquiao would have found far greater utility in this fight going after Marquez with abandon, instead of playing it relatively safe. Every time he surged forward with flurries, he had his best moments. Every time he forced Marquez to fight, he got the better of him. Some of Pacquiao’s tentativeness can certainly be attributed to Marquez, who controlled distance well and countered effectively when Pacquiao got a little wild. But some of it is that Pacquiao is just permanently a different fighter now, I suspect. A bigger one, too. He gained 16 pounds overnight! I’d questioned Pacquiao’s devotion to his training last year, and I was right to; even his camp has acknowledged he wasn’t concentrating very well. But it’s clear that Pacquiao is just too big for junior lightweight (130 lbs.) anymore, because this time he evidently trained his ass off and still ballooned up in weight.
My take on Pacquiao concluded, let’s move on to Marquez:
Any Marquez fans who point to his edge in punches landed and his higher connect percentage just don’t understand how fights are scored. They’re scored by rounds, friends. There were some rounds where maybe Marquez landed more, but Pacquiao landed better. That said, it was not that Marquez didn’t fight well. He did. I said before the fight I didn’t see any drop-off in his game. I still don’t. His legs were still pretty good, good enough to control the distance and get in and out to great effect. That he looked slower in some of the later rounds is more a tribute to Pacquiao than a knock on Marquez. Pacquiao’s just some kind of genetic marvel, with that stamina of his. And Marquez, in my mind, clearly won the 12th, so he had some serious gas left in his tank. He did some very tricky things in there, besides that. There was a great strategist’s moment when he started a right hand, waited for Pacquiao to duck to his side, then fired it. Beautiful. Credit, too, to Marquez’ own heart. The cut that opened in the ninth in no way should have led to the fight being stopped, as Lampley suggested, because while it bothered Marquez and was horrific, he largely sucked it up and fought well in spots afterwards. Like Pacquiao in the second, Marquez demonstrated real guts after he was hurt in the third. He was hurt pretty bad, too. He was spared a second knockdown because he fell against the ropes as the bell sounded, and, strangely, followed Pacquiao back to his corner. Maybe that was bravado, but it looked to me like confusion. What’d he do? Well, he lost the next round, but went on to win four straight on my scorecard. He didn’t do it just with smarts, but with bravery.
The negatives, like Pacquiao’s, are mostly mixed. For instance, Marquez found for himself a great weapon in his left hand. He was landing his left hook very frequently, making it more than a battle between his straight right and Pacquiao’s straight left. Likewise, when he threw his left jab, it found a home. So why didn’t he throw his left more? Likewise, in the 12th, he began ducking under Pacquiao’s straight left instead of backing up and getting hit with the next punch, and when Marquez ducked it, he could also come up with his big uppercut and it, too, found a home. So why didn’t he do that until the 12th? Obviously, his over-aggression in the third was fatal. Interestingly, it was almost fatal for him against Marco Antonio Barrera, when he came at a very hurt Barrera and got countered and dropped on the seat of his pants, although Marquez won in the end. Also interestingly, over-aggression has proven a problem for little brother Rafael Marquez as well. How many times did he have Vazquez hurt and get reckless, creating openings for Vazquez? Nacho Bernstein’s a great trainer, but maybe he needs to teach his boxers better about how to capitalize on a hurt opponent, or maybe this is just some kind of genetic trait of the Marquez brothers. I think Juan Manuel Marquez has as much warrior pride as his great Mexican contemporaries in Barrera and Erik Morales, it’s just that his primary asset is his brain, and when he’s strayed from that, he’s gotten in trouble. But he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Too cautious or slow to warm versus Chris John, Freddie Norwood, or against Pacquiao the first time? He doesn’t win. Too brave against Pacquiao the second time? He loses. Maybe it’s the fate of a counter-puncher, to have a tough time winning close fights on the scorecards, but from here, it looks like he’s a little cursed.
And the final outcome?
I’ll give you my full scorecard. I thought Pacquiao won rounds 1, 4, 9 and 10 by scores of 10-9, and round 3 by a score of 10-8. I gave Marquez the rest by 10-9. On the second viewing, I found the 11th the hardest round to score, but still gave it to Marquez. A friend at my place who was rooting for Pacquiao came up with the exact same score, 114-113 for Marquez, but he scored the first and seventh rounds differently than I did. That several of those rounds were debatable left me without much argument with the final decision, but I’m still convinced Marquez won. That doesn’t matter anymore. Pacquiao got a hard-earned victory, and he and Marquez produced another classic.
Next for the winner: It’s already settled — Pacquiao’s fighting David Diaz next at 135 lbs. in June. He could be the perfect entryway opponent for Pacquiao. Diaz is nothing special whatsoever, although he’s tough as nails. He had surprising difficulty on the undercard with the owner of exactly one KO in 23 fights, Ramon Montano, and while some of that could be attributed to Montano’s own toughness, it’s clear that among the upper-crust lightweights, Diaz is the least potent. (Speaking of the undercard — never want to see Steve Luevano again, thanks.) His straight-ahead style will give us a chance to see the old whirlwind Pacquiao re-emerge, and that would be a good thing, but I doubt that will happen. I do think Pacquiao has little choice but to move up in weight, because his body’s just gotten too big for the division. But I wish he was thinking of a rematch with Marquez at all. There was nothing settled conclusively Saturday night. Pacquiao got a win over Marquez that a lot of people will dispute, after getting a draw with Marquez that a lot of people still dispute. Marquez said this year he’d gladly move up to 135 to fight Pacquiao, so that’s not a problem. But according to Pacquiao, that Marquez “business is over.” It’s too bad. If, for some reason, Pacquiao fights Marquez later in his career, Marquez will be old, and if Pacquiao wins, it might have some tarnish. He’d have an advantage at the new weight, because he’s clearly the bigger, stronger guy. To me, the fight that should happen is Pacquiao-Marquez III. I suspect that Pacquiao just doesn’t want any more of Marquez. He’s a difficult fellow to fight. But I wish Pacquiao would relish the challenge instead of burying it.
Next for the loser: I think Marquez still has several good fights in him before he calls it a career. He’s a young 34, for a little man. He becomes the top junior lightweight, by default, because Pacquiao is leaving just as he has answered the question: “Who’s the best junior lightweight?” Obviously I want Pacquiao to be his next opponent. But failing that, I think Marquez-Joan Guzman could be really entertaining, although, because both are reluctant to initiate their offense until their opponent does, it could totally suck, too. It’s the best fight that can be made, importance-wise, in the division, however, assuming Guzman gets by Alex Arthur. A sleeper pick? I kinda dig the idea of Marquez moving back down to 126 and meeting Vazquez on his move up from 122, in a totally awesome “revenge of Rafael’s big brother” deal. How much fun is that storyline?