Manny Pacquiao defeated Juan Manuel Marquez Saturday night, but less convincingly than in their second meeting and in a way that suggests that maybe, just maybe, the current pound-for-pound king Pacquiao isn’t the near-omnipotent phenom he was from late-2008 to mid-2011. The judges had it 114-114, 115-113 and 116-112 as a majority decision for Pacquiao, but the public’s consensus (as evidenced by the boos for Pacquiao and tallies on Twitter and at my apartment’s pay-per-view party) leaned toward a Marquez victory or a draw, which is an especially damning result considering Pacquiao was anywhere from an 8-1 to 10-1 betting favorite, based on how much better and bigger Pacquiao has become since the 2008 rematch of the 2004 draw with Marquez.
It was, in some ways, a fight where I was glad to be wrong. I thought Pacquiao was going to simply be far, far too good and big for Marquez at this phase of their careers. The first four rounds were mostly boring, with Pacquiao seemingly showing excessive respect for Marquez. But maybe Marquez, at the 144 pounds limit, had adjusted properly to the weight in a way he hadn’t against Floyd Mayweather, Jr. in 2009, and the current lightweight champion punched harder than he did during his first welterweight bout. Pacquiao never really went for it the way he did in 2004 and 2008, even late, when he began to get more aggressive. Alternately, Pacquiao simply couldn’t pull the trigger the way he used to during his recent run, and is no longer the offensive dynamo he once was. You can chalk this up to Marquez “having Pacquiao’s number,” but that doesn’t fully explain how a much bigger man wasn’t able to throttle a much smaller man. Either Pacquiao was too cautious, or Marquez hit harder at welterweight than he did when he faced Pacquiao in 2008 at junior lightweight, or Pacquiao is over the hill.
Listening to Nacho Beristain has been a blessing and a curse for Marquez in his career, because Beristain has turned him into a world-class fighter but clearly gave him the wrong advice at times, as he did Saturday in emphasizing the likely win he would score, and Marquez fought far too cautiously in the late rounds and in the 12th round in particular. It makes this less of a robbery than it might be otherwise. Marquez had a victory within his grasp. He let it slip away, to some extent; I had it for Marquez seven rounds to five, but it’s hard to protest that too much if one or two rounds in a close fight go the other direction.
The risk inherent in Pacquiao and Mayweather not fighting in 2009, or 2010, or 2011, is that the fight’s sell-by date would pass. That moment very well might have arrived Saturday on HBO pay-per-view. And Pacquiao’s incredible run — independent of anything Mayweather has done — might have begun its grind toward a halt. If so, it’s been a tremendous run, a historic one, one that has featured a ton of forever-memorable moments. There’s just that hint of “might have been” that makes it all so bittersweet.