Overdue, But Perhaps Too Late: Manny Pacquiao Vs. Juan Manuel Marquez III Preview And Prediction

So continues our marathon coverage of Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez III Nov. 12 on HBO pay-per-view. Previously: The big question about Pacquiao-Marquez III; what’s at stake; keys to the fight part I and II; the undercard. Next: a staff roundtable.

Back in 2008 and early 2009, there were few fights that boxing fans lusted after more than Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez III. The first two bouts were classics, a style dream pitting raw aggression and skillful counterpunching and physicality again intelligence, seared into the memory by absurd twists, blood and the tiniest shred of difference between two perfectly-matched fighters where Pacquiao emerged with one narrow win and a draw. The pairing left us craving more and without any satisfactory answer to who was best, and it demanded a trilogy.

In 2011, Pacquiao-Marquez III is a fight that should have come two or three years ago and a weight class or two lower. That’s why you can hardly find a soul who believes Marquez will finally get that elusive win. Maybe some of them give him a chance. Maybe the stray reputable boxing mind believes Marquez will steal a victory. From there, things divide up between those who think Pacquiao-Marquez III will be a drop tower amusement ride — it will be fun while it lasts, but we all know how it ends — or a cynical perversion of one of boxing’s best rivalries of the past decade.

I’m in the second camp, even if I’d rather not be.

For me, it boils down primarily to size. It bears repeating, the sheer scope of how problematic this will be for Marquez to overcome. Marquez is a natural featherweight, overachieving as the lightweight champion. Marquez gets wobbled or dropped by relatively weak-punching 135-pounders like Juan Diaz. The one time Marquez fought at 144 pounds, it was a disaster — he was slow, he was doughy, his punches has zero effect on Floyd Mayweather, Jr.

Pacquiao is the best welterweight in the world, even if he’s probably more a natural junior featherweight. His physique might be small for the weight, but there’s no doubt about his speed or power. He makes full-blown, large-sized welterweights lose their nerve to keep fighting after he hits them cleanly. He can take their punches in return, too, even if his face gets a bit marked up.

Looking down the list of people Pacquiao has fought at welterweight, I can’t see anyone that I think Marquez could beat. Looking at the division’s top 10-ranked fighters, I feel the same. Based just on size alone, I’d give someone in the top 20 like Jesus Soto Karass the edge over Marquez, even, just on size alone.

Promoter Bob Arum knows all about this size issue. It’s the reason he had previously rejected Marquez as an opponent for Pacquiao. Arum is famous for his “yesterday I was lying, today I’m telling the truth” quote, so maybe he was lying before. But he dissed the idea of Shane Mosley as an opponent for Pacquiao before he embraced the idea, and he was right the first time.

Let’s say new strength coach Angel Hernandez somehow transforms Marquez into a true welterweight, though. There are other problems for Marquez. Marquez is now 38. His reflexes have dulled, which is compounded by fighting at less than ideal weights. Pacquiao has not only gotten bigger, but better. It’s remarkable if you look at how much better Pacquiao was in 2008 for their rematch than he was in 2004. He has made a similar quantum leap since.

The best argument for Marquez being competitive is the style match-up, the sense that Marquez more than anyone else is equipped to give Pacquiao static. It’s a fine argument, in theory. But it’s missing a couple things. One of them is that Pacquiao is a completely different fighter than the one Marquez faced in 2008, and that style advantage might no longer hold. The other is that at 126 pounds and 130 pounds, Marquez was able to hit Pacquiao hard enough to make him think twice about attacking. At 144 pounds, I don’t think that track record will hold, unless this Hernandez cat is a total miracle worker.

From there, all that’s left is figuring out whether it will be fun to watch.

Assuming that Marquez will give it his all is a fair assumption. He always has before. If he does, he’ll make some contact on Pacquiao, but he’ll get hit harder than he ever has in his life, too. He’ll go down a lot of times. But unlike the other four times Pacquiao knocked him down, recovery won’t be so assured. Maybe Pacquiao will score a highlight reel knockout. Maybe he won’t, and Marquez simply won’t be able to continue after a while. Maybe referee Tony Weeks will stop it — Weeks famously and appropriately stopped Diego Corales-Jose Luis Castillo I — or maybe Marquez trainer Nacho Beristain will — less likely, since Beristain let Alfredo Angulo take an unnecessarily long beating last weekend.

As I’ve said all week, though, I don’t like how chummy Marquez has been with Pacquiao in the build-up to this fight, and I don’t like that HBO’s Max Kellerman said he’d heard Marquez wasn’t training as hard as usual. Maybe, as Pacquiao has guessed, Marquez is playing head games with him, trying to get him to ease up. Maybe, alternatively, Marquez is there for the payday and doesn’t have the maniacal devotion to beating Pacquiao he once did, and he’s really only interested in showing up for a paycheck and surviving. It wouldn’t be the first time someone did that against Pacquiao, since every clue points to that as the motive for Joshua Clottey and Shane Mosley. Miguel Cotto and Oscar De La Hoya tried a bit harder, but eventually backed down. You can point to incidents in all four men’s pasts to explain where mental weakness had been in their character, but for the most part all four had conducted their careers with courage. Marquez’ courage level may exceed all of theirs, but you simply never know when a boxer will pick that one fight to go against type.

That’s my prediction, then: Pacquiao by early knockout, say the 3rd, or Pacquiao by another decision where his opponent basically runs away from him all night. I’m going to show some faith in Marquez and say he’ll go all-out and get crushed early. In some way, that could provide some kind of entertainment. And you can’t hold it against Pacquiao that he beats everyone who gets into the ring with him, from the most qualified to the least qualified. But there are better fights Pacquiao could have taken than this one, competitively speaking. If only we’d gotten this fight a while back, or at a lower weight. Under the circumstances, I’ll take little pleasure in any entertaining Pacquiao win that comes of this version of Pacquiao-Marquez III, now, here. The fight’s tagline is “Unfinished Business.” But the unfinished business was years ago, where they left things in 2008. That’s not where this is.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.