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. Next: keys to the fight*.
Every time Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. fight someone besides the other, they’re still fighting. Maybe it’s explicit, with direct verbal swipes; maybe it’s a conversation where they’re talking past one another; maybe it’s a proxy war; maybe it’s fans waging battles in boxing debates on behalf of their favorite of the pair. The two main things they’re always fighting for is to determine who is the bigger star, and for the crown worn by the world’s best boxer. It doesn’t matter how tiresome it’s become that they don’t just make a welterweight mega-fight already. You can’t mention anything Pacquiao is doing without mentioning Mayweather, and you can’t mention anything Mayweather is doing without mentioning Pacquiao. Like two physics-defying magnets, they are simultaneously drawn and repelled to one another, doomed seemingly forever to this cycle of never meeting, always fighting from afar.
That’s the case Saturday when Pacquiao and Marquez meet for the third time. But there’s more at stake than just the latest wrinkles in the Pacquiao-Mayweather rivalry. There is also a score to settle; a career potentially on the line; the reputation of a historic trilogy; and depending on how things go, maybe Pacquiao-Marquez IV.
However you look at it, Pacquiao and Mayweather are #1-#2, in whatever order, when it comes to both stardom and pound-for-pound supremacy. My view is that Pacquiao’s resume is better, so he’s my #1 P4P, but Mayweather very well might be the better talent; I constantly sway back and forth on who would win between the two if they fought. Resume-wise, Mayweather has gained some ground on Pacquiao as he’s fought the better competition between the two of late, but he also doesn’t fight often enough to be in a position to definitively overtake Pacquiao. On the other end, Pacquiao is the bigger star worldwide because of his rabid Filipino following, but Mayweather is the bigger star in the United States based on his generally better pay-per-view sales — although there, in a reversal, Pacquiao could be gaining ground on Mayweather.
Where they have shared common opponents — and Marquez fits the bill — comparisons in both categories are inevitable. Pacquiao struggled to go 1-0-1 against Marquez, while Mayweather made Marquez look ordinary in 2010, but Mayweather-Marquez was at a weight two divisions higher at 144 pounds where he was completely unproven, and Pacquiao against Marquez had not yet developed into the all-around fighter his is now. Pacquiao broke pay-per-view records for smaller fighters against Marquez in their rematch, doing 400,000, the most for any fight ever below welterweight. Mayweather did 1 million buys, obviously a superior figure.
It’s gone back and forth like this, with each side or each side’s advocates arguing that Pacquiao only beat Ricky Hatton, Oscar De La Hoya and others easier than Mayweather did because Mayweather “softened them up,” or that but Maywather might have benefited from Pacquiao-Marquez II doing such a big number to elevate Marquez’ profile so that Mayweather doing 1 million buys was aided by Pacquiao.
If Pacquiao wants to make a big statement in his non-fistfight fight with Mayweather that he’s the better fighter and the bigger star, he’ll dominate Marquez more easily than did Mayweather and do more than 1 million buys. If he doesn’t, people will dock Pacquiao as the lesser fighter (even if it’s just a matter of styles) and lesser draw (even if it’s just because people took Pacquiao-Marquez III lightly at 144 pounds because of how Mayweather-Marquez turned out at 144 pounds) But everyone will see it how they want even if Pacquiao crushes Marquez and sells more PPVs: Mayweather and his fans will say that Mayweather “softened up” Marquez and that Marquez benefited from getting a higher profile courtesy fighting Mayweather.
In the event Pacquiao does make easy work of Marquez, it will reinforce a sentiment I perceive to be developing where fans are losing interest in boxing’s two best and brightest repeatedly steamrolling through the the competition. I wonder when that phenomenon begins to translate into large swaths of fans deciding they aren’t going to pay $55 or $65 (or even $60 or $70, in the case of Mayweather’s last fights) for any more one-sided showcases, even if the big names “Mayweather” or “Pacquiao” are on the posters. If that becomes a trend, maybe, just maybe, Pacquiao and Mayweather will stop with all of the outside-the-ring comparisons and finally fight because the money is drying up and the only other pipeline in town is each other’s.
Pacquiao and Marquez, they have their own rivalry, and it’s not just a war of words or reputations — there has been real blood shed between the two to attest to how real it is.
If Pacquiao-Marquez III is a real fight rather than a gross mismatch, the question we discussed yesterday, then one of boxing’s great trilogies could be sealed Saturday night. It would go down in some pretty esteemed company. But if it’s a mismatch, then it will soil to some extent the two classic fights that came before.
Whoever wins probably get some bragging rights: If Pacquiao defeats Marquez, he’ll be able to claim the upper hand in all the debates about whether he deserved to win either of the first two bouts, both nip-and-tuck affairs where 24 rounds of boxing ended with six scorecards that totaled 679-678 to Pacquiao’s advantage. He’d have a 2-0-1 edge that would settle the score. That is, unless Marquez looks like crap again at 144, in which case people will dismiss the win — or, of course, if Marquez wins. If Marquez won, he would have the victory he believed he deserved in the first two fights. Think about how different the picture in boxing would look right now if Marquez had officially won one or both of those fights. Would Pacquiao be the star or acclaimed fighter he is now? Would Marquez get what all that attention instead? Would Pacquiao-Marquez III have happened in 2008 or 2009, when it should have?
A Marquez win would be huge. Massive. No words for it, really. We’d have a new pound-for-pound king, but whether fans and writers would consider that to be Marquez or Mayweather would be a big debate. The notion of Pacquiao-Mayweather, the Super Bowl of boxing, would take a hit. Pacquiao has a rematch contract should Marquez defeat him, so we could end up with Pacquiao-Marquez IV — and in the event of a Marquez win, all the trepidation about Pacquiao-Marquez III would disappear for what would suddenly be a monumental fourth fight.
If the 8-1 favorite Pacquiao wins as expected, how each man fares will be watched closely. If the 38-year-old Marquez loses badly at the weight, he can retreat back to the lightweight division where he’s the champion and still have a career — unless he’s badly damaged and knocked into retirement the way Pacquiao did to De La Hoya and Hatton. The better his showing, the more viable the rest of his career will be. On the other side, some have detected that Pacquiao at age 32 is beginning a slow decline. That could simultaneously make a Mayweather fight more probable if Mayweather thinks the risk of fighting Pacquiao has diminished, and make fans less interested in it — some are already less enthused about Pacquiao-Mayweather because they think both men are getting a little long in the tooth. But it could also solve the problem of Pacquiao fights being foregone conclusions.
(*Apologies: I jumped the gun in yesterday’s post about when we’d have the keys to the fight post.)