After “Floydwatch 2010” was scrapped in favor of a Texas tangle with erstwhile pariah Antonio Margarito on November 13, Team Pacquiao immediately began circling the wagons.
“Margarito wasn’t an arbitrary choice,” argued the BWAA Fighter of the Decade on his online journal as translated from his native tongue of Tagalog. “After his loss to Shane Mosley in a welterweight division fight, he moved up to the light middleweight division and won the WBC international title. In his last fight in Mexico, he showed why he’s the most avoided boxer in the whole world.”
“With Margarito being Hispanic, and this is North Texas- which has a huge Hispanic population- that will make this even bigger,” his promoter, Top Rank CEO Bob Arum, told ESPN.
Lost in the shuffle of Top Rank’s recently announced U.S. tour to promote the pay-per-view was the name of a man who not only has given the Filipino two of the toughest wars of his career but would have been a much easier matchup for the fans to digest.
I’m talking about Juan Manuel Marquez.
The objective of this article is to outline the reasons in favor of the Margarito fight, the reasons against it, and the affirmative argument why a third bout between Pacquiao and Marquez would both outsell the current clash on the table as well as close any loopholes in the Filipino’s gaudy Hall of Fame résumé.
THE CASE FOR MARGARITO
Upon first glance, both the media and public shared concerns about the bout. In light of the 32-year-old Margarito’s suspension from the California State Athletic Commission for his team’s antics in loading gloves before the Shane Mosley fight, right down to his subsequent inactivity and ho-hum performance in his return bout against Roberto Garcia, many have questioned whether the Mexican brawler had earned such a lucrative assignment opposite the Filipino national treasure.
Before I continue, let me first state that Manny Pacquiao has always exemplified the term “pound-for-pound.” In my last article on the “Pac-Man,” I outlined the reasons why he deserved the nod for “Fighter of the Decade” over Floyd Mayweather. He has never backed down from a challenge, as evidenced by his consistently moving up a cumulative 40 pounds in weight and collecting world titles in a record-breaking seven weight classes (four of them lineal). Pacquiao holds wins over a staggering 15 current or former world titlists, with the last 11 of his fights falling under this category.
One could argue that this winter bout is an endeavor at the same level as the others, especially since Margarito is the bigger man and, not too long ago, trainer Freddie Roach felt that a fight with the 5’11’’ former welterweight champ with the 73’’ reach would be too much for 5’6½’’ Manny to handle in the size department. Pacquiao would also concede six inches in reach.
But times have changed. Since Roach made that statement before Pacquiao’s surprise eight-round destruction of Oscar De La Hoya in December 2008, the Filipino has fought two more times at the 147-pound limit, stopping Miguel Cotto for the WBO title and defending the belt in a lopsided unanimous decision win over Joshua Clottey.
Before negotiations fell apart with Mayweather for a “Fight of the Century” at welterweight, Team Pacquiao had considered a potential Plan B of challenging Yuri Foreman, then the WBO junior middleweight champion, for his belt. Clearly these actions indicate that the “Pac-Man” is a full-fledged 147-pounder now, and a matchup with Margarito is no longer the laugher the boxing public eschewed only two years ago.
The 31-year-old Pacquiao has also worked his way up to the top of the food chain. With De La Hoya no longer selling tickets as a crossover star in the ring, the Filipino has done his part to fill the void, as evidenced by the massive monetary returns from the Clottey fight. In addition to the 50,994 spectators in Arlington, the fight yielded 700,000 pay-per-view buys on HBO and $35.3 million in American domestic television revenue in total. If anything, “The Event” proved he could carry the weight of a big promotion on his shoulders, and the same will be said here, as he is expected to make a number in the ballpark of $15 million against Margarito. The fight is definitely financially viable.
The legacy angle of this argument is covered as well. The vacant WBC junior middleweight title is up for grabs, meaning that a Pacquiao victory would result in his unprecedented eighth world title, two more than the next man (De La Hoya) and three more than Mayweather.
THE CASE AGAINST IT
With that said, is the criticism of Pacquiao’s recent decision too harsh? Arguably, yes. However, it’s this writer’s belief that Manny’s agreement to take on the “Tijuana Tornado” is a move that falls short of his otherwise ethereal standards he has set for himself leading up to this point of his career.
I understand that this article has probably been written in vain but perhaps my spiel can serve as an impassioned plea for mercy on behalf of the fans, who will likely be charged an exorbitant price from the Top Rank brain trust to watch a Pacquiao fight that everyone and their mothers hoped would be one against Mayweather.
With that said, Floyd’s curious unwillingness to sign on the dotted line is another article in itself but the fact is that the ball was deflated and firmly nailed into Manny’s court, which forced his hand and led him to Margarito Avenue.
But does that give Manny an excuse to fight for a WBC junior middleweight belt that has been used as no more than a marketing tool and passed around by name fighters more times than a plate full of sliced turkey at a Thanksgiving dinner table? In understanding the legitimacy of the belt, it’s worth chronicling its genealogy.
Remember, this is the same trinket that was served on a silver platter to Ricardo Mayorga in 2005, who was magically allowed to fight for it when he had fought a total of zero times at the 154-pound limit in six years and was coming off a loss at middleweight to Felix Trinidad in a Don King-promoted in-house extravaganza.
After easily handling Michele Piccirillo, who had also fought neither zero ranked opponents nor an eliminator, Mayorga was predictably ushered into a 2006 title defense against De La Hoya, where the “Golden Boy” unceremoniously pounded him into submission. It’s worth mentioning that De La Hoya hadn’t stepped in the ring in almost two years and yet, was offered a taste of this not-so-forbidden fruit by WBC president José Sulaiman and his son Mauricio.
De La Hoya then relinquished the belt to Mayweather by split decision the following year in the record-breaking pay-per-view card entitled “The World Awaits,” a less than tantalizing scrap in which the fans were still left waiting. Only two months after Mayweather vacated the belt, the late Vernon Forrest defeated Carlos Baldomir in 2007 to assume the empty throne. Baldomir had fought zero times at junior middleweight before his title shot.
Notice a pattern here?
After switching hands a few more times, the Jennifer Aniston of belts is available once more, and already, visions of collecting millions in WBC sanctioning fees from her two new suitors are dancing in the heads of Sulaiman & Son.
Let’s not forget the contractual stipulations regarding the fight itself between the two combatants. While Pacquiao would now be fighting an incredible ten weight classes removed from his original spot at junior flyweight, he is requiring Margarito to weigh in at 150 pounds, four pounds below the limit.
As stated in the aforementioned stanza above, Pacquiao would be the smaller man, which would necessitate the concession to even things out, so to speak. But Pacquiao already received a similar pass from the fans when he successfully negotiated for then-WBO welterweight champ Cotto to come in at a catchweight of 145 pounds, two under the limit.
But therein lies the difference. Cotto was the reigning champion and the fight was an optional defense. In essence, he had the right of first refusal. If he decided to forgo the Pacquiao fight altogether, he was well within his power to do so. He could have instead opted to unify his belts or accepted another contender’s challengeall within the regular 147-pound limit. In essence, Cotto chose his fate.
On the other hand, Margarito has no such leverage. He has no belt to dangle over the table. He’s coming off a suspension of which the nature is so serious that it’s definitely up for debate whether or not he even deserves such a high-profile fight in the first place. It’s undoubtedly within reason to opine that without Top Rank’s influence or the certain influx of millions into the state of Texas from a Pacquiao-Margarito fight, that the Mexican would still be unlicensed in America and wasting away in obscurity for the rest of his career.
Therefore, Margarito’s bargaining disadvantage is at such a nadir where he has no choice. He must concede the four pounds or else there is no fight. He had better give up the lion’s share of the purse or face eternal banishment from the elite level of the sport. He and his team would be best served observing a code of silence regarding drug testing or have their golden parachute shot down.
Now, can Top Rank really look the loyal pay-per-view customer in his eye and tell him this is a fair fight at the fair price of $59.95?
THE CASE FOR MARQUEZ
How does Pacquiao avoid the same fate of his rival Mayweather, who, in the midst of his “vacation,” has suffered some substantial hits to his self-proclaimed reputation of fighting the best anytime, anywhere?
It’s simple. Fight lightweight world champion Juan Manuel Marquez for the third and final time.
The Mexican’s dominant title defense last month against Juan Diaz only clarified the obvious; aside from maybe Humberto Soto and Robert Guerrero, 135 pounds is a ghost town at the moment compared to the buzz surrounding the two weight classes above it. Even Guerrero ventured north in his last fight.
It’s no secret that Marquez has been desperate for a career-defining fight. The man has cemented his place in the upper echelon of the contemporary pound-for-pound rankings but evaluating him on a historical level, his ledger of notable wins leaves much to be desired.
Aside from a win over a past-his-prime Marco Antonio Barrera, the former champs Marquez has conquered aren’t as impressive as the readers might assume: Robbie Peden, Derrick Gainer, Marcos Medina, Orlando Salido, a 37-year-old Joel Casamayor, and two wins over Juan Diaz don’t exactly comprise boxing’s version of Murderer’s Row.
And worse, “Dinamita” has come up short against many more fighters of higher regard. He lost to Freddie Norwood, despite how closely some will argue. He lost to Chris John, albeit controversially. He lost to Mayweather, and to add insult to injury, he was a victim of Floyd’s catchweight non-compliance in the process. And, finally, he lost a decision to Pacquiao by the slimmest of margins.
So why am I making a case for Marquez?
REASON NUMBER ONE: THE BUILT-IN STORYLINE
I think deep down that Marquez acknowledges the slight fissures in his already Hall of Fame credentials, and that he badly wants to fill them before the candle burns out.
The most cavernous and heart-wrenching ones of all have to be the draw at featherweight and split decision loss at junior lightweight he incurred at the hands of Pacquiao.
For years, Marquez had complained how his Mexican compatriots and stablemates in his weight class hogged all the attention. He stewed about the media’s preference for Barrera when the two fought under the Forum Boxing banner. Later in his career when the Mexico City native moved on to Top Rank, he deemed it unfair that Erik Morales, and not Marquez, was the promoter’s standard-bearer to wage war at featherweight against Barrera.
Outside the Mexican dynamic duo, the division’s big names like Naseem Hamed, Kevin Kelley, and even Luisito Espinosa, refused to even acknowledge the former unified featherweight champ’s existence.
It would take a Filipino typhoon to blow through the division for Marquez to get his chance at stardom. After Pacquiao stopped Barrera in devastating fashion for THE RING and lineal 126-pound title in November 2003, the Mexican fans scrambled for an heir apparent to take the torch. Top Rank found one in the hungry Marquez. Many forget that Pacquiao, never one to shy away from a challenge, took the Marquez fight immediately after the Barrera showdownand 12 of the most hotly contested rounds in history would commence in May 2004.
However, the best Marquez could do in that first fight was a stalemate, after which his career began to stall. Talks for a rematch disintegrated based on Marquez’ insistence, in addition to the evenly split purse that would net him $750,000, that Top Rank match the six-figure bonus Pacquiao’s then-promoter Murad Muhammad reportedly offered his fighter. When Arum & Co. rebuffed, the relationship between Team Marquez, which included manager/legendary trainer Nacho Beristain, and his handlers soured.
What didn’t help his cause was Top Rank’s acquisition of Pacquiao before his third go-round with Morales. Pacquiao needed only three rounds to dispatch the only man to defeat him that decade. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, and with the Las Vegas-based operation firmly behind the “Pac-Man,” Marquez was deemed expendable. The last straw was Marquez having no takers on three purse bids for his WBA featherweight title fight against Chris John in March 2006, forcing him to fly overseas for a pittance of $30,000. Worst of all, he would lose by decision in an Indonesian parking lot.
Think Marquez might have the ammunition to hold a grudge against Pacquiao?
On the road to payback, the Mexican signed with Golden Boy and, slowly but surely, put himself in a position for a rematch when Pacquiao challenged him for his WBC junior lightweight title in March 2008. Once again, after 12 brutal rounds that left both fighters’ faces mangled and fans rabidly delighted, the winner’s identity was in doubt until Michael Buffer’s last syllables resonated throughout the Mandalay Bay Events Center. By a margin of a single point, Pacquiao emerged victorious.
No one has come close ever since. According to the judges, David Diaz, De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Cotto, and Clottey got the best of Pacquiao in a whopping 8 out of 119 (7%) of the total rounds scored (All of them except for Clottey were stopped).
In contrast, Marquez is Pacquiao’s Lex Luthor. He may not have had the kryptonite to end Superman’s reign but Marquez has flashed enough of the green stuff to slow him down. Though Pacquiao floored Marquez four times in their two fights to earn the draw and split decision, the judges awarded the Mexican 41 out of 72 of the total rounds (57%), a testament to his skills and resiliency. Nonetheless, a clear Pacquiao victory to close the trilogy would silence any detractors once and for all, especially when deciding his final resting place among the all-time greats.
And I would be remiss not to mention the genuine disdain Marquez has outwardly displayed toward Pacquiao.
In contrast to the friendship between Morales and Pacquiao outside the ring, which was exemplified in the king’s welcome that “El Terrible” received from the Filipino fans when he visited the Asian archipelago in 2007, who can forget Marquez’ shameless posturing to Filipinos after his rematch loss to Pacquiao? Invited to Manila as a guest, he proceeded to appear on local radio shows to inform Filipinos that he was robbed by the judges, even going as far to confront his rival on live television to bait him into a third fight.
This “24/7” plot is much more compelling than the tried and true bigger man approach with Margarito that Top Rank will pour down the hatch through a funnel.
REASON NUMBER TWO: THE NUMBERS GAME
Two sets of numbers dominate this part of the discussion. The first surrounds dollars.
Unlike Margarito, Marquez has done an HBO pay-per-view card with Pacquiao. The rematch was successful to the tune of 405,000 buys and about $20.2 million in revenue, the first 130-pound fight to accomplish the feat. Even more impressive is that this bout took place before Manny-Mania consumed the general public following his landmark destruction of De La Hoya.
In addition, Marquez also holds the distinction of being part of a card with seven-figure buys. Last September’s “Number One/Numero Uno” garnered 1 million HBO subscribers and, while Mayweather was the unquestionable A-side attraction, Marquez definitely attracted his fair share of the Mexican market into the fold.
With that said, his return to lightweight only solidified his status as the most marketable Mexican in the game, as his recent rematch in July with Juan Diaz sold a healthy 200,000 through HBO.
On the contrary, depending on who you ask, “Latin Fury 15,” Margarito’s return to the ring in May, did somewhere between 12,000 to 15,000 buys for Top Rank.
Of course, the real roadblock to this reason is in the distribution of the proceeds, as Pacquiao’s Top Rank pedigree and Marquez’ Golden Boy bloodline would mean a smaller individual share of the pie for Arum. However, from an industry standpoint, it is a foregone conclusion that Pacquiao-Marquez III would eclipse Pacquiao-Margarito in the pay-per-view buy tally.
The second half of our dialogue on digits revolves around weight.
Even if both sides were suddenly interested in setting up a third fight between Pacquiao and Marquez, there would be some points of contention, namely the contracted weight. Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, has said that his fighter would have to skip a few meals a week to make 140 pounds today. Ultimately, a meeting at lightweight (and probably junior welterweight) would be out of the picture.
In addition, Marquez did not enjoy his first adventure north of 135 pounds and it would be safe to say that he would be wary to do it again unless some middle ground was met. That said, the fight would probably be a defense of Pacquiao’s WBO welterweight belt anywhere between 144 and 147 to accommodate Marquez (Yes, another catchweight! Hopefully not).
REASON NUMBER THREE: THE FANS
Out of all the fights I have seen, aside from Hagler-Leonard, there has never been such a discrepancy in scorecards among fans and media alike for the two wars between Pacquiao and Marquez, much less the inflamed passions elicited out of these same people when their respective assessments don’t agree.
In a year where mega-bouts have either underwhelmed expectations or, in the case of one major fight (discussed ad nauseam), didn’t come to fruition at all, the paying customer would have appreciated a better effort from the sport than this.
As stated above, the long-suffering aficionados of the Sweet Science have made their statement with their wallets. Based on his last two fights, Marquez has proven he can sell tickets, even as he approaches the twilight of his career. Judging from the financial figures from Margarito’s last outing, I’m not sure the fans feel the same way about the “Tijuana Tornado” right now.
We can obviously expect the Pacquiao fans across the Pacific Ocean as well as stateside to make the Texas trip. The bigger question remains whether Top Rank, a company that has long relied on the loyal Mexican fan base to put posteriors in the chairs whether in the arena or at home, can count on that same support when the proposed fighter who will don “Los Tricolores” hasn’t exactly evoked patriotic memories recently.
But I guarantee these same people appreciated Marquez for his heart against Mayweather, despite being outweighed and outgunned. They sure loved Marquez for scraping himself off the canvas four times to put Manny Pacquiao through hell in a hand basket. And they sure will pay $59.95 to see him do it again, even in a losing effort.
While Marquez needs the fight more than Pacquiao, I think it goes without saying that the fans need it most of all for the good of the sport.
Do I think Floyd Mayweather is mostly at fault for leading us toward an inevitable Top Rank in-house pay-per-view? Absolutely. Would Golden Boy have made negotiations for a third Marquez fight extremely arduous? Probably. But should that have stopped Arum and Team Pacquiao from at least pursuing the option of completing the trilogy in good faith? No. In fact, making a token offer to the Marquez camp, if rejected, would have probably absolved Manny from a lot of the media misgivings directed at his decision to go forward with Margarito.
Pacquiao earned Fighter of the Decade by fighting the best available. Surely Marquez fits the bill. So why not now?
Unfortunately, hypothetical gives way to fact. Regardless of one’s take on the matter, Arlington will be the stage for a title fight on November 13 and Manny Pacquiao’s foil will remain Antonio Margarito. The media, myself included, will descend upon Cowboys Stadium in droves to cover it. Top Rank will savor every piece of the delectable pay-per-view cake and, one way or another, enough money will be made to turn the 111,000-capacity Cowboys Stadium green.
I know I’m probably just narrating to the birds but it would have been nice if Pacquiao made history with someone else.
The fans deserve better.
Let your voices be heard, Max-Fans! Ryan wants to know, which fight would you rather see?