It was May 8, 2004 when Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez first stepped into the ring together at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, NV. The fight was an instant classic at featherweight with Marquez getting off the canvas three times in the first round to roar back into the fight and earn a draw. Depending on whom you are a fan of, each fighter was robbed of victory.
The next time they faced off was four years later down the street at the Mandalay Bay on March 15, 2008. This time, the fight was contested at 130 pounds. Regardless of weight, the fight was yet again a classic with Marquez getting dropped in the third for a knockdown that would ultimately prove the difference in scoring. Pacquiao would win a split decision victory but to this day, the decision is debated.
Now, three years later and 14 pounds heavier, the two will return to the MGM Grand to finish what they started all those years ago when they square off November 12 on HBO PPV in a 144-pound catchweight bout for Pacquiao’s WBO 147-pound belt. On Wednesday at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the two men met for the Los Angeles leg of their world press tour to discuss the fight.
In the time since that second fight, Marquez has moved up to 135 pounds where he has become the lineal champion (meaning the man who beat the man who beat the man) but in his first fight with Juan Diaz as well as a later fight with Michael Katsidis, Marquez has shown that he perhaps has hit his ceiling at 135 pounds. He was knocked down by Katsidis and taken to the wall in the first Diaz outing before knocking each man out in the ninth round. Between both Diaz fights in July of 2010, Marquez moved up to welterweight in yet another catchweight fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr. who, in recent years, has become a full-fledged 147-pounder. Marquez looked sluggish and slow in that fight. That might be because Mayweather is just that fast or perhaps it’s a sign that the then 36-year-old was simply not cut out to be a welterweight.
At the same time, Manny Pacquiao has jumped up from 130 to 135 where he won a paper lightweight title via ninth round TKO over David Diaz in June 2008. He followed that up by bypassing 140 pounds in favor of a big money welterweight bout with Oscar De La Hoya. The “Golden Boy” appeared to be a shell of himself, getting blown out and made to quit on his stool after the eighth round. In his next fight, Pacquiao moved down to take on lineal 140-pound champion Ricky Hatton and ended the fight- and Hatton’s career- in a two-round knockout. The Filipino superstar-turned-congressman then faced two more welterweights, Miguel Cotto (in a 145-pound catchweight fight for Cotto’s WBO 147-pound title) and Joshua Clottey, stopping the former and shutting out the latter. In his last two fights, Pacquiao took on Antonio Margarito in a 150-pound catchweight and beat him senseless for 12 rounds, following that up by shutting out and knocking down Shane Mosley in a welterweight fight earlier this year.
Looking at these careers side by side, it is very clear that while he has been successful, of the two men, Marquez simply does not handle moving up past 135 pounds well while Pacquiao has shown he can handle bigger men with seeming ease.
Pacquiao and Marquez’s promoter, Bob Arum, was in full spin mode Wednesday afternoon, attributing the Mexican fighter’s decision loss to Mayweather, a full-blown shutout, to styles and nothing more. Arum stated that for Marquez, a counterpuncher of the highest level, fighting someone like Mayweather “who may be a defensive genius” is a recipe for a loss.
Marquez seemed to agree.
“[Pacquiao] says this will be a war. I say this will be a war,” said Marquez. “It’s styles. I am aggressive and he is aggressive. It’s a perfect combination for fans. This fight is different because if people want to see a great fight, you need two fighters. Pacquiao likes to fight. I like to fight. This is a great fight.”
Seeing as how there was such a long time between each fight, I had to ask if Pacquiao was simply waiting for the right time to get Marquez who is now 38 years old with a ton of miles on him in 59 fights and a career 432 rounds boxed.
“For Pacquiao, the edge is important,” said Marquez. “For me, it is not because I like the competition and I like to train. The edge for me is not important.”
When I posed the question to Pacquiao, he claimed he had tried to make a fight with Marquez in 2006 but was turned down in favor of a bout with Chris John. “When I agree to fight the last fight, [Marquez] fought in Indonesia [against] Chris John. He turned down the fight and fought Chris John. Now, I want the fight to happen since before but to co-promote, nobody would buy the fight or PPV or sponsor the fight so…”
The latter assertion is odd considering that when they rematched, the fight was a co-promotion between Golden Boy, Marquez’s former company and Top Rank, who is promoting this bout. However, on one level, it does make sense seeing as both companies have been in something of a “Cold War,” opting to promote within their own stables instead of working together to make the fights fans want to see.
When asked by a reporter why the two men did not meet in 2008 when both briefly shared time at lightweight, Marquez responded, “I don’t know what happened. Maybe because his promoter didn’t want it.”
In any case, whether he wanted to or not, Pacquiao has a serious advantage here. He has shown an ability to beat the daylights out of larger men who are near or at the end of their careers. While Marquez is roughly the same size, at 38 years old, he is at or near the end of his career. And while they did fight such close fights in the past, boxing is about timing and right now, timing seems to favor Pacquiao.
Marquez said he learned from his first fight at welterweight and that he won’t be making the same mistakes this time around in his preparation.
“I learned the first time,” Marquez said. “I didn’t have confidence. I need to prepare physically and mentally because this fight is very dangerous for me. I trained very hard for the weight. Maybe that was the problem.”
For this fight, Marquez hopes to come in lighter, believing that in order to win, he must possess what Pacquiao’s recent opponents have not.
“Yes, I want to be 140 pounds in the weight or 141 because I don’t want to lose speed,” said Marquez.
He also stated that in order to be successful, he must control what his trainer, Nacho Beristain calls the “Combat Zone,” the short distance between the men at close range. Keeping Pacquiao at just the right distance, maintaining control and sound defense will be key to Marquez winning. In his previous two bouts with Pacquiao, Marquez was overzealous, in his trainer’s opinion, and rushed in when he thought Pacquiao was hurt. It was this reckless approach that Beristain feels led to the knockdowns.
“I need to take control in the short range and then, I need to move my body and use my speed,” said Marquez.
In another bit of bad- or what some might call ironic- timing, while the press conference was going, Floyd Mayweather Jr. was holding court on his conference call to promote his September 17 bout with Victor Ortiz. I asked Pacquiao if he felt that this trilogy will define him more than a fight with Mayweather.
“I don’t care. All I care for this fight is to prove to [Marquez] and to take out all the doubts in some of the fans and in his mind.”
There are those who will say that the time to prove the doubters wrong was years ago with Marquez, that the time and events in between have irrevocably separated the two men. Perhaps this fight will prove them wrong. Perhaps these two men were made for each other in the ring and they are destined to fight tooth-and-nail all the way down the line.
Arum’s spin would lead you to believe that. The words of Marquez, Pacquiao and Beristain will try to convince you of that. In the end, Pacquiao and Top Rank’s collective modus operandi of getting fighters at just the right time and weight is perhaps the most compelling evidence that this fight is more mismatch than rubber match. Some will say “better late than never.” To see the events as they have played out, it would seem that this is more a case of “better later than sooner” for Team Pacquiao.