After Thoughts on Marquez Vs Pacquiao
By Jim Cawkwell (May 22, 2004)
From time to time we affectionately call boxing a game, and while it is not exactly that it most certainly is not a joke. It is a form of combat with origins stretching back thousands of years. But for all of its rich history and honorable tradition we are forced to tolerate much that we would rather do without. We entertain the evasive tactics of certain champions of the modern era, broadcasting fabrications to enhance their reputations whilst safely negotiating a path well clear of harm.
We suffer the emergence of more and more faceless sanctioning organizations further clouding the championship picture of each division. Of all the ills rampant in the modern era, the one for which I have long since lost all tolerance is incompetence which is no longer a mild annoyance but rather a more permanent sickness.
When lives are at risk, the complacency of a referee can mean the difference between the life and death of a boxer. In turn, when the fragile image of an entire sport hangs in the balance under the microscope of the mainstream audience, the diligence of judges can either salvage it a sliver of redemption or relegate it to further ridicule. Thanks to the often stunning ineptitude of certain individuals administering the boxing judicial system, the latter takes precedence far more often than it should. Occurring too often to be considered mere aberrations, surely it is time to address the parameters of the commonly accepted scoring criteria.
May 8th’s featherweight super-fight between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez was one such occasion when the system failed and certain frightening truths about this industry came to light. But before we recall the officiating inadequacies and their deeply felt repercussions, let us reminisce and appreciate the beauty of what was a truly amazing prizefight.
Filipino Manny Pacquiao was the first to enter the arena and therefore the first to sample the incredible reception that would inevitably greet both men. It was warming to realize that the public’s response truly mirrored the importance of the fight.
Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez’s steady climb to prominence was long overdue. But here he entered the ring, as not only the WBA and IBF featherweight champion, but finally seen as the supreme technician and lethal puncher that he had been denied the opportunity to prove.
Pacquiao’s championship gold came in the form of the RING magazine title. It was bestowed upon him after his annihilation of former consensus featherweight king Marco Antonio Barrera. That sensational win had firmly inserted Pacquiao as the people’s champion, an invisible title but one perhaps carrying more weight than any sanctioning organization strap.
Mutual respect was the theme of the build-up to the fight, but in a pre-fight press conference, Pacquiao had unwittingly let slip his promoter’s plans to complete an audacious triple assault. Phase one of the operation had been completed on Barrera, Marquez was next and the precocious Pacquiao would then make his way to the super-featherweight division, and it’s WBC champion Erik Morales.
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It was no coincidence that all three proposed “victims” were Mexican warriors, and to the distaste of their proud and passionate fans Pacquiao was dubbed, “Mexican assassin.”
Marquez was no less displeased and would not suffer such an indignity without inflicting severe consequences.
And he appeared to be doing so as the fight began and several of his flashy right hands interrupted Pacquiao’s flow, who, as expected, was rampaging forward in his southpaw posture. In these moments, when seconds began to feel like minutes I felt that a pattern was being set. Troublingly, Pacquiao could not find his way through to Marquez with his lethal left hand.
But suddenly, the milliseconds and millimeters which are so crucial to the art of boxing conspired with the incredible power of Pacquiao’s left to floor Marquez. Pacquiao then initiated a pattern of his own as he sent Marquez down once more with the left hand. The third and final knockdown of the round left Marquez flat on his back, staring up at the ceiling looking for all the world as if he would stay there.
But amid the deafening noise and manic photography flashes, he rose to his feet. In doing so and being able to answer the call for the second round Marquez began what should be regarded as one of the greatest comebacks in recent boxing history. Although he was plainly still disoriented and suffering massive facial damage, Marquez showed immense courage and composure to steady himself. Although still losing the round, Marquez survived the obligatory rush from Pacquiao who intended to end matters immediately.
The third round had Pacquiao surging forward with his trademark energy, rolling his upper body and cannily switching his left hand technique into a slight hook, countering Marquez’s subtle movements. It was here that Marquez began the groundwork he carried into the fourth; his first definitively scored round in my opinion. Similarly to his countryman Marco Antonio Barrera’s tactics against the southpaw Naseem Hamed, Marquez employed swift but simple movement to take Pacquiao’s most dangerous weapon out of the fight. Marquez built on this with counter right hands which brought the crowd’s Mexican contingent great relief and the neutral observer’s the knowledge that, thankfully, this argument would not be decided just yet.
By the end of the fifth Marquez’s numerous combinations had inflicted a cut on Pacquiao’s right eyelid. The feeling going into the sixth round was that Marquez was now fully in control. Anyone who thought otherwise would have been persuaded by the huge roundhouse right which forced Pacquiao back, leaving his nose visibly damaged. Defiantly, Pacquiao re-established himself in the seventh round, but both fighters found success before they each took the eighth round for respite. Pacquiao seemed very uncomfortable to be forced backwards and was unable to counter Marquez very much if at all. Trainer Freddie Roach continually begged Pacquiao to re-assume control of the fight and vary his attacks with combinations. My assumption is that Pacquiao ignored this in favor of trying to land the straight left which had been so valuable for him at the start of the fight. Pacquiao did manage to stage a more complete resurgence in the ninth round as he scored a succession of those left hands.
Marquez entered the tenth looking fatigued while Pacquiao maintained vitality about his movement although doubtlessly tiring himself. After being so brilliantly out-boxed for the majority of the middle rounds of the fight, Pacquiao now seemed to have restored the rhythm in his work.
Their distinctive styles had yielded a hugely entertaining fight thus far, and they stuck to their respective games as best they could through a now obvious exhaustion and severe physical trauma. To the very end they fought as only true warrior’s can.
Awaiting the decision I experienced something that has become customary for me when an important fight is left in the hands of officials; that jittery feeling in my stomach began to wake. It is a strange feeling to be half amazed at what you have just been fortunate enough to see, and also half afraid that it could all be ruined as it has been so many times in the past and yet another scandal has been thrust upon us. But not here I thought to myself, surely not now after these unique champions had given their all in a classic fight.
Unfortunately my gut proved to be right again. Somehow, two of the judges had managed to tally the exact same winning margin for both men. 115-110 is a respectable reflection of the fight, just not when afforded to both fighters. Judge Burt Clements sealed our dissatisfaction with his 113-113 scorecard and the boo’s which echoed around the arena were just the beginning of many disgruntled protests. I narrowly scored the fight in Pacquiao’s favor.
The frightening truths which I alluded to earlier began to surface for me when legendary trainer of champions Emanuel Steward was interviewed. Broadcast commentator Jim Lampley gave the first indication that there had been a discrepancy involving Clements’ scorecard based on the events of the first round. Apparently Clements had inappropriately scored the round 10-7 instead of the correct 10-6 which is mandated by the unified rules of the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) under which the fight was contested. Lampley asked Steward for his opinion on the matter and his reply filled me with confusion and a sense that boxing was even more disorganized than I realized.
Steward implied that sometimes a judges don’t like to score 10-6 rounds so early in a fight because such a wide margin may be an insurmountable margin for the downed fighter to recover.
That information alone was enough to project my eyeballs further out of my head than I believe they have ever been. I was just as horrified to hear Steward broadcasting this news as if it were regrettable but nonetheless commonplace. Suggesting that a judge has the freedom to simply decide whether or not he counts a knockdown is entirely wrong and I am strangely thankful that this controversy has arisen in order to expose such thinking and practices.
There were many differing views abound in the days after the fight. Some praised Marquez for his heroic return and masterful boxing claimed he was the clear winner; others felt that the consistently aggressive Pacquiao had been done an injustice as he had overwhelmingly taken the first round and enough of the subsequent rounds to deserve a decision. In the end though none of these opinions matter. Judge Clements admitted that he failed to properly adjudicate that opening round and the Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Marc Ratner’s implication that he felt the round should have been scored 10-6 is evidence enough that Manny Pacquiao should now have ownership of the WBA and IBF featherweight titles.
In a sport where minute elements can make all the difference to a result and the impact it has on the individuals involved, each aspect of the proceedings must be clearly defined and faultlessly followed. A round can be said to be open to interpretation when there are no knockdowns and no clear advantage is gained by either fighter. But when a knockdown occurs there is no excuse for not scoring it appropriately. In that round, Manny Pacquiao could barely have done more to eradicate subjectivity from the judges, and yet, a way to deny him was still found.
Ratner’s comments that the scoring of the round was a judgment call do not sit easy with me. Such comments clearly contradict the rules of the fight and leave me the impression that his house is not in order. Perhaps a few paragraph’s in the NSAC regulation’s doctrine need to undergo some refinement. I say this because the commission has since refused to hear a protest from the Pacquiao camp; stating that it has no basis to overturn the verdict. Contrary to this, point two of the concerned chapter of the NSAC’s regulatory manifesto clearly states: “The commission will not change a decision rendered at the end of any contest or exhibition unless: The compilation of the scorecards of the judges discloses an error which shows that the decision was given to the wrong unarmed combatant.” Well, Ratner’s post-fight declarations say to me that he thought that there was a significant error in the scores.
The conspiracy theorist in me decided that a protest in this case might not be heard because a rematch would mean a good deal of revenue would again come the way of Nevada State. However, I now believe that if this decision were reconsidered and ultimately overturned, it would break an important precedent that would prove to be extremely dangerous for boxing.
A changed verdict would mean that theoretically every fighter who felt he was hard done by after a decision would be free to set a chain of lawyers loose on appeals to try and argue him some vindication. No thank you! We don’t want to see our fighters in the court any more than necessary. That theory makes sense for the preservation of some kind of order in boxing but it is scant consolation for Manny Pacquiao and his team who firmly believe he was wronged.
The fallout of this fight has provided a few more unexpected turns. Marquez has since decided that he will not engage Pacquiao in a rematch, at least not yet. This has fuelled Pacquiao’s supporters who continue to argue his victory and echo his call for an immediate return fight.
The longer Pacquiao requests the fight and Marquez declines, the Filipino will gather sympathy which may earn him many more converts from the neutral fan sector. And let’s not forget the explosive ingredient of Korean WBC champion Injin Chi into the featherweight mix. To say that Chi versus either fighter would be compulsive viewing is a gross understatement.
In conclusion though I would just like to offer the following: Many fans feel that boxing is alive and well as long as they are seeing great fights, and they’re puzzled and shocked when matters such as that which was discussed here are brought to the fore. I would ask those hardcore fans as they like to be known to take steps to fully educate themselves to the best of their ability about the inner workings of the sport and its politics. And when they have done so I would ask that they add their voices to the growing chorus which calls for reform, and to prevent this sport which we all love from further damaging itself.
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