Still Without an Answer (Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez III)


This is my final piece looking back at the trilogy of fights between Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao. They fight for the fourth time on December 8th, 2012. My pieces on their first two fights can be read here and here

***

In the lead-up to his third fight with Juan Manuel Marquez, the narrative espoused by nearly every fight writer and outlet needing to hype the fight was that Manny was no longer the animalistic destroyer that he once was. He had slacked in his training routine to lend focus to teaching Bible study and tending to his duties as a Congressman in his native Philippines. We might just have been witnessing the fall of a champion and the long awaited triumph of Marquez. The seemingly invincible Pacquiao was about to get caught.

Gone was the gambling, cockfighting, and adultery, replaced with an evangelical zeal for his newfound faith. Talks of retirement were more frequent in his comments. Had Manny traded his killer instinct for spirituality and would this fundamentally change his style in the ring?

We might be led to believe that this was indeed the case given his less brutal performances against Shane Mosley and Joshua Clottey, both of whom Manny seemingly refused to knock out, opting instead to just outpunch and outhustle his clearly overmatched foes, winning comfortably rather than dominantly. The Pacman had mellowed. He was more “mature,” a quality not necessarily highly valued in a prizefighter.

It’s certainly hard to deny that Pacquiao had changed, both in and out of the ring. In the fight in question, a change was beyond doubt in the mind of this writer, but it was change in the form of continued evolution and brilliance.

As much as I lauded the subtle improvements made by Pacquiao in my write-up on their second contest, I feel that this was once again the story of the third fight. What we witnessed was certainly not vintage Pacman, a forward moving phone booth style fighter who relished trading punches but was sure to get the best of close exchanges, but it was spectacular. Furthermore, while Marquez gave as good as he got in several instances, repeated viewings of the contest show that he simply did not do what he does best, namely frequent and clean counterpunching.

Yes, maturity was evident, but it was in the form of Manny Pacquiao’s continued evolution as a well rounded fighter, one who had learned the ins and outs of Marquez’s technique and adapted his own style to the circumstances. As with the first two fights, I once again feel that Manny’s victory was legitimate, though not without the obligatory qualification that the fight was close.

***

My own unofficial card scored the bout 115-113 in favour of Pacquiao, who took rounds 1,3,4,6,9,10, and 12, the rest going to Marquez. Rather than a round by round dissection of the fight, which might prove dreary, the contest can be broken into three sections that essentially amount to another see-saw type battle in which the advantage shifts back and forth between the two fighters.

The first four rounds essentially belong to Pacquiao, who presents an entirely new bag of tricks throughout. The most impressive aspect of Manny’s game through these rounds is without a doubt his footwork. Throughout much of the first two contests, though less so in the second, it was on the inside where Pacquiao would find himself off balance and subject to the counters of Marquez.

This time around, Pacquiao throws almost entirely from the outside and manages to retreat almost immediately without losing balance. Marquez goes for the counter, but does not land any especially brilliant punches save for an excellent bodyshot near the end of the second round. Manny even pivots to avoid shots coming back.

This sudden defensiveness on the part of Pacquiao was, I think, the key to his edging out Marquez on the cards. While Manny is not doing what we might have come to expect of him, neither is Marquez, who spends a significant amount of time retreating and not countering frequently enough. Knowing that judges tend to favour agression, Marquez began this fight by putting himself into a deficit.

The middle four rounds prove to be more of a throwback of the first two fights. Marquez lands his best punches, particularly to the body in these rounds, and they look cleaner than they were in the first rounds. Pacquiao’s footwork, however, is still working wonders and at the end of seven rounds, he is actually outlanding Marquez by a margin of 94-71, which puts his total above what he had landed at this point in the first two. At this point, I have the bout scored even. Nonetheless, Marquez is much more present in these rounds.

Marquez’s opportunity to win the fight slips in the final four rounds, the “championship rounds” as they are often called. Though he has an opportunity to win the ninth as an equal number of punches are exchanged, he is not the overall agressor and a big left hook from Manny seals the round for him. Of the last four rounds, I only awarded the eleventh to Marquez, who simply spends too much time retreating, whereas Manny is defensively sound but manages to get solid punches off. The shots that do land for Marquez are impressive, but for someone whose performances in the first two fights were defined by beautiful counterpunching, he does not do this enough.

In the final analysis, what I saw, and I stress that this is what I saw, acknowledging that many other valid assessments of this fight can be made, was Manny landing the better punches while slipping shots from Marquez with his incredible speed – I can’t remember the last time I saw Pacquiao exhibit such quickness. Marquez, on the other hand, while answering Pacquiao throughout, failed to do what he typically does best. He was certainly up to the task and still game at 38, but I feel that he came up short here.

***

Manny, according to much of the boxing literati, was slipping. The fighting spirit was gone and he was over the hill. He was now exposed as someone who had not fought a competitive or prime opponent since Marquez himself in their second battle. Even Miguel Cotto was now supposedly drained or shot by the time he fought Manny.

The vilification of Manny Pacquiao would only continue after their third fight, contested at a 144-pound catchweight in November of 2011, reached the final bell. It was, once again, a close fight that could justifiably have been rewarded to either fighter given the amount of close rounds.

Somehow, however, what was a close fight that resulted in a majority decision for Pacquiao was deemed to be an outright robbery inflicted upon Marquez, who so many seem to believe clearly won this fight. During the fight itself in the interval between round, Nacho Berestain, working the corner of Marquez, assures his fighter repeatedly that he has been dominating and simply has to make it to the end to claim the decision.

Upon a renewed viewing of the third fight, this type of thinking strikes me as absurd, particularly the allegations of robbery. First and foremost, the third contest was the only one of the three in which Pacquiao landed more punches than Marquez (official punchstats detailed here by Michael Woods), a total of 176 to the Mexican’s 138. In total, Pacquiao threw 578 punches to Marquez’s 436.

Punchstats are not the be-all-end-all of determining the winner, but in a fight filled with standout moments for both fighters, Woods notes that agression is favoured by the judges. As such, while Marquez had every right to believe that his counterpunching had won him the fight, his lack of aggression could just as well have cost him the decision.

Furthermore, the subjective nature of scoring has a role here too. It’s well known that in close contests the defending champion will more than likely be favoured on the judges’ cards. In order to take a title, especially from a star attraction like Pacquiao, victory must be clear and decisive. Robbery is too far fetched a claim.

It was, for possibly the 5,000th time, an incredibly contest that still leaves us with no answer as to who is truly the superior fighter. Despite my scoring each bout for Pacquiao, none of these wins appears definitive and decisive. As much as Pacquiao has grown into a more complete fighter over the course of this trilogy, soon to be tetralogy, Marquez has proven himself capable of stepping up and making Pacquiao work for his victory.

As I’ve looked back on these first three fights, I have in no way tired of watching these two competitors take it to one another. I can’t recall whether or not I was disappointed upon hearing that a fourth fight would take place, but if there was, it’s gone now.

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