About four years ago, a young, hot upstart named Manny Pacquiao was riding on the wave of his big upset over Mexican boxing legend Marco Antonio Barrera less than half a year prior. A relative unknown, another fighter hailing from the country with three parts to his name, was set to be the proverbial lamb led to the slaughter--a simple snack for the hungry warrior to have on his road to championship glory. The first round only served to reinforce this sentiment, as the person went down three times in those fateful opening minutes. It looked as if the "Pacman" was going to devour another victim, as he bounced around the ring with his signature rambunctiousness. However, the tide changed as the "inevitable" victor was beginning to get beaten to the punch and outgunned for most of the fight afterwards. A few late-round improvements in tactics perhaps saved Pacquiao from a belittling loss, as the fight ended in a draw, but it also raised the profile of one Juan Manuel Marquez, who made a name for himself in a similar fashion that he had just the year before.
Now, tonight in Las Vegas, the two rivals finally meet again, returning to the ring against one another after traveling along divergent paths since that last time in the city. Pacquiao retooled his impressive, yet one-dimensional arsenal and became a more well-rounded fighter in process, knocking out Erik Morales in two rematches after losing the first match and beating Barrara in a second fight last year. As his star and fame rose, Marquez's squandered, mostly due to very poor managing from his handlers. Though Pacquiao too had been weighed down by such dilemmas, he was able to escape them--something that could not be said about Marquez. A nightmare decision loss to Chris John in that fighter's home country (one that most said Marquez deserved to win) summed up the string of bad choices, forcing Marquez to finally move on and join the team that managed to acquire Pacman through his even more-muddled promoter mess: Golden Boy Promotions. Now that they were under the same umbrella, the long-awaited match-up could finally come to reality.
Despite his issues, his skills certainly have not waned. After masterfully dispatching Barrera and top prospect Rocky Juarez last year, he has become recognized as one of the best fighters in the world. With both improving so well over the past four years, who really has the best chance at coming out on top? Pacquiao was already a dangerous fighter in his reckless days, but when combining his offense set with smart tactical decisioning, better defensing, and still freakish endurance, he seems to be one who is with little flaw now. In keeping with this mindset, look at Marquez--a very adaptable fighter with superior skills, a very good counterattack game, and enough physical attributes to match up against his rival comfortably. In 2004, he was clearly the better of the two, though in 2008, that gap has now closed, as his opponent now possess more concrete skills than then. The three knockdowns in the first round of their first meeting could be telling, yet in all honesty, they were more of the flash variety than of the fight-endangering type. What will be probably be of note is who the aggressor will be and how they are countered. Whoever is the former will be either be embarrassed by the more controlled other (who would be picking shots off on the exposed areas) or they will make a master work off of the gun-shy individual. It's also conceivable that it will be one of those classic, even, close-quarter "phonebooth" matches, but knowing how both fight, that'll be unlikely.
The "classic" and "close" parts, on the other hand...
Prediction: Marquez, Split Majority Decision (late fatigue or lack of counterattacking, Pacquiao, Majority Decision). I doubt both fighters will knock each other out (always a possibly, mind you...), but superior skills can overcome the most physically gifted fighters in any combat sport. I could say that for Pacquiao as well now, but Marquez has been so good as of late, I would be hardpressed not to expect that he couldn't find some way to finish the job he nearly finished that one Las Vegas night in May...
Outcome: Pacquiao, Split Majority Decision. Well, it had nothing to do with the lack of counterattacking on Marquez's part than it did on Pacquiao just squeaking by with a MD and the WBC super featherweight title. Both fighters had a scorecard of 115-112, with the latter scoring a draw-avoiding 114-113. Could that knockdown earlier have prevented such a decision from occuring? That's hard to say considering how close the fight was overall. Sounds like a classic...trilogy in the making.
P.S.: Technically, a "split majority decision" = "split decision"...the same thing, only the former is doubly redundant. >>;