Saturday, November 12, 2011

:boxing: ...It'll Do (Definitely), Part 4:: Pacquiao vs. Marquez III

A causal, or perhaps even a non-fan, of boxing could tell you that the biggest match to be made in the sport is between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. It is plastered all over the place whenever either name is mentioned, as they are both considered at the top of their craft, and there are fewer mountains for either to climb. However, reality is reality, and that fight has seemed more "pipe dream" than "dream match" with every passing month and every bout both have that is not with one another. Yet, in spite of this, there is still one contest to be held that comes as close to that mythical summit as any other: a third fight between Manny Pacquiao and the one person who one can legitimately claim to have his number--archnemesis Juan Manuel Marquez.

The first meeting between the two followed a year after Pacquiao's jaw-dropping demolition of Mexican great Marco Antonio Barrera in his 2003 breakout match. Facing another Mexican in the unheralded Marquez, he knocked down him down three times in the first round in what looked like another whirlwind blowout for the Filipino. Such was not the case, however, as Marquez withstood it and engaged him throughout the rest of the fight. In spite of Pacquiao's wild menagerie of power and speed, Marquez's effective counterpunching and superior skill helped throw him off his game and closed the gap enough to make it draw (though I thought Marquez won by a point). Controversy ensued, but both wouldn't meet again until 2008.

By then, Pacquiao was no longer a "one-handed" fighter, but under Freddie Roach's tutalge, he learned to make better use of both hands following a decision loss to another Mexican great in Erik Morales (which he avenged with two dominate KO victories). Ironically, his second bout with Marquez followed a second victory over Barrera (via UD), though this one would be no easier, even with improved skill. Both pummeled each other in another thrilling war much like the first, but Pacquiao would pull it out with a disputed split decision--one many contend Marquez won to this day (though I thought Pacquiao won by a point). Since then, his stardom has continued to skyrocket following impressive victories over Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, and Antonio Margarito across higher weight-classes, whereas Marquez has bested Juan Diaz twice and Michael Katsidis in spirited brawls. Most notable, though, was him doing something Pacquiao hadn't done: fight Floyd Mayweather, Jr. However, no victory was to be found, having ventured up two weight-classes to welterweight for the first time--and it showed in a plodding, lethargic performance.

For his second trip at welterweight, Marquez has allowed his body to get more acclimated to it with a tune-up match prior to his anticipated third match with Pacquiao, the current king of the division. For both of the previous bouts, he has proved to be the perfect foil for the top P4P-er, possessing hand-speed capable of rivaling his, and with good pop, too. There was also the matter that, as a quick-thinking counterpuncher, he was able to adapt to Pacquiao's rambunctious, all-out style and match him blow-for-blow. But not only that, he was more skilled and technically-proficient and used that to land a number of good shots on an oft-open Pacquiao, who lacked defense. However, that was then and this is now…

In their second bout, five years after their first, Pacquiao showed improvement in skill and in controlling his wildness, but was still a work-in-progress. In the last three years, however, he has become a frighteningly complete fighter--one with loads of physical talent (speed, power, stamina, agility), and knows how to use it. He is now superb at targeting and angling his shots and knowing when to apply pressure and let off of it, as well as being a much better tactician and technical fighter. This is certainly not the same fighter of 2008, who Marquez was near equals with physically and superior to technically. Having not largely changed over the years, he is arguably now lesser of the two physically, with Pacquiao having dwelt at welterweight since then for his last six fights, and may have even lost technical superiority by a slim margin with Pacquiao's combined heightened fighting IQ and execution of physical abilities.

It is now Marquez that is at the other end of scale, though that does not mean he will go quietly, or that easily. Weight acclimation aside, he is still a hard-as-nails, crafty fighter capable of giving any fighter a bad night. He may not have the kind of edge against Pacquiao as he had before, he may have gotten knocked down in nearly fight he's had in the last decade, and his age (38) is not lessening any more, but he can still give Pacquiao problems, stylistically, as he tends to have some difficultly with fast-handed fighters (like many of his ilk), and cut-wise, something that has bothered Pacquiao in the past and in their previous two bouts. Simply put, Marquez does not have the champion's number for nothing, and despite the latter's gains, he won't make things easy for him and definitely has a good chance to pull the upset.

Yet at the same time, one cannot degrade Pacquiao's advancements over time. He is , indeed, a bigger, far better, and more varied fighter than he was in 2003 and even 2008, and he has faced the more imposing opposition. But, leaving those attributes to the side, he also wants to put an end to all of the "Marquez" talk of him winning the second match-up or him being better. He never wanted to face him again (for good reason), but with Floyd Mayweather, Jr. playing hard-to-get and with no other fight of greater significance (or of money-making potential) to be had, a third go-around with Marquez was the only real way to go--which seemed to irritate Pacquiao. Not just because he was the hardest opponent he had faced, but because he believed he had already settled things with victory following their draw the first time out. But, in his mind, that was not enough for everyone and has to face him all over again. Marquez may want to prove he that he beat Pacquiao, but Pacquaio wants to prove that he really did beat Marquez, just as much…

I don't think the fight will deviate far from what the other two-- an all-out, tit-for-tat war with both combatants getting rocked with some hard, flush bombs from the first, out. The question will be whether Marquez can withstand punches from a very fast and powerful welterweight. Not only that, but one who is already familiar with what he brings to the ring and is much more dangerous than the last time they met. Of course, it can go the other way, with Pacquiao being put to the ultimate test to see just how good he has become, especially with the odds stacked in his favor. This time, though, he might just pass it…

Prediction: Pacquiao, KO9 (if too nervous or gunshy versus a pressuring Marquez, Marquez, UD). I'm probably being too generous with a stoppage (though I guarantee Marquez will go down at least once, as per usual with him), but I do believe victory is within his grasp at least via a close unanimous decision. I never count out Marquez in anything (and he could feasibly stop him), but considering how close the other matches were and where Pacquiao is at now (plus Marquez not being all that different from before), he has a steep climb ahead of him. I don't like to be so dismissive, either,  but it's Pacquiao's to lose--and he is very determined to end all doubts about who the real victor is in their rivalry. Regardless, it should be another great battle.


Outcome: Pacquiao, MD. Well, well, in spite of the outcome, it appears to have been more like a blend between the Marquez prediction and the close decision victory semi-projected for Pacquiao--but perhaps with the wrong victor. By all accounts, it was yet another very, very close contest, but this time, Marquez landed the better shots and was bewildering Pacquiao with his tactics and right hand, but then Pacquiao stepped it up in the latter rounds to make it razor close (except on one card), 114-114, 115-113, 116-112. Consensus-wise, I and many others were very wrong on Marquez's chances, and he appears to have been seen as the true victor in a match that, while close and difficult enough to score to warrant a reasonable draw, should not have gone to Pacquiao. And judging by reports, I might have wrong on him the most, who I thought had learned and grew enough as a fighter to be able to duel with Marquez on more equal ground. What happened there? I guess I'll just have to wait for the rebroadcast…

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