Pac too big, too much for Marquez
Manny Pacquiao's draw with Juan Manuel Marquez was one of the best fights I have ever covered. Like many, I thought Marquez won that 2004 featherweight championship fight, despite his being dropped three times in the first round. I scored it 114-111 in favor of Marquez.
I also covered the second fight and, like many, I thought Marquez won that 2008 rematch, contested for the junior lightweight championship. Yes, it could have gone either way, but I scored it 114-113 for Marquez, who officially lost a split decision.
Since that second fight, I have wanted to see a third bout. These guys were made for each other, and given the exciting and competitive nature of the fights, a third chapter should at least (hopefully) provide clarity to their rivalry.
On Saturday night we get that third fight. But as terrific as the first two were, I simply don't think Marquez has what it takes to pull the upset, even if he figures to help make it an entertaining fight right up until the time Pacquiao knocks him out.
There are a couple of reasons I don't give Marquez a serious chance to win. The first is size. It matters. Marquez is a reigning champion in the lightweight division, but he performed very poorly in 2009, when he jumped up to welterweight and got run over by Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a one-sided decision loss. Marquez simply didn't seem to be able to handle the extra weight.
Pacquiao, on the other hand, has steadily moved from junior lightweight up to welterweight, where he is a strong and powerful titleholder who has routinely routed legitimate welterweights such as Shane Mosley, Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto and Joshua Clottey. He has grown into the division and has handled the power of bigger men.
The other reason Marquez will be in a world of trouble Saturday is because Pacquiao is now a complete fighter. In the first fight, Manny was still a wild swinger with nothing but a left hand. His right was worthless. Since then, trainer Freddie Roach has worked with Pacquiao on his right hand tirelessly. It has improved dramatically since the second Marquez fight.
Marquez will be facing a man six years younger who is now a two-fisted puncher and at the top of his game. Had this fight taken place at junior welterweight, a weight Pacquiao could easily make, I would consider it a fairer fight. But Pacquiao, the pound-for-pound king, gets to dictate terms. Although he did agree to face Marquez at the catchweight of 144 pounds, it wasn't enough of a concession: Marquez's chances of actually winning the fight are slim and none -- and slim is on the way out of town.
Odds are long, but JMM a worthy foe
As Manny Pacquiao has grown, so has his myth. The bigger he gets, and the bigger his opponents get, the more extraordinary his achievements appear. And make no mistake: They are extraordinary. He is extraordinary. Pacquiao is the clear favorite against Juan Manuel Marquez on Saturday night, as he should be.
But if you think Pacquiao's dominance against the likes of Joshua Clottey, Antonio Margarito and Shane Mosley serve as any indication of what Marquez is in for, you're letting the superficial distract you from the substantive.
Bigger and slower of reflex, Pacquiao's recent opponents were put on this earth to make PacMan look even more superhuman than he actually is. Marquez has, for 24 rounds, specialized in making Pacquiao look human. And even though it's an extreme long shot that he'll actually win this time around, Marquez, 38, will again trouble Pacquiao because that's what the Mexican technician does, regardless of whether he's giving up a few pounds.
As Marquez's people like to point out, if not for the knockdowns, he would have won twice already against Pacquiao. Of course, that's a trivial argument; knockdowns are part of boxing and the Filipino earned those extra points he got. But the bottom line is that, over the course of 24 rounds, Pacquiao proved the bigger puncher and Marquez proved the better boxer. Marquez didn't outbox his rival by a huge margin, mind you. But Marquez did outbox Pacquiao. And, provided his reflexes haven't dulled terribly in the past three years, he can outbox Pacquiao once again. He can make Pacquiao miss, get him off balance and counter him. He can frustrate Pacquiao in a way that Mosley, Margarito, Clottey, Miguel Cotto, Ricky Hatton and a washed-up Oscar De La Hoya never could.
Of course, Marquez can outbox Pacquiao and still lose, because Pacquiao will almost certainly do the greater damage when he lands. Even though I believe this fight will be competitive, I acknowledge that a blowout win for PacMan is a real possibility. It's always possible when you have the explosive offense that Pacquiao possesses. Just ask Hatton. Or, come to think of it, ask Marquez, who very nearly had a one-round cup of coffee with Pacquiao instead of an epic trilogy.
That said, Marquez has been better at defending against the left hand ever since that first round. If he can avoid one-punch disaster, he has the mental and physical tools to remind everyone of Pacquiao's imperfections.
And he also has the emotional equipment required, as he has shown he won't go into survival mode like Clottey, Cotto and Mosley did. Maybe by refusing to play it safe, Marquez will go out on his back. But it will be a competitive fight until that time comes.
I'd be crazy to predict a Marquez victory. But I do predict a fight in which it appears at times that victory is within his reach.
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