5 reasons Marquez will beat Pacquiao
LAS VEGAS -- The previous two bouts between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez offer ample opportunity for in-depth analysis of Saturday's fight at the MGM Grand. The strengths and weaknesses of both fighters are evidenced in the extraordinary 24 rounds that already have been disputed between them, and it's clear even after the years that have passed since then that many of those traits have held up over time and will play a key role in the outcome of the fight ahead.
When they met both times years ago, the fighters appeared evenly matched in key areas, but over time Pacquiao has grown (or at least maintained his skills) more than Marquez in most cases. Based on that assessment, it seems Marquez will have more trouble trying to look good enough to clinch a points victory. Beating Pacquiao will be a tall order, but if Marquez finds a way to pull it off, it likely will be thanks to some combination of these five reasons:
The buck stops here
A draw and a razor-thin victory in this rivalry has left a sweet-and-sour taste in the mouths of both fighters. Each would love to finish this rivalry in explosive and conclusive fashion, but it's clear that Marquez is the one who needs the landslide victory in order to claim any sense of superiority against his rival. So far, it appears Marquez has a sharper realization of this fact than Pacquiao. If the Mexican fighter can use this imperative need for victory to help maintain focus through perhaps another 12 hard rounds, it's possible he'll reach the home stretch with enough rounds in the bank to clinch a decision -- when it will be too late for Paquiao to regain lost terrain.
Last call for history
This fight against Pacquiao is, potentially, Marquez's last chance to fight a top-five pound-for-pound opponent during his career. After his tremendous failure against Floyd Mayweather Jr., Marquez should know this is his final opportunity to add another important line to his pre-approved application for admission into the Hall of Fame. A defeat, including a late stoppage, wouldn't significantly damage his legacy, but a win would place him in the pantheon of the greatest Mexican fighters ever, adding a fourth world title to his collection (an achievement that is still up for grabs in Mexican boxing history, depending on which historian you believe) against the best fighter of his era, and putting an end to Pacquiao's historic 14-fight winning streak compiled at the highest possible level.
There's a catch when analyzing a bout with so many precedents. Both fighters know each other all too well after having shared a ring for 24 hard-fought rounds, and all signs point toward some kind of repetition of the same recipe. But we can't rule out the possibility that Pacquiao or Marquez may have discovered, after reviewing the tapes, an error or omission that cost him in those fights. If Marquez, a resourceful fighter guided by one of boxing's greatest strategists in Nacho Beristain, can find a flaw in Pacquiao's style to concentrate on, an upset could be brewing. After all, Marquez likely wouldn't have accepted this third fight if he hadn't found a new approach to beating Pacquiao -- something he came so close to doing in those previous meetings. The bet here is that Marquez will bring something entirely new (or further emphasize a single tactic he previously used) that could potentially turn the fight in his favor.
Pacquiao has a peculiar way of pummeling his opponents into submission with an overwhelming accumulation of punishment, all while relying on undervalued defense. Let's remember the faces of Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales after they were sent to the canvas by Pacquiao, offering glassy-eyed looks at their corners and being unable to articulate their frustration after their respective beatings. After such defeats, most of Pacquiao's opponents have no problem admitting defeat. But Marquez never accepted the victory and draw that Pacquiao escaped with from their two fights, and he refuses to believe Pacquiao is unbeatable. If he's that desperate to set the record straight, Marquez should continually revisit those reasons to fuel his motivation and demonstrate, this time with greater clarity, that he's one of the few fighters in the world capable of bringing Pacquiao's run to a halt.
Both in the course of his fights and during his career in general, Marquez has shown a penchant for slow, steady improvement. He took his time in becoming a world-class fighter, and after he achieved it, he continued to give away the advantage to his opponents in the first half of fights, only to end up turning up the heat late to claim victory. He has become quite proficient at this fourth-quarter style of fighting (as evidenced against Juan Diaz), but too often this tactic manifests as a disadvantage. If Marquez could make this strategy work, coaxing Pacquiao into wearing himself down by throwing more punches early in the fight and eventually losing steam, then coming on strong at the end, he might have a better chance of closing the show and clinching a points win. In each of the two previous Pacquiao fights, Marquez won the last two rounds on every scorecard. If he can stretch that advantage another few rounds, maybe he can change history this time around.
Diego Morilla is a contributor to ESPNdeportes.com.