- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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LAS VEGAS -- After 36 rounds of fierce combat, Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez are basically even up, although history will record that it was Pacquiao who had the edge in their fabulous and historical trilogy.
Pacquiao, on what clearly was not his best night, escaped with a majority decision to retain his welterweight title on Saturday night before an electric, sold-out crowd of 16,368 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
But the crowd, filled with Mexicans rooting for Marquez, booed the decision and threw bottles at ringside to show its outrage after an excellent fight.
Pacquiao now holds a 2-0-1 edge over Marquez, but he certainly could be 0-3, and his hold on the No. 1 position on boxing's unofficial pound-for-pound lists might take a hit in some quarters.
The win, however, probably keeps alive the prospect of a showdown between Pacquiao and fellow welterweight titlist Floyd Mayweather Jr., who ought to be licking his chops if he took time out to watch his rival struggle more than he has at any time since he edged Marquez in a 2008 junior lightweight championship fight -- which came four years after Pacquiao and Marquez fought to a draw in a featherweight title fight at the MGM Grand.
Their third fight was another incredibly close and competitive one waged at the highest level of boxing. It was everything that is right about the sport: two great competitors and future Hall of Famers leaving everything they have in the ring.
In the end, however, it was Pacquiao who got the nod. Judge Glenn Trowbridge gave it to Pacquiao 116-112, Dave Moretti had it 115-113, and Robert Hoyle had it 114-114. ESPN.com also had it 114-114.
"The fans of Marquez, of course, aren't happy, but my fans are happy," Pacquiao said. "I clearly won the fight. He is a good fighter, but I do my best. It is very clear that I won the fight."
Marquez was left singing the blues again, something he is used to with Pacquiao.
"This is the second robbery of the two that we had, and I think this was even more clear than the first," Marquez said. "We won with the clearer punches. The audience protested because they saw us win again. I thought I got robbed. It happens again and again. I don't know what else I can do to win."
Nacho Beristain, Marquez's Hall of Fame trainer, was outraged.
"I've always confided in this commission here, but this has been a robbery in the utmost," he said.
Two judges gave Pacquiao the 12th round, which was ragged and not definitive. Had Marquez -- who was told by Beristain that he was ahead -- won it on those cards, the fight would have been a draw.
The Filipino congressman has yet to definitively defeat Marquez, the lightweight champion who moved up in weight for a fight contracted at a catchweight of 144 pounds. His style just gives Pacquiao fits. Probably always will.
"He is a counterpuncher, waiting for my punches," Pacquiao said.
Marquez (53-6-1, 39 KOs) darted to an early lead as he flustered Pacquiao (54-3-2, 38 KOs), who earned $22 million plus a piece of the pay-per-view profits. He landed a lot of right hands and looked strong as a welterweight, where he had fought only once before but lost a lopsided decision to Mayweather in 2009.
Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer, was concerned, telling Pacquiao he needed to pick it up after the sixth round. Pacquiao did just that, fighting his way back into the bout.
"It was a very close fight. It could have gone either way," Roach said. "I asked Manny to move to the right and he didn't."
The crowd was cheering wildly for Marquez, and an upset appeared to be brewing as he continued to land counter right hands.
Maybe Pacquiao, who made his third welterweight title defense, was feeling a little desperate as he tried to turn it into a slugfest and the fighters began to trade with abandon in the ninth round, when Pacquiao suffered a small cut over his right eye. It was just great theater to watch.
So will we see a fourth fight? With Mayweather sitting there, it seems unlikely -- assuming the sides can ever make a deal.
But Pacquiao is open to it.
"Anytime, anytime," he said. "I am a fighter. My job is to fight."
But Marquez, who made $5 million plus a percentage of the pay-per-view profits, isn't necessarily interested.
"It would be difficult to decide. Maybe I retire, maybe I don't," Marquez said. "It is so hard when you're fighting against a rival and also against the three judges."
If Marquez retires -- or doesn't -- Mayweather looms for Pacquiao. It's the fight the world wants to see -- no disrespect to Marquez.
"Let's get it on," Pacquiao said of Mayweather. "Let's make the fight happen and give the people a good fight."
The time is now. After seeing the way Pacquiao looked, how could Mayweather not want the fight?
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.