By Nick Tylwalk
For disclosure purposes, I scored Saturday's third and supposedly final chapter of the Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez trilogy for Marquez. I scored the second fight in 2008 for Pacquiao, and I wasn't scoring fights back in 2004 for their first meeting but remember feeling okay when the draw was announced.
So while the official records may say that Pac-Man is 2-0-1, in my mind the two fighters are 1-1-1. And that seems fitting, because this fight settled absolutely nothing.
To be sure, we still learned some things. We found out that at age 38, Marquez is certainly not washed up or over the hill by any stretch of the imagination. His commitment to adding weight the right way to get to 144 definitely paid off, and his helplessness against Floyd Mayweather was likely a combination of a bad style matchup and Floyd's brilliance just existing one notch above his own.
Apparently, some observers had a revelation that Pacquiao is not invincible. But if you watched the first two fights in this series, you already should have known that. I'm not going to say I wasn't surprised that the fight was a tight one, but I certainly wasn't shocked. If boxing has shown us anything over the years, it's that sometimes, one great fighter just has another great fighter's number. For Pacquiao, it's JMM, regardless of what the records now reflect.
Yet some things did change as the trilogy moved along, and in some ways, the third fight was almost the inverse of the first one (minus the knockdowns, obviously). Eight years ago, it was Manny landing the harder single shots - pretty much his whole game back then - while Marquez scored with more frequent, less powerful punches. On Saturday the roles were nearly reversed. Most of the hard, head-snapping blows that I could remember were landed by Marquez. Pacquiao was busier and connected in greater quantity, something that the final CompuBox numbers confirmed.
The decision was no doubt a tough one for Marquez, and he was right to be upset. I'd still stop short of calling it a robbery, which is a term that I reserve for situations so outrageous that everyone agrees the wrong man had his hand raised. Some reputable boxing pundits had it 8-4 in rounds for Marquez; I could see that if you gave him every close round. One of the official judges had it the opposite way for Pacquiao, and that felt too wide. Still, some people, including HBO's Harold Lederman and our own Max Parker, preferred Pacquiao by a point or two. That's indicative of a fight that it is too close to be a robbery in my book.
Inevitably, the narrative now turns to a meeting between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, something that the boxing world has been anticipating for what seems like eons. Emanuel Steward offered his opinion during the postfight (and many other experts have now chimed in with similar thoughts) that if Floyd had any doubts that he would beat Manny, they were erased by what happened on Saturday. That makes sense if you believe Mayweather would look at it and say, "Marquez is a counter-puncher. I'm a bigger, faster, even better counter-puncher. I got this."
If only boxing was that simple to analyze. I'd certainly favor Mayweather in the still-hypothetical-at-this-point mega-fight, and I always have. To say that it's a foregone conclusion, though, is probably rash. Floyd wouldn't fight Manny the exact same way, and there are still things we'd have to learn in the heat of the moment. Would Mayweather feel confident enough to mix up lead rights and jabs to occasionally get off first the way Marquez did, or would be only look to counter? Is Floyd's chin, which rarely gets tested, as good at holding up to Pac-Man's straight lefts as JMM's iron jaw? We'll never know until they actually step in the ring together.
And we may never know who deserves to be crowned the king of the Pacquiao-Marquez rivalry. There's talk of a fourth chapter, but given what we just witnessed, there's no reason to think that extending the series will resolve anything. Every fight, and nearly every round, contested between these particular boxers ends up a toss-up, the winner a matter of subjective opinion. It's not very satisfying, but that's the way it is.
More random thoughts from this weekend's card:
* It ended up not making a difference because of the way the individual judges' official cards broke down, but I'll go to my grave saying it was pretty dumb of Nacho Beristain to tell Marquez he was definitely winning. Given that Pacquiao was the favorite, Vegas judges have a long history of favoring the aggressor in close fights and the fact that Team JMM felt he was ripped off on the cards before, there is no way he could have felt comfortable that they had a lead on Saturday.
* Fighting Joel Casamayor was a waste of time for Timothy Bradley. Casa had little to offer except for head butts and low blows, and Desert Storm probably could have received the same kind of workout just practicing combinations on the heavy bag. If Bradley isn't going to land a date with Pacquiao - and that seems less likely than ever with both Mayweather and Marquez IV bouts in play for Pac-Man - he may have to reconsider taking on Amir Khan. And that's assuming Khan is still interested in fighting him.
* The action in the Mike Alvarado-Breidis Prescott was excellent, and it doesn't get more dramatic than a boxer who needs a knockout to win pulling it off in the final round. It was especially impressive because that was the best version of Prescott we've seen. Plus there was extra entertainment value from Alvarado's trainer's voice in the corner. Please watch the replay if you don't know what I'm talking about.
* The preview of the Max Kellerman-hosted faceoff between Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito had me on the edge of my seat and cheering out loud. The tension between the two men is even greater than you'd expect given the circumstances, and the bilingual back-and-forth did not disappoint (though you wonder if Kellerman understood all of it). The contrasts between them came to the forefront, and they should make excellent fodder for the 24/7 series too. You couldn't help but love the ending, where Max turned to the camera and said, " Man, I'm glad I'm calling this fight."
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