By Jim Cawkwell
Anything can happen in a fight–a reality we are too quick to forget. Marquez-Pacquiao IV failed to generate the pay-per-view response of its predecessors because few people – outside of the fighters and their respective camps – expected to see the explosive spectacle that manifested at the MGM Grand that night. The Timothy Bradley debacle did little to diminish Pacquiao’s momentum, while Marquez, pushing forty, was perhaps perceived to have gotten a fourth crack at Pacquiao because of a lack of viable alternatives for the Filipino. The overall expectation had to be for another tight race to the finish between two fighters whose very different strengths combined to make them inseparable from each other.
But it is those intangibles we cannot see that so often decide the victory. Juan Manuel Marquez had fought every incarnation of Pacquiao in their eight-year saga, and few could dispute his argument to have bested each stage of Pacquiao’s evolution. The Pacquiao of 2004 was the most venomous and unpredictable, yet Marquez tempered that with timing and masterful counters. 2008’s Pacquiao – humbled from the Erik Morales loss – had begun to think and add new weapons, yet the difference between them that night was just one stray left hand that caught Marquez lingering too long on the inside. In 2011, Pacquiao seemed like the finished article: patient, precise, powerful, yet Marquez again knew the answer to the riddle.
If the decisions in Pacquiao’s favor were unpopular, their beneficiary was not. Pacquiao become the most successful fighter in the world the old-fashioned way: he fought and beat the best with an entertaining style that continued to flourish under Freddie Roach’s guidance. He was the anti-Mayweather, offering a smiling face and humble disposition outside the ring, and becoming a monstrous, domineering presence inside of it. But despite all this, Pacquiao had not proven unequivocally his superiority to Marquez in any of their fights. Pacquiao came to work on December 8th, 2012 determined to put Marquez out of business.
And it was that eagerness that walked Pacquiao into one of the most shocking one-punch knockouts in boxing history. The finality of that moment was awesome. Weeks earlier, 20,000 fans in England absorbed the sight of their hero Ricky Hatton defeated by his own signature punch thrown by a fighter a prime Hatton would have dispatched with ease. In that moment, the joyous atmosphere of the Manchester arena vanished, as all in attendance were forced to acknowledge the end of the Hitman. But Pacquiao was not a shot fighter grasping for glory one more time. Manny Pacquiao was arguably the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world going in for the kill one moment, and the next, prone, facedown, unconscious, defeated.
In this most remarkable recent episode, Pacquiao brought the constant movement that helped define him as a younger man: the speed and power one always expects of him, but also technical adjustments to make Marquez think. But Marquez is the definition of the thinking fighter. Pacquiao fights with a country in his corner, but that right hand in the third – thrown from Marquez’s boots – stripped away Pacquiao’s aura of invincibility. Pacquiao regrouped from the crisis and fought back, hard, because however much he must now indulge the distractions of his famous lifestyle, and regardless of the inner peace his new religious devotion evokes, the kid that fought his way out of the General Santos slums still lives inside Pacquiao.
Marquez himself knew he was moments away from being separated from his senses for the first time if he didn’t find that one devastating shot. It was the definitive statement of all four epic fights, and the one Marquez should call upon to pacify the inner urge he has now that tells him to continue fighting. Fate delivered the most satisfying moment to reward Marquez’s supreme persistence. Now there will only be younger, stronger fighters developing, being moved strategically to usurp Marquez from his current position.
For all his years at the top level of boxing, Marquez never took a beating, never had to be saved from himself. Marquez’s own evolution took him from recognition as the untouchable but unmarketable technician to glory as the master of all pugilistic trades, not least of which meant having the guts to walk through hell to get the job done. No longer is he the outsider – third in line to Barrera and Morales in the affections of his own people – Marquez is now the most beloved active Mexican fighter. But he can only become a sad caricature of his formidable self if he continues.
Pacquiao also has nothing left to prove. A fight with Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is presumed a dead issue by most, but if anything can happen in a fight, certainly any and all things are possible in boxing. That said, it has never felt as if Mayweather would come to the table to make the fight happen, leaving a void that can only be filled by a fifth fight between Pacquiao and Marquez. That is assuming Marquez continues. Pacquiao certainly will; there is no precedent for being pound-for-pound champion and then becoming happily retired following a savage knockout loss. We may not have seen the last of Pacquiao, but for the first time it is possible to say we have probably seen the best of him.
While they are so used to being judged by their strengths in the ring, fighters so often fail that final test of strength they can only pass by acknowledging that their time has passed. Marquez can be satisfied as a fighter with what he accomplished in the ring, and as a man by how he conducted himself away from it. His wars with Pacquiao should remain in the memory as examples of what boxing can be at its best. Marquez dedicated his intelligence and his body to the fight game and finally became a superstar. Now he can give his long-suffering family the gift they want most by devoting himself – healthy and unchanged by this business – to them.
(I look forward to hearing from the many knowledgeable boxing fans I see giving feedback to the site every day through Facebook and Twitter, and can be reached at [email protected])