NO CLOSURE YET The Philippines’ Manny Pacquiao jars Mexico’s Juan Manuel Marquez on
his way to retaining his WBO welterweight title with a majority decision in their third fight in Las Vegas. AP
LAS VEGAS—Manny Pacquiao knew that to validate what he always believed in, to finally lay to rest the ghost chasing after him, he would have to pull off a definitive victory over an opponent who had troubled him the most.
But once again, Juan Manuel Marquez made life difficult for him.
On Saturday night (Sunday in Manila) at MGM Grand Garden Arena, the eight-division champion defeated his greatest nemesis yet again, but—as it always seemed when these two warriors collide—he needed to squeeze out everything he could from the rounds that mattered to earn a majority decision.
But the victory raised more questions than it answered.
Pacquiao won on the scorecards of two judges—the third judge scored the fight a draw—and when the decision was announced, a deafening chorus of boos shook the arena.
Seconds after Pacquiao’s hairline win that enabled him to keep his World Boxing Organization (WBO) welterweight crown, promoter Bob Arum said he was going to set up a fourth fight between the two boxers.
As he made his way through an angry crowd that shouted obscenities at him, Arum told Yahoo! Sports: “It was a great, great fight. I had Manny, but it was close, so why not bring them together in May? It makes a lot of sense to do that.”
The camp of American Floyd Mayweather Jr. had reserved MGM Grand for May 5, ostensibly for a fight with Pacquiao. On Friday, Golden Boy’s promoter Oscar De La Hoya said that fight was closer than ever.
But with Arum’s latest statement, the richest fight in history that would pit Pacquiao against Mayweather would be on hold for a while longer.
The Filipino boxer’s trainer, Freddie Roach, also said Pacquiao should fight Marquez a fourth time before climbing into the ring with the unbeaten American.
Rain of debris
“It was clear I won the fight,” Pacquiao said after struggling against Marquez. “(But) that’s boxing.”
“This was the closest they ever fought and I thought it would end in a draw,” Roach said. “But Manny won the last two rounds and I wasn’t surprised by the judges’ decision.”
The booing from the huge Mexican throng in the sellout crowd of 16,368 at the MGM Grand drowned out the on-ring interviews. As if that wasn’t enough, they pelted the ring with debris—half-empty cups of beer and ice cubes, even hitting reporters at ringside.
Security was doubled as Pacquiao made his way from the ring to his locker room, where he received 28 stitches to seal a cut above his right eye opened by a headbutt in the 10th round. Even then, some Mexican fans managed to fling projectiles at him, including a popcorn bucket that still had its contents.
“I don’t know what I have to do to win the fight,” Marquez said.
“Maybe I have to knock him out. But then, [the judges] might help him up and give him the win anyway,” the three-division champion said, speaking to reporters through an interpreter.
Marquez had taunted Pacquiao before the fight with claims that he was the true winner of their first two fights. But the latest near-miss was almost more than Marquez could stand.
“They robbed me again,” Marquez said. “It’s hard when you’re fighting your rival and three judges, too… I’m frustrated. I’m really, really frustrated.”
“I felt like I connected with a lot of solid punches in the fight,” he said. “I felt so good. I never felt his punches.”
Judge Glenn Townbridge saw it 116-112 for Pacquiao. Dave Moretti had it 115-113 for the fighting congressman from Sarangani province in Mindanao, while Robert Hoyle had it 114-114.
“This was robbery at the utmost,” Marquez’s trainer Nacho Beristain said in Spanish.
Pacquiao opened the match slowly, trying warily to find a way inside Marquez’s defense, aware of his opponent’s uncanny ability to connect with a high rate of counterpunches.
Pacquiao barely eked out an edge in the round, and it set the tone for the action-packed match.
Pacquiao later said he suffered cramps in the fourth and he felt “that my balance was gone.”
“He was flatfooted,” Roach said after his ward felt his foot arch stiffen up.
Still, the rounds swung from one side to the other and it was difficult to keep tabs on who was leading going into the homestretch.
In the final round, Beristain thought his boxer was leading while Roach felt the Filipino needed something decisive to turn the fight around.
Pacquiao responded by turning the heat in the 12th, unleashing barrages that Marquez managed to contain with strong counters and combinations. Two judges had Pacquiao winning the round, and it was their scores that saved the fight from ending in a draw.
“I really think we squeezed it out in the last two rounds,” Roach said. “Marquez fought a great fight. This was his for the taking but he didn’t grab it.”
But even as history registered this as a win for Pacquiao—adding to the similarly close split victory he scored in 2008 and the draw that kicked off their rivalry in 2004—the questions as to who is the better fighter may remain.
And until Pacquiao hammers out a definitive victory, Marquez will always claim he has the Filipino figured out.
“It seems that way every time those two guys fight, Marquez has Manny’s number,” Roach said.
But even as the screams of protests refused to die down long after the crowd had moved to MGM Grand’s casino floors—Arum claimed Mexican fans were ready to “lynch” him—those who had Pacquiao the winner found an ally in CompuBox, the machine that tabulates the number of punches a fighter throws during a match.
Pacquiao threw 578 punches, landing 176 for a 30 percent accuracy clip. Marquez unleashed 436, connecting on 138 (32 percent). Marquez’s misses came mostly in the late stretches on the fight, after Roach had implored Pacquiao to step it up.
Pacquiao threw 304 jabs—several times during the match he tried to throw off Marquez’s counterpunch timing with double jabs—and managed to land 59 (19 percent). Marquez made 38 out of 182 for a 21 percent rate.
Even with Marquez’s right hooks landing cleanly, it was Pacquiao who made more power shots, rocking his Mexican foe with 117 hits out of 274 attempts.
Marquez swung 254 power punches and made 100.
On the average, Pacquiao landed 14 out of 49 punches per round while Marquez hit 11 of 36.
Those statistics were not enough to convince Team Marquez, or the noisy throng that kept chanting his name outside the press conference area.
Not that Pacquiao was affected.
“I understand the crowd,” he said. “Half of the crowd was Mexican and half was Filipino. The Filipinos were happy with the decision but the Mexicans were disappointed. That’s part of the game.”
Marquez felt that the audience response was tantamount to his coronation.
“The audience is the best judge and they felt I won,” he said. “This (victory) was even clearer than the previous one.”
A definitive victory on Saturday night would have allowed Pacquiao to finally dispose of Marquez’s whining and enable him to deal with just one question next year: Who is the world’s true pound-for-pound king, the Filipino ring icon or the undefeated Floyd Mayweather Jr.?
Handlers of both camps showed optimism in the past week that the megabuck fight could finally be signed for next year.
But now, Pacquiao may still have to answer questions as to whether he can finally resolve the Marquez dilemma.
“(Pacquiao-Marquez 4) is a fight I wouldn’t want to do but might have to,” Roach admitted. “I have to prepare him better next time.”
Ready for rematch
Arum is not convinced Marquez will retire. Roach thinks he shouldn’t.
“Marquez deserves a rematch,” Roach said.
“If the fighters are willing, the promoters will promote it,” Arum said.
One side in the equation is more than willing.
“I want to give him a rematch,” Pacquiao said. “If we can work it out for May, we would do it.”
That pushes any negotiations with Mayweather back even more, although experts believe the American, who routed Marquez in a shutout when they squared off in 2009, might now be interested in getting into the ring with Pacquiao after watching him struggle Saturday night. With a report from AFP