The Mexican Mosquito
There has been an insignificant little gnat buzzing around Manny Pacquiao for months, and Manny has been alternately ignoring it or brushing it away — but last night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas that gnat morphed into a large, hungry Mexican mosquito that Manny needs to swat and dispatch decisively in May as the next step in cementing his unprecedented boxing legacy. That thirsty mosquito is Juan Manuel Marquez, who demolished Michael Katsidis last night in a contest that referee Kenny Bayless stopped at 2:13 of the 9th round at a point where Marquez had rendered the plucky Australian defenseless and was in danger of doing permanent damage. In decisively defeating Katsidis, Marquez reminded the world that he’s one of the all-time greats and improved his record to 52-5-1, easily retaining his world lighteight (135 lb) championship and rejuvenating the discussion that he is owed a third shot at Pacquiao. To make sure no one missed the point, after the fight Marquez showed up at his post fight press conference wearing a T-shirt that read: “I beat Pacquiao twice,” and today, the morning after the Katsidis victory, the boxing intelligentsia is abuzz with talk of Pacquiao-Marquez III.
For those who follow Pacquiao of late but aren’t longtime boxing fans or may need a refresher — here are links to the full fight videos of Pacquiao-Marquez 1, and Pacquiao-Marquez 2 so you can revisit the two fights for yourself and form your own opinion. The summary is this: In 2004 Manny fought Marquez for the first time and famously knocked him down three times in the first round. Marquez fought back brilliantly, using his counterpunching style to create significant and ongoing problems for the offense-minded Pacquiao, and the fight ended in a draw which most observers felt was a good resolution of a fight that was epic, undeniably exciting, and uniquely difficult to score. One judge had it 115-10 Marquez, one had it 115-110 Pacquiao, and one had it 113-113 — hence the draw. Those favoring Pacquiao noted that the judge who had it 113-113 admitted later that he had unintentionally robbed Pacquiao of a point by mistakenly scoring the first round 10-7 whereas, with three knockouts and one point deducted for each knockout, plus one for winning he round, it should have been been 10-6 and that one mistake would have tipped the judge’s card to 114-113 in Manny’s favor, giving him a split decision. Those favoring Marquez argued that Marquez didn’t get full credit on all cards for the rounds he did win. In this environment a draw seemed a good solution. Then four long years later in 2008 the two fought again and this time Manny knocked Marquez down once, and again Marquez fought back brilliantly, and this time Pacquiao won a split decision which Marquez and his fans and some commentators believe should have gone Marquez’ way. The two fights left Marquez with a credible argument that he is owed a third fight — hence the T-shirt with “I Beat Pacquiao Twice”. Perhaps not insignificantly given all that has transpired since then, the fights were fought at 126 and 130 lobs, weights that neither Marquez nor Pacquiao would consider remotely possible today–and it is Pacquiao who has had success rising through successive weight classes while Marquez has proved to be a top pound for pounder at 135 lbs but has been suspect at higher weights.
I watched both Pacquiao-Marquez fights live ‘on the day’ and have studied them both since then on video, and I am reasonably convinced Manny won them both. But that study has also brought home to me the fact that Marquez has a legitimate argument and it is abundantly clear that he is the one and only active fighter who can make anything approachable a credible claim that he is kryptonite to Pacquiao’s Superman, and thus has legitimate unfinished business with the Filipino icon. Marquez is, quite simply, the only fighter to give Manny any serious opposition in the last 6 years and by showcasing his skills so successfully against a tough fighter like Katsidis, he has done what he had to do to make the serious boxing press and fans alike take notice and begin to embrace the idea that the time for the trilogy fight Pacquiao-Marquez III has arrived.
The Meaning of the KO of Katsidis
Which brings us to last night, and how it strengthened Marquez claims that he’s owed the third shot at Manny. Not only did Marquez look brilliant on all levels — he also overcame an early round knockdown that wobbled him, and in doing so cemented in the mind of the boxing intelligentsia that one of Marquez unique characteristics is an ability to weather a knockdown and come back to dominate a fight — something that feeds into the argument that Marquez may in fact have actually beaten Pacquiao in one or both fights, and just didn’t get proper credit for it. Indeed, during the fight commentary Jim Lampley (who is an acknowledged “fan” when it comes to Pacquiao and could never be called a Pacquiao “hater”) couldn’t resist saying several times that if you take away the knockdowns (which are the difference in the fights), Marquez has indeed outpointed Pacquiao twice. This line was picked up overnight by some others, and overall there is a growing concensus among boxing writers and fans that the time has come to finish the “unfinished business” between Pacquiao and Marquez.
If Not Marquez, Then Who?
For the sake of discussion — if not Marquez — who can Manny fight and not be accused of ducking Marquez? Team Pacquiao is on record as saying he will fight in May, which makes emminent sense. And of course the fight the world wants to see is Pacquiao-Mayweather. But Floyd Mayweather–even if he has the heart for a Pacquiao fight which is itself unclear– is unavailable in May due to his legal problems which include a court date in January. Mayweather’s promoter Richard Sheafer has gone on record in the last few days as saying that Mayweather would be acting disrespectfully toward the case and the judge if he were to schedule a fight before that hearing is finished. Once you get past the unavailable Mayweather, the options are few. Roach and the rest of the Pacquiao brain trust have gone on record as saying they’re done with giant-killing, at least for the moment, and that is smart and in Manny’s best interest, healthwise, a consideration which at this point in Manny’s career trumps everything else. Manny doesn’t have to fight at all ever again and retirement now–not three years hence–is a legitimate option. So with the lifetime health argument in mind, and the retirement option on the table, it makes no sense for Manny to play David again and fight, say, impressive middlewight champion Sergio Martinez at 154. Martinez is just too big and the risk to Manny’s health in the immediate aftermath of the Margarito brawl is just too great. Coming down to 147, Roach and Arum have been talking about Shane Mosely but Mosely is 39 and is generally acknowledged to be a largely spent force and if Pacquiao takes him he’ll face an avalanche of criticism that he’s ducking Marquez. More credible is young undefeated welterweight champion Andre Berto, who scored an impressive first round knockout of Freddy Hernandez last night on the Marquez-Katsidis undercard. Berto is probably the one alternative to Marquez that would not leave Pacquiao being criticized for ducking Marquez. Berto is young, strong, and a true welterweight — unlike Marquez who is naturally a 135 pounder who couldn’t hack it at 147 when he took on Mayweather. So if Manny doesn’t want to fight Marquez, there is Berto and not much else. But choosing Berto will still leave Marquez buzzing about clamoring, with reasonable if not impeccable logic, that he’s owed a third shot, so the Marquez issue won’t go away, and “unfinished business” will remain a theme that on some level threatens to take at least a tiny bit of the sheen off of Manny’s legacy.
What Weight Class?
As the concensus emerges that Pacquiao should pick up the gauntlet thrown down by Marquez, the next question is — at what weight? This, in fact, is central not only to the question of weight class, but to the validity of the fight itself. Since fighting at the f 126 lbs in 2004 and 130 lobs in 2008, both Pacquiao and Marquez have gone up in weight class — but it is only Pacquiao who has proved to be a giant killer at higher weight classes. Paquiao’s onesided victories at junior welterweight against Ricky Hatton, and welterweight against Oscar De Lay Hoya, Miguel Cotto, and Josua Clottey — not to mention is 150lb catchweight gem against the much larger Margarito — compare with Marquez’s sluggish and non-impressive performance against the admittedly difficult Floyd Mayweather at 147 lbs. Should Pacquiao insist on 147 for a third Marquez fight? Or should he come down to 140, or a catchweight in between, to take on Marquez?
What makes the weight argument interesting is that these days, the mythical ‘pound for pound’ title is as much a talking point as the individual weight class titles,and while it would be easy for Pacquiao to insist that Marquez come up to 147, my guess is that it will end up as a catchweight fight at 142 or 143 — a comfortable weight for Pacquiao and one that will allow the fight result to be “definitive” and not dismissed as “Pacquiao made Marquez fight too far above his weight class”.
Boxing as Entertainment, Not Bloodsport
Finally — let’s keep in mind what Manny himself said — “Boxing is not about killing each other. It’s about entertainment.” Can enyone doubt that Pacquiao-Marquez III would be entertaining? The two have fought classic 12 round epics in fights I and II. Worst case (in terms of entertainment), Pacquiao finishes Marquez early, confirming his growth as a boxer since 2008. More likely, the boxing world is treated to another 12 round epic — with this happening on May 7 (Cinco de Maio anyone?), probably in Dallas Cowboy Stadium in Texas, this time (unlike with the disgraced Margarito who was coming off suspension for loaded gloves that dampened Mexican enthusiasm) with a world record crowd in attendance and all of Mexico and all Mexican-Americans fully revved up to support their fighter. The excitement will be extraordinary, the fight will be entertaining, Manny won’t have to fight another Goliath with all the physical risk that such a fight entails, and the argument regarding Marquez and Pacquiao will be settled, once and for all, with Paquiao eliminating all doubt and removing the last possible asterisk from his unequaled legacy.