BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — If Manny Pacquiao dominates Juan Manuel Marquez in their anticipated third bout on Nov. 12, many observers will chalk it up to weight and the 5-to-1 underdog’s inability to carry it.
Although Marquez gave Pacquiao hell in their first two bouts — a draw at featherweight and a split-decision loss at junior lightweight — the general consensus is that the Filipino icon is better suited to fighting at the contracted 144-pound catchweight of the their third bout than the Mexican master boxer.
However, Pacquiao and his promoter, Bob Arum, don‘t believe that weight is as much of a factor in this fight as odds makers and boxing writers have made of it.
Pacquiao says he has evolved as a fighter since his first two encounters with Marquez and the decisive victory he’s vowed to score in the third fight will have more to do with his improved skill and technique than weight.
Arum says the fight will come down to styles. And since he’s the promoter the Nov. 12 event, which will be televised live on HBO Pay-Per-View from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, he has no problem promising the public another barnburner based on their contrasting styles.
“Manny Pacquiao is all about aggression,” Arum told the media at the recent Los Angeles-area press conference at The Beverly Hills Hotel. “He takes the fight to his opponent. That’s why he has so much trouble with Juan Manuel Marquez, who in all the years I’ve been in boxing, is the greatest counter puncher that I’ve seen.”
Although Arum has a point, the weight factor is still hard to ignore.
Since their rematch in March of 2008, Pacquiao has won major titles at lightweight, junior welterweight, welterweight and junior middleweight, dominating and sometimes battering naturally bigger fighters along the way.
Marquez has won titles at lightweight but he floundered in his only bout above the 135-pound limit, a one-sided 12-round decision loss to Floyd Mayweather in ‘09.
Arum says Marquez’s loss to Mayweather had nothing to do with weight and everything to do with styles.
“Of course Marquez didn’t do well against Mayweather,” he said. “Mayweather is a defensive fighter, maybe even a defensive genius, the worst kind of fighter for a counter puncher. A defensive fighter takes away a counter puncher’s main asset. There’s nothing for him to counter punch and he has to become the aggressor.
“Marquez won’t have to do that against Manny. And Manny won’t put on a lot of weight after the weigh-in. It’s not like Manny is going to blow up to be a middleweight by fight time. To do that would take away from his speed and reflexes. They’ll be within one pound of each other (on fight night).
“The increased skills of both fighters is what’s going to determine who will have the advantage.”
Pacquiao believes his skills have improved drastically since their last fight.
“I’ve changed a lot,” Pacquiao said. “I’ve had years to improve my technique and my strategy. There’s a big difference in my style now compared to my style the last time we fought.”
The key differences between the way Pacquiao fought Marquez in ‘08 and his current fighting style is his ability to fight effectively in close and his patience.
Pacquiao doesn’t simply jump in and out of range with quick power combinations these days. He’s choosing the right moment to slip or get under his opponent’s punches and then he advances close enough to attack their body and head before he steps around to either side.
He’s not in a rush to mix it up as quickly as he used to be. Pacquiao has been willing to occasionally allow his opponent to make the first move in recent fights. Sometimes he forces their hand by feinting and then catches them with counter punches once they are out of position.
Pacquiao counter punching Marquez? It sounds surreal but his trainer says it will happen on Nov. 12.
“Manny can turn the tables on Marquez a little bit,” Freddie Roach told RingTV.com. “He can do it because he knows how to feint now, so he’s not as predictable. Opponents don’t know if he’s coming or going.”
Nobody could have imagined a feinting and counter-punching Pacquiao when he overwhelmed Marco Antonio Barrera with his frenetic fight pace in 2003 or when he struggled with Marquez after dropping the technician three times in the first round of their featherweight title bout in ‘04.
However, the first bout with Marquez and the close decision loss to Erik Morales in 2005 were the starting points for Roach’s project to develop Pacquiao into a complete fighter.
The version that fought Marquez in ‘04 was painfully raw in comparison to the fighter who is now recognized as the pound-for-pound best.
That fighter was a stalking one-armed puncher who often squared up in front of his opposition. Pacquiao’s offense consisted of a repetitive one-two combination. The jab was merely a set-up for his powerful straight left.
His only footwork was constant bouncing and occasional in-and-out movement. His defense was a high guard mixed in with methodical side-to-side head movement.
It wasn’t difficult for seasoned technicians such as Marquez and Morales to time and catch Pacquiao, who often bounced straight back after getting clipped.
If he didn’t make an effort to add more technique to his awesome natural talent it’s possible that he would have peaked as a fighter six or seven years ago. However, neither the fighter nor his trainer was going to let that happen.
Roach, who began training Pacquiao in 2001, is a little embarrassed that he didn’t work on improving the young champion’s style earlier.
“It was more my fault than Manny’s,” Roach said. “I was satisfied with him knocking everybody out with his left. After the Morales loss I made it my mission to make his right hand just as dangerous.
“It took about a year to bring it out. You can see the improvement during the three fights with Morales. He always had the right hand but he didn’t have the confidence to use it during a fight.”
Roach says Pacquiao’s challenge of WBC lightweight beltholder David Diaz in June of ’08, which immediately followed the Marquez rematch, was the fight his star pupil put it all together.
“Diaz was the perfect opponent for Manny to put everything we had worked on in the gym into practice,” Roach said of the tough-but-limited brawler, who Pacquiao stopped in the ninth round. “He finally tried everything in that fight — using angles, lateral movement, the right hook — and it worked so well that it gave him the confidence to use the style against Oscar De La Hoya in his next fight.
“When it worked against Oscar I knew he would stick with it.”
It hasn’t failed Pacquiao yet and it doesn’t figure to do so on Nov. 12.
Doug Fischer can be emailed at email@example.com