PACQUIAO-MARQUEZ I & II: THE EVOLUTION OF TWO FIGHTERS AND A CLASSIC RIVALRY
by Doug Fischer (Originally published in the December 2011 edition of THE RING)
The story of the first two fights between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez is one of change.
Both fighters evolved during the near four-year span between their initial featherweight encounter and their junior lightweight rematch, and their metamorphosis involved more than gaining four pounds.
Their fighting styles and ring identities changed out of necessity.
Pacquiao evolved from a one-handed ring assassin to a versatile boxer-puncher. The difficult time Marquez gave him in their first bout and his subsequent decision loss to Erik Morales nine months later forced Pacquiao to realize that he had to improve his skill and technique if he wanted to compete at the elite level of the sport.
Marquez willingly “devolved,” so to speak, from a calculating counter puncher to an aggressive combination-punching technician for similar reasons but completely different circumstances.
Marquez already possessed the skill and ring generalship to compete with the best fighters of the 126- and 130-pound divisions, but his careful style of boxing was not appreciated by the fans. Sometimes it wasn’t appreciated by the judges.
The epiphany for change struck Pacquiao and Marquez after their first fight, which took place at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, May 2004.
During the fight, which ended in a controversial split draw, both fighters displayed the talent that made them the two best featherweights on the planet. Pacquiao exploded with phenomenal speed and power backed by a frenetic fighting pace. Marquez exhibited his usual cool counter punching, underrated tenacity and an uncanny ability to adjust to his adversary’s ferocious style.
Pacquiao, a burgeoning Filipino hero at the time thanks to his dominant 11th-round stoppage of Marco Antonio Barrera in his previous fight, struck like a bolt of lighting midway through the opening round, dropping Marquez to the seat of his pants with a straight left.
Seemingly unhurt, Marquez got up and immediately returned fire. However, a furious follow-up one-two combination knocked Marquez on his back so hard the Mexico City native’s feet flew up in the air. This time Marquez, who got up with blood streaming out both nostrils, was hurt.
With 54 seconds left in the round, Pacquiao went about the business of finishing off his wounded prey, first maneuvering Marquez near the ropes and then nearly blasting the backpedaling titleholder through them as yet another left cross sent the Mexican to the canvas.
Most thought the fight was over as Marquez lay on his back with his gloves covering his face, but for the third time in the round he bravely climbed to his feet by referee Joe Cortez’s count of eight. Pacquiao attacked like 126-pound Mike Tyson but could not finish Marquez.
Most figured the knockout would come sometime during the second the round, but that’s when Marquez put his talents — mainly the ability to adjust — on display.
The technician began the round stepping to his left, away from Pacquiao’s powerful left cross. He also began parrying Pacquiao’s jab with his left hand, forcing the impetuous southpaw to sometimes lead with his left, which made him easier to counter.
Marquez doubled his left hook to the body and head whenever Pacquaio lunged within range. He countered with his straight right every time Pacquiao loaded up and missed with his big left.
HBO commentator Larry Merchant, who called the live broadcast in the U.S., stated during the second round: “Marquez is making the stand of his life because this is the fight of his life.”
Indeed, by the final minute of the round, the beast almost seemed tamed as the pace of the fight slowed down. Pacquiao was having second thoughts about charging forward.
Marquez gave Pacquiao more to think about during the next two rounds, including straight rights to the body, which encouraged a healthy distance between the two, and feints that caused the speed demon to jump back on his heels or fire punches out of time.
By the middle rounds of the bout, Marquez was beating Pacquiao to the punch with his jab and right hand and outworking the befuddled Filipino on the inside. Pacquiao staged a spirited late-rounds rally but it was only enough to salvage a draw in a fight he nearly won by first-round knockout.
After the fight, amid the controversy of how one of the judges scored the first round, two story lines developed among hardcore fans: Perhaps Pacquiao wasn’t as good as advertised as evidenced by his technical limitations, and maybe Marquez had the warrior’s heart that countrymen Barrera and Morales were known for.
Pacquiao wanted to prove the boxing world wrong. Marquez wanted to prove them right. However, it would take years and a few fights before either fighter did so.
Marquez had to endure some criticism after his next two fights, safety first decision victories over Orlando Salido and Victor Polo, before his career hit an all-time low with an ill-advised trip to Indonesia that resulted in a controversial decision loss to Chris John.
Being called boring stung Marquez‘s pride, but losing to a fighter he thought he beat hurt deep enough to awaken something inside his spirit. Marquez became a different fighter in his next two bouts, brutally thrilling stoppages of Terdsak Kokietgym (AKA Jandaeng) and Jimrex Jaca. His careful nature was replaced by relentless take-no-prisoners attitude, which was welcomed by fans.
Marquez’s newfound aggression did more than dash criticism and make him a must-see TV fighter, it helped him outpoint Barrera in March 2007, arguably the best win of his career. The victory, which earned Marquez the WBC 130-pound title, helped set the stage for the rematch with Pacquiao.
However, when the two met again in Las Vegas, March 2008, Marquez did not face the same Pacquiao he fought in ‘04. Pacquiao, whose status among Filipinos had grown to iconic levels during his trilogy with Morales, had transformed into a more mature and complete fighter.
A consistent jab and right hook was added to his straight left. His balance was improved. Lateral movement was developed. Freddie Roach, who had trained Pacquiao since 2001, was embarrassed by his fighter’s inability adjust in the middle rounds of his first bouts with Marquez and Morales.
“It was more my fault than Manny’s,” Roach recently told RingTV.com. “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.”
Between the three bouts with Morales, Roach purposely held Pacquiao’s natural aggression back in stay-busy bouts against Hector Velazquez and Oscar Larios, hoping to instill a sense of patience in his star pupil.
The master trainer was successful to a large degree. A controlled, two-handed version of Pacquiao confronted Marquez in their anticipated rematch. Pacquiao didn’t jump into attack mode at the sound of the opening bell. Instead, he doubled his jab and waited for the right moments to drop his vaunted left hand.
Marquez let Pacquiao know that he had changed as well, by backing the Filipino star to the ropes with a hard right hand and body-head combination. Marquez was still a counter puncher at heart, but he was more willing take the offensive lead. His aggressive attitude was rewarded at the end of the second round when a lunging hook caught and momentarily staggered Pacquiao in the final seconds of the second round.
Pacquiao waited until the end of the third round to return the favor with a left cross that knocked Marquez flat on his back. And though he had Marquez reeling into the ropes just before the bell, but he didn’t try to finish his rival in the fourth round.
Marquez’s new willingness to take risks prevented Pacquiao from stepping up the pace and overwhelming him as he had so many opponents. However, Marquez was unable to outclass Pacquiao the way he had in their fight bout.
The more patient Pacquiao made fewer mistakes for Marquez to capitalize on. His busy jab and improved footwork allowed him to box on almost even terms with Marquez.
So instead of a shootout or a boxing clinic, fans were treated to an evenly contested, high-intensity chess match that featured heated exchanges throughout. After 12 fast-paced, crowd-pleasing rounds, Pacquiao’s third-round knockdown was the difference in a very close split decision victory that earned him THE RING’s vacant junior lightweight title.