2. May 8, 2004 – D 12 Manny Pacquiao I, MGM Grand, Las Vegas
Six months after his seven round technical decision win over Derrick Gainer to pick up the vacant WBA featherweight title and become the owner of two belts, Marquez risked them against the hottest fighter in boxing. Manny Pacquiao had just destroyed Marco Antonio Barrera in 11 rounds to vault him into the pound-for-pound conversation and let it be known that should he beat Marquez that a showdown with Erik Morales was next. This ambitious, dynamic and potentially foolish plan was dubbed “the featherweight triple crown” by HBO’s Larry Merchant.
Pacquiao looked well on his way to completing the second leg in short order by scoring three knockdowns in the final half of round one, an attack that left Marquez dazed, flustered and bleeding heavily from the nose. After Marquez steadied himself in the second round, he and trainer Nacho Beristain found the formula to deal with the Filipino typhoon: He maintained optimum punching range, changed angles and shot straight punches through Pacquiao’s guard as he rushed in.
Marquez gradually chipped away at Pacquiao’s mathematical mountain in rounds three through six and by the seventh he had drawn nearly even. The blood that gushed from Marquez’s nose had slowed to a trickle from one nostril and his meaty rights persuaded the Mexicans in the MGM Grand to start believing again. Pacquiao salvaged the seventh with a second-half surge that swelled Marquez’s upper lip and the pair continued to trade rounds and momentum as they neared the home stretch.
That Marquez could make a fight of it after his nightmarish first round was nothing short of miraculous, and the Mexican star had one more mighty act in store. Despite the pain, blood and breathing difficulties he suffered throughout his most demanding hour, Marquez managed to put together a final rally in the final six minutes to create a monumental drama as everyone awaited the verdict.
The decision reflected just how difficult a fight this was to score. John Stewart saw Pacquiao a 115-110 winner while Guy Jutras saw Marquez ahead by the same margin. The deciding judge, Burt Clements, saw it 113-113, allowing Marquez to keep both belts. Had Clements given Pacquiao a 10-6 round like the other judges instead of the 10-7 he bestowed, Pacquiao would have captured a split decision. As it was, Marquez had put together a comeback for the ages against the toughest opponent possible – a phenomenal achievement that should supercede the final result.