LAS VEGAS– When welterweights Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez engage in their fourth bout at the MGM Grand on Saturday night, they will do so before a sold-out crowd of more than 16,000 fans looking for a conclusive victory.
Pacquiao’s narrow majority-decision victory over Marquez in November of last year followed Pacquiao’s split-decision triumph as a junior lightweight in March of 2008 when the Filipino star dropped his Mexican rival once in the third round, and before that a featherweight draw in May of 2004, during which Marquez was floored three times in the first round.
Still, Marquez believes he was the victor in all three bouts, a testament that is validated by boxing insiders such as ESPN’s Dan Rafael who have scored their trilogy so closely.
“I have the series at 2-0-1 for Marquez,” said Rafael. “But if you told me that you had it 0-3 for one of the guys, or 0-0-3, I mean, that’s the kind of rivalry that it is. Every fight is close. I wish that the fight was 15 rounds.”
Pacquiao’s 15-bout winning streak ended under circumstances that were largely lampooned by boxing media members and the community in general, as he lost a split decision to Tim Bradley in June at the MGM Grand.
Although Bradley was awarded the victory over Pacquiao by the scores of 115-113 on the cards of judges C.J. Ross and Duane Ford, while Jerry Roth had it for Pacquiao by the same score, an informal poll of 51 writers favored Pacquiao over Bradley, 48-3.
Marquez lost the last fight to Pacquiao, 116-112 and 115-113 on the cards of Glenn Trowbridge and Dave Moretti, with Robert Hoyle calling it even at 114-114. But a comprehensive list of 20 boxing media members broke down as 12 for Marquez, seven for a draw and only one for Pacquiao.
“I think there is a lot of scrutiny and pressure on the Nevada State Athletic Commission to render a fair decision based on the last two Pacquiao fights,” said Steve Kim of MaxBoxing.com, “one that he may have won [when they had him losing,] and the other one that he may have lost [when they had him winning.]”
Two of the three judges for Saturday night’s fight were in action last weekend at New York’s Madison Square Garden, where junior middleweight beltholder Austin Trout was awarded a unanimous decision over three-division titlewinner Miguel Cotto before a pro-Cotto crowd.
Pacquiao-Marquez IV will be scored by England’s John Keane, Adelaide Byrd of Las Vegas, Steve Weisfeld of New Jersey, with Byrd and Weisfeld having scored last weekend’s fight for Trout, 119-109 and 117-111, respectively.
“I think that Steve Weisfeld is one of the best judges in the United States, and that Adalaide Byrd is an excellent judge also,” said Rafael. “My impression is that Adalaide Byrd favors counter-punchers, that’s why she had it 11 rounds to one in favor of Trout. I didn’t agree with that. I thought that it was a couple of rounds close, but she obviously had the right person winning the fight.”
“So if you go on the theory that she favors the counter-puncher, just on that definition, she would be, it would seem logical, that she would have an inclination to go for Marquez, who is the counter-puncher of the two. Weisfeld is always on the money in my mind…I think that they did a fair job picking the panel, and I don’t think that either side can complain.”
So that leaves it up to the fighters, each of whom has vowed to deliver the knockout. But exactly which fighter would be compromising more to execute his game plan may be up for debate.
“You have to go with your strengths,” said Showtime’s Paulie Malignaggi, also the WBA’s welterweight titleholder. “You want to make adjustments, but you can’t go above and beyond too far away from what you do best, because if you do that, then you start to over think things.”
Hall of Famer Sugar Ray Leonard has had conversations with both fighters.
“I spoke with Marquez, and he felt that he won all three fights. I spoke with Pacquiao, and he wants to be more decisive and to win big,” said Leonard. “But because they know each other so well, it’s going to be another good fight. They just know each other too well.”
Even referee Kenny Bayless, having been assigned to Pacquiao-Marquez IV after having worked Pacquiao-Marquez II, does not know what to transpire.
“You never know what to expect until you hear the bell. We’ve watched them fight for 36 rounds, and you just never know what they’ll bring,” said Bayless.
“Some fighters can make different alterations in what they do in their preparation, and some fighters can’t. They’re both saying that they’re going to knock the other guy out, so that’s yet to be seen.”
“I think that another controversial decision is imminent,” said Brown. “It’s got to be a unanimous or a TKO or a knockout. Otherwise, I think it’s a pick-em fight.”
For more analysis, RingTV.com spoke to Rafael, Kim, Malignaggi, Brown, Leonard and fellow Hall of Famer Thomas Hearns, all of whom shared their thoughts on the fight, below.
Dan Rafael: “I gave Marquez the first fight, but he got knocked down three times so he lost the first round. And he lost the second round, but I gave him every other round in the fight except for one. So he still came out ahead on my card. Second fight, it was much closer, because I only had Marquez winning by one point.
“But I have no quarrel if you think Pacquiao won. I’m fine with that. If you look at my scorecard when I added everything up at the end, he was up by one point. What can I do? Third fight, I had it a draw. Most people who probably thought Marquez deserved one of the victories probably thought that it was in the third fight.
“Mine was a draw. The point is, I have the series at 2-0-1 for Marquez. But if you told me that you had it 0-3 for one of the guys, or 0-0-3, I mean, that’s the kind of rivalry that it is. Every fight is close. I wish that the fight was 15 rounds.”
Steve Kim: “I think that there is a psychological pressure on the Nevada State Athletic Commission to make sure that they get this right. Added to that, the fact that they have to get a Pacquiao-Marquez fight correct based on the fact that many people think that they got it wrong the last time. So, I think that there are a lot of factors in this fight that are very intangible.”
“And you’re only human if you do that. But if one of them can show just a little bit of a change, that might be the difference in the fight.”
Steve Kim: “I think there is a lot of scrutiny and pressure on the Nevada State Athletic Commission to render a fair decision based on the last two Pacquiao fights — one that he may have won, one that he may have lost.”
Dan Rafael: “These guys just have to be 100-percent focused on every round, because every round counts. Because they’re so close, you’ve got to just make sure that you’re doing a little bit more.
“It wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world to maybe let loose a little bit when you hear that 10-second clapper to leave that impression in the judges’ mind at the end of the round, because that’s the type of fights that they fight — down to the wire every time.”
Sugar Ray Leonard: “I spoke with Marquez, and he felt that he won all three fights. I spoke with Pacquiao, and he wants to be more decisive and to win big. But because they know each other so well, it’s going to be another good fight. They just know each other to well.”
Paulie Malignaggi: “You have to go with your strengths. You want to make adjustments, but you can’t go above and beyond too far away from what you do best, because if you do that, then you start to over think things.
“And once you’re over thinking things, then s–t just ain’t going to come out right for both fighters in general, because both fighters are congnizant of the fact that they’ve had three close fights, and either fight could have gone either way.
“Pacquiao’s beneficiary of two of them, the draw aside. So, either guy is going to be thinking. Pacquiao is going to be thinking, ‘I’ve gotten two close ones, I’m not going to get a third close one, so I’ve got to do more.’
“Marquez is going to be thinking, ‘I didn’t get two close ones, I got to do more so that I can get this decision.’ So there’s the temptation for both guys to want to do more and to want to go above and beyond.’
“So you want to show new wrinkles, but I don’t think you want to go too far out of your element to the point where you’re making yourself so uncomfortable that you’re fighting the wrong fight and you’re compromising what you do best.
“If you do that, you may actually lose badly, because in the end, you’re not including your strengths in your fight plan.”
Thomas Hearns: “I think Marquez knows what it feels like to be in there with Pacquiao again. He’s been in there three times, so by now, he should be able to assess him, and to know what to do and what not to do. The things that got him into trouble the last time, just don’t do them anymore.
“Marquez has to box, and he’s got to out-think Pacquiao. If he don’t out-think Pacquiao, he can’t win. You really can’t do anything about the judges except to show them that you really want to win by putting it on him and giving your best fight and your best performance.”
Steve Kim: “I think that Marquez, physically, might be the bigger guy right now. That’s what kind of makes me think that maybe he has the advantage. And also, I’ve always said this about great fighters, especially in the case of Manny, that Manny Pacquiao against Bradley showed me that he could still be Manny Pacquiao, that we love.
“But he may not be that guy for 36 minutes. He has to fight in spots. Marquez has always been a guy that fights in spots, because he depended on you initiating contact, and he would pick his areas to be effective.
“I think that to me, that type of fight really favors Juan Manuel Marquez. Because, being a counter-puncher, he didn’t need to be active for all 36 minutes, he only needed to be effective within certain segments.”
Dan Rafael: “I picked Marquez for the fourth fight just on the theory that if it’s another close fight, that the law of averages is with him, and that somewhere along the line, the judges will probably — subconciously, and not that they’re doing anything wrong or inappropriate or anything like that — but they might give Marquez the slightest benefit of the doubt in that closest round, and that might be enough for him to get it. So intead of Marquez losing 114-113, maybe he wins a card 114-113.”
Sugar Ray Leonard: “I can’t pick a winner.”
Paulie Malignaggi: “Marquez, by split-decision. The only way that this fight is not close is if one of them is [a shot fighter,] otherwise, I don’t see this being anything but close.”
Thomas Hearns: “I think Pacquiao is going to do it all over again. Marquez is a good fighter, but I don’t know if Marquez is going to be able to show up and do what he’s supposed to do.”
Erick Brown: “I think that another controversial decision is imminent. There needs to be a knockout, or someone needs to get stopped. There has to be a dramatic ending. An overwhelming decision one way or another.
“It can’t be a split-decision or a majority decision. It’s got to be a unanimous or a TKO or a knockout. Otherwise, I think it’s a pick-em fight.”
Steve Kim: “I have to be honest and say that I am waffling big-time on this, because this is the first time in a long time — since 2004 since the first Pacquiao-Marquez fight — where I am picking against Pacquiao, personally.
“I have Marquez because the law of averages says that he finally wins a close fight, and because I think that there’s public pressure and the perception is that he finally has to win in a close one…
“I think that Marquez has an advantage in this fight. In 36 rounds, seven rounds have separated these guys. That is just a fraction. But I think that one way or another, this will be the final chapter.”
Photos courtesy of HBO
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com