THE RING’s Fight of the Year for 2004 was awarded to the third bout of the Marco Antonio Barrera-Erik Morales trilogy (won by Barrera). That was the same year Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez fought their memorable first bout.
Had the 2004 versions of Pacquiao and Marquez gone at it the way they did in 2012 they probably would have edged Barrera-Morales III out for Fight of the Year honors. That’s how impressive the arch rivals were in their fourth bout. It was so fierce and intense that it outdid their first three fights in terms of back-and-forth action, drama and, of course, a conclusive (not mention concussive) ending.
Pacquiao and Marquez, who won the Dec. 8 showdown with a shocking one-punch knockout at the end of the sixth round, somehow summoned more grit and fire than they did eight years earlier, at least four years past their athletic peaks, and fighting 20 pounds heavier than they weighed during their first confrontation.
Given the wear and tear on their bodies, it’s amazing that they’re still fighting at the world-class level, let alone combining for what fans who took part in RingTV.com’s year-end award poll deemed the Fight of the Year with 56.7 percent of the votes. The Brandon Rios-Mike Alvarado junior welterweight thriller was the runner up with 23.1 percent of the votes.
Rios-Alvarado was everything hardcore fans expected between two young, unbeaten pressure fighters – a grueling, fast-paced slugfest. Part of what made Pacquiao-Marquez special is that it delivered the unexpected.
Fans knew that the styles of the dynamic southpaw boxer-puncher and the courageous counter-punching technician meshed to make for hotly contested distance bouts, which Pacquiao – fairly or unfairly – won in their second and third bouts. Few expected a shootout between the future first-ballot hall of famers, even though both Pacquiao and Marquez promised their loyal fans that they would gun for a knockout.
Who knew that Pacquiao, legend secure after winning major titles in a record eight divisions, would have the desire to try to knockout the man who knows how to fight him better than anyone else? Who knew that Marquez, pushing 40 and 61 bouts into a 19-year career, would have it in him to withstand the best shots Pacquiao could deliver and the power to turn the tables on his nemesis?
The boxing world was gleefully surprised when a true firefight broke out following the first two rounds – which judges Adalaide Byrd, Steve Weisfeld and John Keane scored for Pacquiao due to the Filipino idol’s greater activity and punch-connect rate. Pacquiao, emboldened by the lead lefts he landed in the first six minutes of the fight, stepped up his pace in the third round, jabbing with authority and shooting the left to Marquez’s body and head.
However, Marquez wasn’t about to allow Pacquiao to outwork him without paying a price. With one sweeping overhand right that crashed into the left side of Pacquiao’s face, dropping the odds favorite flat on his back one minute and 18 seconds into the round, Marquez evened up the scorecards and set off the fight in earnest.
Pacquiao got up by referee Kenny Bayless’ count of “four” and returned to the offensive with half a minute to go in the round. The round ended with furious exchanges and the two veterans continued to fight like hungry young up-and-comers in the fourth round. Marquez landed head-snapping jabs and slipped solid body shot counters, while Pacquiao began putting powerful combinations together in the final minute of the stanza.
Pacquiao landed 10 more power punches through the first four rounds (34 to 24), but Marquez was landing with maximum leverage every time he connected.
They traded their signature power shots for the first minute and 10 seconds of an electric fifth round until Pacquiao landed a compact left cross that knocked Marquez off balance enough to make the Mexico City native touch his left glove to the canvas – forcing Bayless to issue a count. But 20 seconds later Marquez landed a right cross that made Pacquiao cover up and turn half way around before banging his gloves together as if to say “Bring it on!” Both men did.
Every power punch they threw from that point of the fight until the sudden end were delivered with violent intentions. Pacquiao landed more of these shots, including a right hook that stunned Marquez with 44 seconds left in the fifth round. He continued to nail a backpedaling Marquez with clean shots but the 39-year-old master fired back, even when he was pressed to the ropes or knocked back on his heels.
But Pacquiao’s punches were taking their toll. Blood poured from Marquez’s nostrils and from a gash on the bridge of his nose. The sight of Marquez’s battered face enticed Pacquiao to press harder in the sixth round. It seemed as though Pacquiao’s relentless in-and-out attack was beginning to overwhelm the proud Mexican in late in the round until the Filipino icon lunged forward and missed with a jab five seconds before the bell.
What happened next is boxing history.
Marquez ended the fight in thrilling, chilling fashion with one monster right hand. Many fans and boxing insiders wonder if that one punch ended Pacquiao’s incredible run as an elite fighter. That remains to be seen.
However, there’s no doubt that Marquez’s scored the Knockout of the Year in the Fight of the Year.
Next year-end award: Fighter of the Year
Photos / Al Bello-Getty Images, Naoki Fukuda