Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez have waged one of boxing’s great rivalries. Their first three fights, contested over the course of eight-and-a-half years, showcased two elite warriors with speed, intelligence, power, and skill. Neither man was able to dominate the other. They were equal in the ring, both champions.
Pacquiao-Marquez IV is now part of that history. It began with a dramatic ebb and flow. Pacquiao went down hard in round three when Marquez landed an overhand right as Manny was pulling straight back with his hands down. Two rounds later, Juan Manuel’s gloves touched the canvas when a straight left caught him flush. That was followed by toe-to-toe action with Pacquiao getting the better of it. After five rounds, all three judges had the Filipino icon ahead by a 47-46 margin.
By round six, Marquez’s face was a bloody mess and his nose appeared to be broken. The scene brought back memories of Chuck Wepner walking back to his corner after a particularly hard round against Sonny Liston.
“I can't breathe,” Wepner told his manager, Al Braverman. “My nose is broken.”
“You got a mouth, don't you?” Braverman answered.
Marquez could breathe through his mouth. And Pacquiao, more than most fighters, is willing to gamble in the ring. Often, that has been his edge. But sooner or later, most gamblers who come to Las Vegas go home losers.
With seconds left in the sixth round, Pacquiao made a fatal mistake. He overcommitted on a careless jab with his head high and his left hand out of position to block a return counter. Marquez smacked him with a vicious righthand. Manny went down face-first, unconscious.
The punch joins other classic blows that the recipient never saw coming.
Gene Fullmer was dominating every facet of his 1957 rematch against Sugar Ray Robinson. Then, in round five, a counter lefthook stretched him out on the canvas.
“Up to then, I got to thinking I couldn’t be knocked out,” Fullmer said afterward. “And all at once, I realized anybody can. It’s just got to be at the right place at the right time and you’re gone.”
Pacquiao was on the giving end of a similar blow when he knocked out Ricky Hatton three years ago. “That’s what happens when you don’t see a punch coming,” Lennox Lewis (who got whacked by Hasim Rahman in South Africa) said of Hatton’s demise. “Believe me; I know.”
“I got careless,” Manny said after regaining consciousness at the close of Pacquiao-Marquez IV. “I never expected that punch.”
After the bout, Pacquiao made a precautionary visit to University Medical Center for a CT scan that was negative. Then he returned to his hotel suite and watched a DVD of the fight. According to publicist Fred Sternburg, as the bout unfolded, Manny told those in the room, “Spoiler alert. I don’t think you’re going to like how this ends.”
As for what comes next; the assumption is that Pacquiao will keep fighting. He fought at a world-class level against Marquez. The one-punch knockout was shocking and dramatic, but also an aberration. Manny won’t want his career to end on that note. And if the past is prologue, he’ll soon need more money.
“Boxing is not a romance. It’s a business,” Bob Arum (Pacquiao’s promoter) has said.
Marquez-Pacquiao V is one of many options for the future. But whatever comes next, The Pacquiao Era appears to be over. Commercially, a touch of “Pacquiao fatigue” has set in. Manny’s fights still sell out the MGM Grand Garden Arena. But this one sold out later than most. Also, Pacquiao has now cobbled together a string of less-than-stellar performances capped by losses to Marquez and Tim Bradley.
Manny isn’t a shot fighter. He’s still capable of performing at a high level. But in recent outings, he has seemed diminished as a consequence of the natural aging process and, possibly, a loss of commitment and focus in training. One now has to wonder what this brutal one-punch knockout will do to his ability to take a punch?
Some fighters come back from a lights-out experience as good as the were before. Others (like Roy Jones and Jermain Taylor) are never the same again.
Also, in closing, it should be noted that the issue of PED usage hangs over boxing like a black cloud. In the past, there have been allegations with regard to Pacquiao and others. Marquez’s associations and the recent change in Juan Manuel’s physical condition have the appearance of impropriety. If boxing doesn’t address this issue seriously now, the black cloud will turn into a deluge.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book (Winks and Daggers: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.