LAS VEGAS – If you fight anywhere between 140 and 154 pounds, the long shadows of two men hang over you: those of Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao.
This is true no matter who you are or where you go.
That was never more evident than it was Wednesday morning at the Wynn Resort Casino when Juan Manuel Marquez, who Saturday night will try to become the first Mexican-born fighter to win world titles in five separate weight classes, spent more time talking about Pacquiao than he did about Timothy Bradley.
Bradley is the reigning WBO welterweight champion and the man the 40-year-old Marquez will challenge 10 months after knocking Pacquiao cold with one crushing right hand to the face in the fourth of what has become more a passion play than a rivalry. One might think that would at least for a time end further debate over fighting Pacquiao, but three controversial decisions (draw, split decision loss, majority decision loss) and one substantive victory later everywhere Marquez walks, Pacquiao seems to be by his side.
That is true this week even with Pacquiao training 6000 miles away in the Philippines for a November fight with former WBA lightweight champion Brandon Rios and Marquez three days away from challenging Bradley for a shot at history. They are, it seems, forever joined and forever faced with the public’s insatiable demand for them to meet again.
“Everybody knows what happened the last three fights (with Manny),’’ Marquez said yesterday, implying he won them all, which is what many people felt but which was not borne out by the judges’ scorecards in two of those fights. “For Manny, the chapter is closed. Dec. 8 I felt a great victory. I want to keep that great feeling. I feel very focused on this fight (with Bradley). I answer the same yesterday and tomorrow.’’
In other words, enough about Pacquiao, at least for the moment. But if Marquez finds a way to dethrone Bradley (30-0, 12 KO) and make boxing history back in Mexico the first name that will arise will be that of Pacquiao. That assumes, of course, that Pacquiao defeats Rios in Macau next month as most expect he will do, unless the residue of Marquez’s one punch knockout has rusted his skills and dulled his mind.
Marquez (55-6-1, 40 KO; pictured listening during Wednesday presser in Chris Farina-Top Rank photo) understands this of course, just as he understands many felt his crowning moment came when Pacquiao lay face down on the canvas, his body unmoving for several minutes before he came to. Many felt that would be enough for Marquez, who is widely seen as one of the best Mexican fighters of all-time and perhaps the best of an era that also included Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera.
Even his family thought he had reached the apex of a brilliant career after finally, emphatically, ending the debate raging between his supporters and Pacquiao’s over which man was the better. Although Pacquiao held a 2-0-1 edge on Marquez in the record books, many felt Marquez had won at least two of those fights, if not all three. Certainly in the 36 rounds they’d spent in a brutal embrace there was little to pick between them until that thunderous right hand came crashing unseen into the face of Pacquiao at a time when the latter felt he was only another punch or two himself from stopping the bloodied but unbowed Mexican.
“He was on the verge of getting knocked out but Pacquiao got overconfident,’’ Bradley said of Marquez. “He set Manny up. Pacquiao tried to rush in and end this whole controversial thing and he got caught. That shows me that if I hurt him I better not rush in on him. You got to say 100 per cent dialed in on him. You can never relax. That’s when it gets dangerous with Marquez.’’
That is a lesson harshly learned by Pacquaio and when it was delivered it seemed the perfect moment for Marquez to turn and walk away, leaving behind a brutal sport he had dominated for many years but paid a high price for. That is what defeating Pacquiao meant to the people closest to Marquez. It meant he had done enough.
That’s what it meant to them, but not to him.
“After that fight, my family thought it was over,’’ Marquez said. “Done. I didn’t feel that way. I didn’t see why I should retire. I know it’s almost over but I don’t feel 40. I feel like a young fighter. I want a few more fights.’’
The widely-held assumption is one of those will be a fifth fight with Pacquiao. It would be the biggest payday of his career and an opportunity to give to Pacquiao what he twice gave him after their first two encounters: an opportunity at redemption.
The difference is the last fight was the only one that ended definitively. With Pacquaio’s body lying unmoving on the canvas for several long minutes, there was no more debate over who the better man was. At least not on the night of Dec. 8, 2012 there wasn’t.
Armed with that knowledge, Marquez rejected an immediate rematch possibility with Pacquiao and opted instead to face a larger man in Bradley. The first two times he fought at the 147-pound limit he lost badly to Mayweather and debatably to Pacquiao in their third confrontation so some wondered why not opt for a more lucrative third fight with Pacquiao.
“When we sat down together in Mexico I thought he agreed to that fight,’’ promoter Bob Arum recalled. “We were drinking tequila at the time but I’m sure he agreed to it. And then he wanted to do something else.’’
Whatever the validity of that, Saturday night Juan Manuel Marquez will be trying to make history fully understanding that lurking in the shadows is the history of his past waiting for one more confrontation with him.