LAS VEGAS – This time he is supposed to leave no doubt.
That is the real goal for Manny Pacquiao Saturday night. It is not simply to leave the MGM Grand Garden Arena with another close victory over his long-time nemesis, Juan Manuel Marquez. He already has accomplished that and it settled nothing between them. It is why they are together for a third and final time so attention must be paid to more than victory.
They have come together again seven years after it all began between them to make clear who is the superior fighter. Although Pacquiao has a win and a draw over Marquez both were hotly debated and widely disputed because after 24 rounds of boxing, Pacquiao has put Marquez down four times yet lost more rounds to him than he’s won.
This has caused both to grow testy about their records, Marquez showing up in Pacquiao’s native Philippines to publicize the fight several months ago wearing a “We Were Robbed’’ T-shirt. Pacquiao didn’t think it was funny.Then again, neither did Marquez, who staunchly believes he won both fights and many others support that point of view. What is beyond debate though is that their styles clash perfectly, demanding each man fight for the full three minutes a round while putting them both constantly in jeopardy.It is why one judge could score their first fight 115-110 for Pacquiao and another sitting at the same ring 115-110 the other way and then have the same thing happen in their second fight, the scores being 115-112 each way with the third judge ruling for Pacquiao by the slimmest of margins, 114-113. So, after 24 rounds and four knockdowns of Marquez, only one point divides them.
That has become an irksome thing not only to Marquez but also to Pacquiao, who is widely regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world except when he’s in the ring with Marquez, although the distance between him and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is about the same as the separation between Pacquiao and Marquez on those scorecards.
No wonder they are fighting again, three years and 17 pounds later, and no wonder that all that has gone on between them has resulted in a more focused and frankly more peeved Pacquiao.
“"That's why I train hard, because I want to end this, all the doubts,’’ he says. “This is our last fight."
A beloved politician, statesman, philanthropist and celebrity back in the Philippines, Pacquiao is an often easily distracted man, someone who at times seems more interested in all matters but fistic ones. That has not been the case in the run-up to this fight however.
For the first time in recent memory there have been no side trips to visit the President or to campaign for the Senate majority leader or to sing songs on national television or meet with constituencies from Philippine politics. This time there has been a singular focus for Manny Pacquiao and it has been on only one man – Marquez - because this time just beating him is not enough.
“Manny Pacquiao is on fire right now and he is training really well for this fight,’’ trainer Freddie Roach, a sometimes critic of Pacquiao’s divided life, said. “He’s got a little spark – he was slapped in the face a little bit by Márquez in the Philippines, twice talking about the first two fights he thought he won. I think Manny is going to pay him back and payback’s a bitch.
“Manny likes everyone in the world but because of what Márquez said when they were in the Philippines, well I feel that really got to Manny. It gave him an extra spark in training camp. It was a great training camp. I’ve never seen Manny as motivated to train.’’
Roach has often expressed his frustrations over Pacquiao’s divided interests, on the one hand accepting them as the way things have to be while on the other fretting over the repercussions of a divided focus.
This time, however, there seems to be no divide. This time, Pacquiao is not a Philippine Congressman who fights or a budding cabaret singer who fights or anything else but a guy who fights. For the past few months he’s been what made all those things possible.
He’s been a fighter again and the reason is simple: Juan Manuel Marquez has given him two difficult nights and two disputed decisions. He fully knows that despite being a 9-1 betting favorite, Saturday will not be an easy night. Even for the best fighter in the world, sometimes there is more involved in your job than winning.
“I will never underestimate Márquez,’’ Pacquiao insisted. “I trained hard for this fight and feel strong. This is a lot different because over the past few years I have improved a lot. I think I am a lot better now mostly because of my right hand.
“There is also a big difference in my power and moving up in weight from our last fights (126 and 130 to the mandated catch weight of 144 for this fight) is going to be a difference. I move better now too.
“I trained very hard for this fight. I had to set aside all of the distractions and focus on the important tasks I have. He talks too much without proving it (by winning). It’s not good for a fighter to talk a lot without action. Me, I don’t talk a lot. I just do some action.’’
By the standards of the day that is far from trash talking. It’s barely recycling, to be frank. But for the normally soft spoken and respectful Pacquiao it was like a Qaddafi rant. It was a declaration of war.
“I don’t hate him,’’ Pacquiao has said, “but, yes, there are personal feelings.’’
Saturday night both the personal and the professional will merge. There will be more than victory on the line for the world’s best boxer. There will be a possible revenue record setting mega-fight with Mayweather, who Roach insists is really Pacquiao’s only true challenge left in boxing.
Maybe that is so but he’s still got to prove that to Juan Manuel Marquez and he knows it.