Fight #30: Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Manny Pacquiao
Fight #30: Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Manny Pacquiao 4, December 8, 2012, MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, NV
One of the regrettable outcomes of Muhammad Ali's rise to international cultural icon is that he pretty much single-handedly made the hype leading up to a fight as big as the fight itself. With Ali, obviously, this worked, as he almost always backed up the talk with exciting bouts that featured great drama and great courage. The reason we still remember the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manila is not because those were clever rhymes, but because the fights themselves were epic encounters that gave those phrases historical significance and meaning.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the hype artists of more recent times. Floyd Mayweather has made close to a billion dollars by playing the stock nemesis to Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, and Manny Pacquiao. None of those fights made this list, because (except for the Hatton fight) nothing memorable happened in them. Mayweather just took his wins, took the cash, and moved onto the next hustle. "Act like an asshole and become famous and wealthy" is sadly the prevailing motif of the 21st century, and one that got Donald Trump into the White House. It's also presently a major threat to the sport of boxing, as, like Mayweather, a whole generation of fighters seems to believe that their best path to glory is to protect their records, talk trash, and rarely fight. (I'm looking at you, Errol Spence and Terence Crawford.)
Boxing would be in a much better place than it is if more people had watched Juan Manuel Marquez, whose career was virtually simultaneous to Mayweather's. Marquez's fights rarely had much preliminary hype, but they always delivered, because Marquez was a great tactical fighter who also possessed tremendous courage and toughness, never backing down from an opponent and never shying away from combat. He proved this repeatedly throughout his career, but never more than in his quadrilogy with Manny Pacquiao. In their first fight, Pacquiao dropped Marquez three times in the first round, and Marquez responded by picking himself up off the canvas and not only getting himself back into the fight, but going the distance and earning a draw (many felt he won that fight.) In the subsequent two encounters between Pacquiao and Marquez, Marquez lost by split and majority decisions, but many observers felt he won both fights. That set the stage for their fourth encounter in 2012, with Marquez now a battle-hardened 39-year-old, and Pacquiao, who had been in his share of wars as well, knocking on the doorstep of 34.
What made the Marquez-Pacquiao wars so iconic was the contrast of styles. Pacquiao was an all-action, come-forward fighter, one of the hardest punchers of the 21st century. Marquez carried real power as well, but his main calling card was his tactical brilliance, which manifested itself primarily in his ability to make rapid but critical adjustments in the middle of fights, and his counter-punching.
At the start of this battle, the southpaw Pacquiao came out with tremendous foot and head movement, bouncing in and out of range, feinting with the head and body as he came in, and popping Marquez with straight left hands. Marquez lost the first two rounds as he cagily studied Pacquiao's movements, trying to figure out the best way to time the younger and stronger fighter. He found his opening in the third round, when he landed a couple of body shots that Pacquiao didn't like. This slowed down the Filipino just a bit, but more importantly, it set up the first moment of incredible drama in this fight. In the middle of the ring, Marquez feinted to the body with his left hand, and then simultaneously threw a hellish overhand right that Pacquaio did not see coming. It landed flush on Pacquiao's chin, knocking him to the canvas for the first time in nine years. Pacquiao got up quickly, and managed to get himself back in the fight by the end of the round, launching his own assault on Marquez as the bell rang.
In the fourth and fifth rounds, Pacquiao reclaimed control of the fight with straight left hands thrown with precision and power. Instead of dancing as he had earlier in the fight, he started sitting down on his punches. Marquez, emboldened by his third round knockdown, decided to trade with Pacquiao, and the Filipino made him pay in the fifth round with a straight left hand that made Marquez's glove touch the canvas for a knockdown. Pacquiao then followed that up with a vicious assault, punctuated by a straight left and a right hook that broke Marquez's nose, driving him into the ropes where Pacquiao went in for the kill. He didn't get it, as Marquez fought back, unloading his arsenal on Pacquiao as his mouth and nose filled with blood.
In the sixth round, Pacquiao seemed to be dominating as Marquez's face continued to gush blood from the broken nose. Pacquiao, who had recently suffered a highly controversial loss by decision to Timothy Bradley, seemed determined to take it out of the judge's hands with a knockout victory. As Marquez struggled along the ropes, with about three seconds left in the round, Pacquiao jumped in with a right hand that grazed Marquez's face. But Marquez saw the attack coming, took a step back, and threw another devastating overhand right that nailed Pacquiao in the face. Pacquiao fell straight forward, face-first to the ground, motionless. "Will he get up?" called Jim Lampley. Roy Jones Jr., commentating for HBO PPV, responded several times, "He's not getting up, Jim! He's not getting up, Jim!" Indeed, he wasn't. As referee Kenny Bayless waved his arms signaling the end of the fight, Marquez, who just a few seconds earlier had been in real danger of getting blasted out of the fight himself, climbed the ropes and raised his arms in victory, his nose still spouting blood from the damage it had taken from the fists of the man who now lay unconscious just a few feet away.
It is the most shocking one-punch knockout I have ever seen. It may be the greatest knockout in boxing history, as it came seemingly out of nowhere from a man who had just himself been knocked down, and was hurt and losing the fight. I don't know of any other sport in the world that can produce such an ending. Even in baseball, you know when the winning runs are on base in the ninth inning. In boxing, in theory, it is always the ninth inning, and the winning runs are always on base as long as the man you are fighting is still standing in front of you.
It was the crowning moment of Marquez's great career. Satisfied with the conclusion to their rivalry, he never gave Pacquiao a fifth fight. Marquez fought just two more times, retiring in 2014. He rightfully earned a first ballot induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame five years later. As for Pacquiao, at the time of the defeat to Marquez, his longtime trainer Freddie Roach told the press that Manny should consider retiring, as he was now taking shots that he previously was too young, too strong, and too fast to take. But rather than retire, Pacquiao got himself a new trainer, and has fought 10 times since, winning eight and losing two. At 42, he is still in the fight game, supposedly chasing another mega fight, perhaps this time with Terence Crawford. We'll see.
I have now covered 21 fights in this series so far. For the moment, Marquez-Pacquiao IV is the best of the bunch. If you've never seen it, it is well worth taking 30 minutes to watch it. Here is the video of the fight: