By Matthew Hurley: As the most important fight of his career fast approaches, Juan Manuel Marquez is champing at the bit to get at Manny Pacquiao. Convinced that the only way he will finally put his controversial rivalry with the Filipino icon to rest is by knockout, ’Dinamita’ has been concentrating almost exclusively on the strength and power of his upper body. But has he become so top-heavy, so muscle bound, that his speed, and thereby his brilliant counter punching skills, will be compromised?
In his first foray into the welterweight division against Floyd Mayweather, he attempted to do the same thing. His training camp concentrated on adding weight, assuming he needed to be bigger and stronger to deal with a naturally bigger, stronger foe. Unfortunately for Marquez he never seemed comfortable with the added poundage, looking pudgy and sluggish, and wound up getting beaten decisively by Mayweather over twelve rather non-competitive rounds.
For his fourth go round with Pacquiao, however, Marquez’s body looks fit and tight. In fact he looks like a body builder in comparison to the sinewy Pac Man who is concentrating on his speed and explosiveness. Pacquiao’s mindset is to hopefully reinvent himself as the whirling dervish of their first fight in 2004 where Marquez was initially overwhelmed by punches coming from awkward angles he couldn’t keep track of.
Strangely, over the course of their first three bouts, the more technically proficient and refined Pacquiao became the easier it was for Marquez to time him and use his counter punching skills to drive Manny to distraction. Marquez’s trainer Nacho Beristain admitted that it was the reckless, left hook happy Pacquiao of that first fight that proved to be the most difficult version of the fighter because they were unprepared for such an unorthodox attack.
With both fighters gunning for a knockout to conclusively settle the score it’s hoped that with age and wear and tear we will get just that. But there is a good chance that once the fight gets heated these two fighters who know each other so well will revert to form and we will be subjected to yet another oh-so-close twelve round decision.
Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach worries that his charge will enter the ring at a distinct disadvantage, at least in the eyes of the judges, who he fears will bend over backwards to give Marquez any and all close rounds. The Marquez camp sees it just the opposite. Their overriding fear is that Juan will get robbed yet again should the fight go the distance – thus the focus on building Marquez up into the bigger, stronger man in order to push Pacquiao around, hurt him and get him out of there once and for all.
Pacquiao’s plan, if indeed he can implement it in the ring, seems to be the more plausible of the two. We haven’t seen the wicked explosiveness we had grown used to in years now. He hasn’t scored a stoppage win since 2009 against Miguel Cotto. In his recent fights he’s grown complacent, either from outside forces or thoughts and demons within. Yet so intent has he become to revert to form that one can’t help but anticipating him exploding out of his corner at the clang of the opening bell.
There is obvious annoyance in both fighters’ comments leading up to December 8, but the reserved Pacquiao appears to have finally grown disgusted with Marquez and Beristain’s constant complaining over the results of the first three contests. And regardless of how he waves off the hotly disputed decision loss to Timothy Bradley last June as inconsequential, there is no doubt that it infuriates him.
With all of those thoughts spinning in his head his focus seems to have zeroed in on letting it all hang out on the line. Also, it is Pacquiao who has proven he can drive Marquez to the canvas with one shot. He just hasn’t been able to keep him there. He’s determined to do so this time.
Marquez, on the other hand, has had his greatest success against Pacquiao by laying back but not giving ground and counter punching. His boxing skills are superior to Manny’s and his measured yet tenacious approach is what has made all 36 rounds they’ve fought so compelling. It’s fire versus ice.
It is that style, that technical brilliance that has made him Pacquiao’s most heated and puzzling rival. It has never been about being the harder puncher, which he’s not, or being physically larger than Manny. His success has come down to his technical advantages – with heart and toughness thrown in for good measure when disaster struck.
If he does forgo that and fights with his heart on his sleeve he could fall right into Pacquiao’s game plan. Manny’s short, compact and devastating left is still one of the most ferocious weapons in boxing and Marquez has proved to be vulnerable to it. If he gets caught and decked for a fifth time it might be his undoing this time around.
Or, he might get up, revert to form and fight to another standstill against a man he can’t quite seem to get the better of – at least on the scorecards.
In a way, if there isn’t a knockout in this bout, another draw to bookend the series might be the most appropriate result of all. So evenly matched are these two, so much excitement have they provided and so much blood spilled on both sides that a stalemate could make both fighters look at each other and concede that they are equals.
Fans and the majority of the media would hate such a result but as time goes by and the careers of these two extraordinary fighters comes to an end, this rivalry will be looked back on fondly no matter how it ends. And who knows, they may retire at around the same time and both wind up being inducted into the International Boxing Hall Of Fame on the same warm June day in Canastota, New York. That would be the most appropriate ending of all.
December 4, 2012