Reflection: Mayweather Jr/Juan Manuel Marquez

By John Lumpkin: After watching the Mayweather Marquez contest, HBO questioned the wisdom of jumping weight classes and began to rethink Pacquiao’s chances against Cotto. It is valid question and one that probably should have been asked a long time ago, but there are critical differences which make Pacquiao far more likely to succeed at a higher weight class than Marquez.

In the fight with Mayweather, we knew the outcome the instant Mayweather established where the fight would be fought. Mayweather effectively used his accurate jab, footwork, and superior hand speed to keep Marquez at bay. It completely eliminated Marquez as a threat because none of his vast array of skills could be put into play as long as he remained too far from Mayweather to land.

The issue for Marquez was not so much that Mayweather was two pounds heavier than expected, although this did not help because it probably enabled Mayweather to better handle any punches that did land and improved his stamina. Nevertheless, the results would have likely been the same at whatever weight they fought. Marquez needs a fighter to enter his wheelhouse to be effective and Mayweather just does not fight that way.

Marquez has never been nimble on his feet and does not have great hand speed. While he has been more aggressive lately, his temperament is that of a counter puncher and thus you do not see him using his strength to bully an opponent. His bread and butter are his skills and timing. As long as a fighter is of similar size, they will eventually have to engage him.

When Pacquiao fought Marquez, he was a much more aggressive fighter who willingly walked straight into Marquez’s wheelhouse which is what made those fights as thrilling as they were. If they were to fight again today with Pacquiao’s new style of darting in and out, Pacquiao would likely take a unanimous decision because Marquez would have to deal with an added element of surprise in conjunction with less opportunities to land. It would still be an entertaining fight and there is a possibility that Marquez could tame Pacquiao, but the odds are longer now.

Pacquiao moves up in weight better than Marquez because he brings along extreme speed as an asset. Bigger fighters do not usually have to deal with the kind of speed Pacquiao possesses, so they are not practiced in defending against it. The speed Pacquiao delivers comes from a combination of his fleet feet and is hands which are what makes him so dangerous. Hatton was obliterated because he had no idea when Pacquiao was going to strike from what angle and then could not react in time to defend against the punch once Pacquiao launched into position.

Pacquiao has been able to bring his power up with him, but while it does produce stirring knockouts, there are other fighters in the Junior Welterweight and Welterweight classes that have similar power. It is the speed that makes that power effective.

Cotto, in many senses, is like Marquez only heavier (they are the same height and have the same reach). Cotto is good puncher with good skills and relatively quick hands with slow feet. Unlike Marquez, he has been known to use his strength to bully opponents. However, he has also been seen stepping in post holes on occasion. The same characteristics of that would favor Pacquiao in a match today with Marquez are what gives him the ability to face Cotto. The key differentiator is going to be the size of Cotto. Cotto will be the biggest fighter Pacquiao has ever faced when they enter the ring.

We have seen Pacquiao beat bigger guys, so we know it is possible for him to compete at this weight. We also know that the two biggest guys he fought were not at their best when Pacquiao fought them so there is some question about how effective Pacquiao can be at the higher weights and against competitors in their prime. To put this in perspective, could you imagine Pacquiao taking on Felix Trinidad, Thomas Hearns, or Sugar Ray Leonard? Pacquiao’s accomplishments put him in contention with these folks, but at this weight, it would be a massacre. The point here is that Pacquiao is probably beyond the threshold of where he should be competing with respect to weight.

The fact that Pacquiao would not likely be competitive with the best that a division could offer does not mean that he would be uncompetitive with any fighter in the division today. What it means is that he can no longer be competitive against his equals and that the division likely contains fighters who could best him because of their size. He is no longer in a situation where he could take on all challengers in the division with the confidence that he could come away victorious.

Like Marquez’s bout with Mayweather, we will probably know the result of the fight between Pacquiao and Cotto very early in the bout. If Cotto is not imminently bothered by Pacquiao’s natural gifts, you can expect that Cotto will knock him out in the middle rounds. Pacquiao simply does not bring enough to the table to win a fight with a fighter of Cotto’s caliber and size should his advantages in hand and foot speed fail to be the determining factor in the fight.

The trouble with natural gifts is that one never really knows their limits until they cross that line and then the results are often brutal. Should Pacquiao lose to Cotto by virtue of size to Cotto on the back of Mayweather’s destruction of Marquez, we could see the tides turn on boxing against fighters moving up so far in weight. Should he win brilliantly, the only fight that will matter will be Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. A failure to deliver this fight would be catastrophic to the sport’s credibility.

September 22, 2009

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