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Pride and Pacquiao: Marquez's quest

If you look closely enough at Juan Manuel Marquez, you'll notice the subtle scars on his face that speak of punishment endured over 61 professional fights.

If you listen to the proud Mexican fighter, you'll also pick up on a different set of scars just below the surface -- an emotional longing for validation that speaks of a legacy incomplete.

When Marquez mentions that his fourth meeting with Manny Pacquiao on Dec. 8 in Las Vegas is the biggest fight of his career, he means it. In his mind, the same politics that allowed him to secure a fourth fight despite an 0-2-1 record against Pacquiao -- in the face of consumer fatigue -- have to be the same that prevented him on three occasions from victories he believes were rightfully his.

That's the beauty of Marquez and his Hall of Fame trainer, Nacho Beristain. The duo doesn't think Marquez was robbed of just one win over Pacquiao. Each believes with every fabric of his soul that Pacquiao, if not an accomplice, was the benefactor of three separate crimes.

Whether it's a case of stubborn pride or a legitimate beef, Marquez doesn't view a fourth fight as a chance to get even with Pacquiao so much as he considers it an opportunity to win the entire rivalry in one fight.

"I think the people [will] remember me for this fourth fight for my career," Marquez told ESPN.com. "It's important to me because the people will know Juan Manuel Marquez always."

It would be ignorant to diminish Marquez's Hall of Fame credentials by suggesting his place in history is necessarily dependent on defeating Pacquiao. But it's how the public will remember Marquez that makes this fight so crucial to him -- while simultaneously keeping the 39-year-old awake at night.

Whether Marquez will admit it or not, there's a difference between being remembered as the perennial runner-up in one of boxing's greatest rivalries and being referred to as an all-time great legend who toppled his archenemy when it mattered most.

Attaching this much meaning to one fight isn't necessarily fair, but the idea has clearly fueled Marquez's rabid stalking of Pacquiao through four weight classes over eight years. The controversial defeats have effectively road-blocked Marquez's path toward his greatest goal of all: becoming the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the sport.

It's that pride in his craftsmanship and quest for superiority among his peers -- worth more to him than money, titles or fame -- that has kept Marquez pressing forward this late in his career.

For his part, Beristain -- still as fiery and quick as ever at 73 -- rejected the notion that a Marquez victory would enhance, if not partially validate, a missing part of their collective résumé. He mentioned the 23 world champions he has trained with the vigor of a knight drawing his sword for battle. The tone of his voice, however, changed quickly to that of a father figure when describing what a Marquez win would mean to him.

"It will be for me a great satisfaction seeing a fighter win that I have known since he was a kid," Beristain told ESPN.com through interpreter Angel Heredia, Marquez's strength coach. "That would demonstrate to the whole world that the pound-for-pound best in the world is Juan Manuel Marquez, and that would make me happy."

Beristain's voice softened: "He is deserving."

Neither Beristain nor Marquez will come out and say it, but there is a dislike in the Marquez camp for Pacquiao that is palpable -- a loathing that centers more on the Filipino star's fame and what he represents than the fighter himself. It's the kind of rueful spite that gets fighter and trainer out of bed each morning.

"I am a professional boxer, but the last three fights, when we finished the fights, I feel very angry," Marquez said of the Pacquiao bouts. "In the ring we are enemies, and then outside of the ring, maybe friends. ... I don't know." He paused for what seemed like an eternity, as if the sum of the emotional toll from all three fights painfully surfaced at once. "Maybe friends ... but inside the ring is another thing."

Beristain, meanwhile, is generally complimentary of Pacquiao, but often in his own backhanded way.

"In this fight, it's particularly a great honor because Pacquiao is the one that brings the crowd and the money, and therefore that's why he is a great opponent," he said.

Beristain's real grudge, it seems, is more of a misdirected hostility aimed at Pacquiao's ability to have swayed the judges throughout the rivalry with Marquez.

"After [the second fight], I started to think that sometimes the judges lean toward the enterprise's fighter," Beristain said. "I believe that other people in the circle of boxing must think that Las Vegas is a mecca where all the money is built up and all of us that take part in it have an obligation to take care of the money that is put in. The acting of the judges leave a lot of us to [wonder] what is going on.

"The fans are so noble and so faithful. It's sad that the fans [are] still loyal regardless of decisions. It's kind of sad that you still have this black dot in the circle of the sport and the people can see that. Yet the fans still love the sport."

Beristain doesn't pull any punches in explaining exactly how Marquez was denied victories in all three bouts:

Pacquiao-Marquez I (May 8, 2004; featherweight): split draw -- 115-110 Pacquiao, 115-110 Marquez, 113-113

"I believe it was hard for Juan Manuel to get up after the three times he was knocked down [in the first round] and outbox [Pacquiao] throughout the night. [Marquez] gave him a nice boxing classroom. I believe that Marquez won, maybe by one point, and when they told me they gave him a draw, I was real pissed."

Pacquiao-Marquez II (March 15, 2008; super featherweight): split decision for Pacquiao -- 115-112, 114-113, 112-115

"The second one, we won it clearly -- more clearly than the first one. The referee told me in the locker room [before the fight] about head bumps. They were supposed to take a point away from Manny for a head bump. They never took it away. And in the ninth round, again, [Pacquiao] gave him another head bump, and in the 11th round, there was another bump that cut Marquez. The referee never had the guts to take the point. Juan should have had a minimum of two more points because the ref never had the guts to tell the judge to take a point away."

Pacquiao-Marquez III (Nov. 12, 2011; welterweight): majority decision for Pacquiao -- 115-113, 116-112, 114-114

"It would have been very hard for a fan to interpret the technical aspects of the fight, because a fan cannot see what a trainer can see from the corner. But in this last fight, even a kid who is 8 years old can tell that Juan Manuel Marquez won the fight."

In the seven years bookended by the first and third fights with Pacquiao, Marquez built a worthy list of accomplishments consisting of four titles in as many weight classes plus memorable victories over the likes of Orlando Salido, Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Diaz (twice) and Michael Katsidis.

But you get the impression that none of it matters to Marquez because none of those names is Pacquiao's. In the prideful world of Marquez's Ahab-like obsession with the great whale that got away, no other fight will ever be as important.

The truth is, a Marquez victory Dec. 8 likely won't catapult him to the No. 1 P4P spot he most desires. If anything, it would only complicate the rivalry with Pacquiao, likely necessitating the need for more fights between the two.

But to one fighter and his fatherly trainer entrenched in a relationship more than two decades in the making, it would validate an eight-year crusade to right a wrong. When the only currency that may be more valuable to a man than truth is pride, one victory is all Marquez needs.