We can't predict what will happen Saturday in Las Vegas, but a review of the first two fights between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez can certainly give us a notion of how their third bout might play out. Today, we analyze their second matchup.
When: March 15, 2008
Where: Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas
Here they were again. Almost four years after they had first brawled, Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez met for their rematch, this time up a weight class at super featherweight. Marquez was 34 now, Pacquiao 29. Since their 2004 draw, Pacquiao had begun to emerge as a superstar. He had lost to Erik Morales, then beaten Morales twice, showing his unwillingness to cede ground to one of the most tenacious fighters in the sport. Marquez had lost an ill-advised title fight to Chris John in Indonesia and was crafting a resurgence, most recently with victories over Marco Antonio Barrera and Rocky Juarez, winning and defending the WBC 130-pound title.
As this fight would show, both fighters still had tremendous ability to adapt and make adjustments. Both also were warriors who, rather than fold under pressure, were more likely to amp up their efforts and roar back, to strike when hurt. This fight would feature even more ebb and flow than the first, each boxer surging multiple times. But was it a last hurrah for the older Marquez in their great trilogy?
Pacquiao, with short hair, cropped close on the sides, and a little mustache, wore white trunks embroidered with red flames. Marquez wore black trunks and black Reyes gloves. Referee Kenny Bayless brought them together, and the rematch was on.
Rounds 1-2: Angling for the upper hand
Pacquiao comes out on his toes as usual, ready to show he's more than just a dangerous left hand, hoping to exhibit "Manila Ice" -- the jabbing right hand he had improved since the fighters' first meeting. Marquez isn't about to be ambushed the way he was last time, though. They parry, with Marquez seeming to control the distance early. Initially, punches are blocked or pull up short. Marquez tries to step in with a left hook, and Pacquiao with jabs. Two minutes in, Marquez finds Pacquiao's face with a hard right hand. Thirty seconds later, they try to mix it up for a little speed check: Pacquiao stands in with a flurry and Marquez gives one back. Pacquiao is the aggressor and lands more punches in Round 1, but it ends with a nice countershot from Marquez.
Pacquiao turns up the pressure in Round 2, coming forward with testing combinations, closing the distance enough to start his rushes from nearer in. Marquez slips into counterpunch mode. He's still quick, but Pacquiao is moving less predictably and leaving himself less vulnerable to countershots than in their first fight. He's not elusive every time, though. In the round's closing seconds, Marquez catches Pacquiao leaning in and connects with a little right and a big left to the face that teeters Pacquiao.
Round 3: Down goes Marquez
Pacquiao continues to jump in with rat-a-tat attacks: jab-jab-left. Marquez waits for mistakes. As Pacquiao begins one rush forward, Marquez nails him in the face with a right. What better tool to use against Pacquiao than his own aggression? There's no shortage of it.
But Pacquiao seems prepared to bang on the door for as long as it takes to knock it off its hinges, testing Marquez's guard. In the final minute, he starts to connect, and with 20 seconds left Pacquiao connects with a short left to the chin that floors Marquez. In the round's closing 10 seconds, they go toe-to-toe -- and Marquez nearly goes down again.
Round 4: Marquez regains his senses
Both fighters are hyperactive, bouncing and rushing. Pacquiao tries to press his advantage. Marquez has cranked up his hair-trigger defense and counterpunching. Marquez shoots a flurry that Pacquiao mostly blocks, and Pacquiao drums his gloves on his own head as if to say "keep trying." Pacquiao lands a right and straight left that Marquez thinks about countering, but he instead pulls back for safety.
Rounds 5-8: Marquez tames the tiger
Marquez is slowing the pace and wresting control. In Round 5, the fighters strategize as each seeks the upper hand. Marquez lands a nice straight right that may give him the round. In the sixth, he lands rights over the top and body shots with his left.
After that sixth frame, HBO's announcers all agree that Marquez won it clearly, and Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, tells Pacquiao he's letting the fight get away -- yet two of the judges score the round for Pacquiao. The slower pace as Round 7 begins continues to benefit Marquez. But after an accidental clash of heads sends a trickle of blood from beside Marquez's right eye, Pacquiao opens up with fierce flurries. Marquez nevertheless ends the round landing punches.
It's a toss-up now: through seven rounds, Marquez has landed 93 punches, Pacquiao 91. A Marquez punch cuts Pacquiao in Round 8. Blood runs down Pacquiao's right cheek, and Marquez presses Pacquiao to the ropes. Pacquiao dances away and returns as aggressor, but Marquez seems to have him tamed. Pacquiao corners Marquez, but Marquez turns Pacquiao around to swap positions, with Pacquiao nodding acknowledgement of the slick move. Marquez lands a 1-2 combination and then an uppercut before the round is over.
Rounds 9-10: Pacquiao regroups
His cut tended, Pacquiao once again steps up the attack, scoring with combinations and a long straight left. Round 9 ends with the fighters trading shots. In the opening moments of Round 10, Pacquiao catches Marquez leaning in with a hard, looping, over-the-top left that has Marquez looking for a quick escape. Against the ropes, Pacquiao tries to tee off, and Marquez punches and ducks his way out. They take turns surging, waiting, surging. Pacquiao ends the 10th with a crisp combination.
Rounds 11-12: Marquez finishes strong
Both fighters' cuts are a factor, and if either gets worse, the fight could be over. Pacquiao continues his pursuit, but Marquez is effective with rights straight down the middle, and later a quick burst from in close. He continues to stay out of harm's way by dodging Pacquiao's killer left. Halfway through Round 12, Marquez lands an uppecut and a right over the top. With a minute left, he drives Pacquiao to the ropes. Neither can administer a decisive blow as the final bell rings.
Aftermath: Almost too close to call
The decision comes in. Judge Jerry Roth has it 155-112 for Marquez. Duane Ford has it the other way around, 115-112 Pacquiao. Tom Miller scores it 114-113 for Pacquiao, giving Pacquiao the narrowest possible split-decision win.
If this rematch was a perfect continuation of their first meeting, will the third fight in their trilogy be more of the same -- this time at 144 pounds? Marquez is 38 now, Pacquiao 32. The Filipino seems to have soared higher than ever, punching in his prime, while Marquez has at best maintained his skills. Rounds 25 and beyond will reveal the end of the story.
Don Steinberg, a winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America's award for best column in 2005, covers boxing for The Philadelphia Inquirer.