LAS VEGAS -- Through three fights spread over nine years, 21 pounds, 36 rounds and 108 minutes of fierce hand-to-hand combat, little has been settled between rivals Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez.
Officially, Pacquiao holds a 2-0-1 edge in the series, but the fights were so good and so close -- all three really could have gone either way -- that there is a need for some sort of closure.
And, hey, since the long-anticipated Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight continues to go unmade, why not?
There is surely no guarantee that anything will be settled when Pacquiao and Marquez meet in a fourth fight, a rarity in boxing, on Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET, $59.95) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, which also hosted the first and third fights, but everyone involved in the welterweight showdown is hoping for a no-doubt-about-it outcome, for a change.
"They will be linked together in the annals of boxing history and [Saturday] they will come together once again for all their fans, with their nations on their backs, and they will try to definitively settle the score," said HBO PPV's Mark Taffet.
Try as they might, Pacquiao and Marquez have been unable to produce a clear result in any of the three previous fights, all of which were tremendously crowd-pleasing but ended in a storm of controversy with Marquez and his supporters claiming he was robbed and Pacquiao and his fans celebrating the two victories.
There was the draw in a 2004 featherweight championship fight, in which Pacquiao scored three knockdowns in the first round only to see Marquez survive and storm back. Then there was Pacquiao's split decision win in a 2008 junior lightweight title fight, in which he also scored a knockdown. And there was Pacquiao's majority decision in their welterweight title fight 13 months ago, the one fight of the three that most thought Marquez won.
Fernando Beltran, Marquez's Mexican promoter, joked this week that the camps have become so familiar with each other through four promotions that it's like "when you see the same people in your office every morning. Like a regular job."
So they go back to the office -- the ring -- yet again because there has been no clear outcome. Getting one figures to be a chore this time too. They know each other so well and have fighting styles that mesh so perfectly -- Pacquiao, the 33-year-old Filipino congressman, is the aggressive, seek-and-destroy man, and Mexico's Marquez, 39, is the smooth counterpuncher, unafraid to stand and trade when necessary.
It should come as no shock that if, after another 12 rounds, we still have no definitive answer to who is the better fighter. Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, who has promoted or co-promoted all four fights, said the desperation of the fighters to claim a true victory is what will make the fight exciting.
"There are people who say, 'Who needs a fourth fight?' They've see three fights, three very good, very exciting fights," Arum said. "But I know these two guys. I know that Juan Manuel Marquez thinks he won all three previous fights and the last thing he wants to do is leave it in the hands of the judges.
"And I know Manny Pacquiao, having experienced the fine judging [in Las Vegas] earlier in the year [in his highly controversial split decision loss to Timothy Bradley Jr. in June] is not going to want to leave it in the hands of the judges. So we're going to see a great, great fight."
Marquez (54-6-1, 39 KOs) is motivated to show that he can finally not only defeat Pacquiao, but officially be declared the winner.
"My motivation is that I want them to raise my hand in the ring,'' Marquez said. "I don't want people to just say, 'You really beat him.' I want them to know that I beat him.''
Pacquiao (54-4-2, 38 KOs) is tired of Marquez's nonstop whining that he won the previous fights, especially the one last year, so "I am giving him a chance. I am giving him a chance to prove he can win the fight because he thought he has won all three and he keeps talking about it. So it is very important to me to win this fight, especially since Marquez really wanted this fight."
With so much at stake -- no world title for the first time in the rivalry but, in essence, the championship of each other -- both have said they will be more aggressive in pursuit of a knockout, or at least of a decision that will leave nobody uncertain of the winner.
"I am training with more aggression and more intensity in the ring and that is our focus right now," Pacquiao, boxing's only eight-division champion, said. "That's why I trained hard for this fight. More action, more condition in the ring, which I have been doing in all of training camp. I always train hard, but this time is a little harder. Harder and more punches, and some changes. We have been throwing more combinations, and changing our strategy -- in movement. So it will be a little different than the last one.
"Right now my mind is focused on being more aggressive for this fight. If there is a chance in the ring during the fight, why not make the fight easy and [knock him out] if I have the opportunity?"
Said Marquez, who has won world titles in four weight classes, ''I want to be more aggressive this time, but with intelligence, because Manny is a very dangerous fighter.''
"I would like Juan to go for the knockout," said Ignacio "Nacho" Beristain, Marquez's trainer.
Over Pacquiao's past few fights, trainer Freddie Roach has complained that perhaps Pacquiao had lost his zest for fighting and that myriad distractions that always surround him were finally coming home to roost. But Pacquiao, he said, trained well for the Bradley fight after embracing his Catholic faith while giving up his drinking, gambling and partying ways last year to help repair his marriage.
Roach said he trained even better for Saturday's confrontation and he is convinced that the relentless Pacquiao will be back for this fight. Roach points to Pacquiao's assertion, without his prompting, that he would be more aggressive than in recent fights, such as when he seemed to carry Antonio Margarito in the late rounds and refused to go after an overmatched Shane Mosley. It was music to Roach's ears.
"I had to get more fire under him and I think in training camp we did that," Roach said. "We haven't had knockdowns in training camp since the [Miguel] Cotto fight [in 2009]. We had four knockdowns in this camp. It tells me he's ready."
Marquez said if it does wind up going to the judges, he just wants the fair shake he does not think he got previously.
The three judges, all very experienced, charged with scoring the fight and dealing with the enormous spotlight, are Adalaide Byrd from Las Vegas, Steve Weisfeld of New Jersey and England's John Keane.
"All I ask is that they are objective, to really see the fight, and judge on what is happening in the ring, not on what they think is happening," Marquez said. "I think that sometimes they look for more aggressiveness than there sometimes is there. I felt that in the third fight I was more aggressive. I came out to get him a few times. There's no more I can do than that."
All of the talk of going for a knockout and being aggressive doesn't mean there will be a conclusive outcome. In fact, the fight could wind up just as razor-close as the previous three. Another controversy, regardless of the official winner, is a distinct possibility.
And if that happens does that mean there will be a fifth fight?
"There is a possibility. Not likely, but a possibility. [Sugar Ray] Robinson and [Jake] LaMotta fought six times," Arum said.
"I don't know. It's hard to imagine a fifth one," Pacquiao said.
This is the end though, Marquez and Roach said.
"This is the last fight with Manny," Marquez said. "I don't know what will happen in the ring, but this is the last time."
"It's the last time. We're going to knock him out," Roach said. "End of story."