LAS VEGAS -- Juan Manuel Marquez finally got the victory he wanted over Manny Pacquiao on Saturday night, and he achieved it in spectacular style. One of the most remarkable fight nights in recent history will be generating plenty of commentary and talking points for days and weeks to come. Here are five thoughts we have in the bout's warm afterglow.
OK, I'll grant you that "wow" isn't exactly a thing, or a lesson learned, or really any kind of statement at all. But still, wow. If Pacquiao-Marquez IV wasn't quite the best fight I've ever attended -- that honor still goes to, and likely always will go to, Corrales-Castillo I -- it was damn close. But there were maybe 4,000 people in the arena at the Mandalay Bay that epic night in 2005; by contrast, the MGM Grand Garden Arena -- capacity: nearly 17,000 -- was packed and jumping on Saturday, and the atmosphere was electric. Combine the quality of the boxing, the violent intensity of the exchanges, the backstory, the shocking ending and the insane energy in the building, and Marquez-Pacquiao IV was, in this writer's eyes, not only fight of the year but one of the best fights in recent years.
2. Didn't want No. 4, eh? How about No. 5?
The announcement of a fourth fight between these rivals was met with more than a smattering of yawns. But for all the grumbles of "We've seen it all before," in fact, each of the previous three contests had its own distinct personality as well as a lot of action and excitement. None of them, however, separated itself from the pack the way this one did. Despite the concerns that this might be Ali-Frazier II, it was in fact Ali-Frazier III, the best contest of the series. This was a skillful display of boxing punctuated by explosions of extreme violence, the entire mixture leavened by the fact that both men are now that much slower and more vulnerable than when they met the first, or even last, time. So much so that afterward there was indeed talk of the possibility of a fifth fight.
Will it happen? We shall see. Marquez may feel he has his vindication and has other worlds to conquer. But Pacquiao may believe he was on the verge of a stoppage victory himself and that, given one more chance, he might do to Marquez what Marquez did to him. However, if her heartbreaking reaction in the immediate aftermath of her husband's encounter with unconsciousness is anything to go by, Jinkee Pacquiao may prevail upon Manny to focus on his congressional career and leave boxing alone entirely. There is indeed a case to be made for that: Notwithstanding the fact that he had Marquez in real trouble and was arguably closing in on an inside-the-distance win, the ravages of age and a lengthy and glorious career have left the Filipino more vulnerable to concussive counterpunches of the kind he experienced Saturday night.
The suspicion here is that, if both men elect to fight on, their next bouts will be against other opponents. But should both prove victorious in those contests, who would bet against a fifth meeting in what is now clearly the greatest boxing rivalry of this era?
3. One punch cost a lot of people a lot of Money
This fight week was the first in many a long while in which Manny Pacquiao was barely asked about Floyd Mayweather Jr. and in which Mayweather-related conversation, inasmuch as it existed at all, centered on whether Money May would fight Robert Guerrero next or go straight to Canelo Alvarez. There was always the danger that the longer both sides postured and prevaricated, the more likely one or both would lose and the fight would become derailed. Already, what had once seemed the potential Megafight Of The Millennium was going rapidly off the boil. It could have survived Pacquiao's disputed loss to Timothy Bradley Jr., but it won't survive a comatose Pacquiao lying face-first in front of Mitt Romney.
Things may yet change -- boxing always has the capacity to surprise -- and there's an argument to be made that Pacquiao's negotiating power is now so diminished that Mayweather could demand and receive the kind of one-sided financial terms he would want. But barring an unforeseen sequence of events, Mayweather-Pacquiao will join Lennox Lewis-Riddick Bowe in the Nonexistent Fights Hall of Fame. And if Mayweather's partisans are crowing on this day, they shouldn't be. We'll never know whether Mayweather would have done the same thing to Pacquiao that Marquez did because Marquez took the fight and Mayweather didn't. Marquez is the one who will go down in history for his rivalry with Pacquiao and hopefully only for the right reasons. Which brings us to ...
4. The elephant in the room
Through 36 rounds, Marquez had landed an abundance of right hands on Pacquiao. Some of those right hands stunned and hurt him, particularly in the action-packed second fight. But none of them dumped him on his backside before Saturday night. And certainly none of them separated him from his senses and sent him crashing to the floor.
Some important caveats: That knockout punch was perfect. Pacquiao didn't even see it. He ran into it, face-first. He isn't the first person to be knocked out by a picture-perfect counterpunch any more than Marquez is the first person to have delivered such a punch. And although the power of the Mexican fighter's fists may very well have been accentuated by his newly found muscular bulk, it is by no means a given that said bulk was attained by nefarious means. Heck, if I worked out like a demon for a year with a strength and conditioning coach, I dare say my torso would look a lot more impressive, too. And Marquez, unlike me, is a gifted professional athlete.
However, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and bench-presses 450 pounds like a duck. ... The fact that this transformation in musculature, and the apparent increase in punching power that accompanies it, happened under the watch of admitted steroids dealer Memo Heredia/Angel Hernandez raises obvious flags -- flags that were raised repeatedly in the buildup to this fight. There's an element of sanctimony in all of this: Heredia is vilified despite his assertion that he's a changed man, while his nemesis Victor Conte is largely (although not universally) praised for his professed damascene conversion. Still, one of the fighters with whom Conte works, Nonito Donaire, has chosen to address concerns about his association with the man behind BALCO by voluntarily submitting himself to 24/7/365 drug testing. The chemists likely will always stay a step ahead of the cops, but if Marquez truly wants to assuage the doubts that were expressed online and in the media room in the aftermath of his defining victory -- doubts that will continue to follow him around for as long as he works with Heredia -- he should consider taking the same step as Donaire.
5. It's all about the fights
Rapper/promoter Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson promised a spectacular entrance for his fighter, Yuriorkis Gamboa, and he delivered, descending from the rafters and providing a jolt of energy that electrified the crowd. But although 50 Cent has an abundance of laudable ideas about how to make boxing cards more exciting and appealing, all the stagecraft in the world will mean nothing if it is a shiny Christmas wrap that, when stripped away, reveals yet another pair of tube socks. The fights are what matter, and the first two fights on Saturday's card were dreadful. Gamboa's battle with a tough-as-teak Michael Farenas was better but didn't quite live up to the standards that his promoter's entrance had set. Fortunately, the main event was so spectacular that all was forgiven and forgotten by night's end.
Packaging is important. Top Rank's production values and prefight videos help immensely in exciting and energizing the crowds in the arena. There's no doubt that Mr. Jackson can help take that to another level. But at the end of the day, good fighters and a good matchmaker remain far and away the most important elements in a promoter's tool kit.