NEW YORK -- He might or might not be the best-known athlete on the planet, as his promoter, Bob Arum, said at a news conference to hype his Nov. 12 clash with Juan Manuel Marquez in Las Vegas. But Manny Pacquiao is far and away the best boxer/singer in the universe.
He kicked off the news conference Tuesday morning at Chelsea Piers with a perfect rendition of "Sometimes When We Touch," along with the original composer and singer of that sentimental ballad, Dan Hill. Maybe Simon Cowell would have termed it "pitchy," but Pacquiao sold every note with aplomb.
The sparkle in his eye while he sang the lines, "And sometimes when we touch/The honesty's too much/And I have to close my eyes and hide/I wanna hold you 'til I die/'Til we both break down and cry/I wanna hold you 'til the fear in me subsides," without a trace of Gen X irony, left some of even the most crusty fight writers with something resembling tears in their eyes.
Pacquiao (53-3-2, with 38 KOs) does get somewhat of a royal treatment from the boxing media, who respond to his personality -- the impishness, the persistent humility -- the way fight fans have. When he added "Congressman" to his résumé last year, winning a seat in the Philippines, the respect ticked up another notch. If and when Pacquiao, who turns 33 in December, wants to write a self-help book focusing on time management, one has to figure he'll conquer that arena as well.
Marquez (53-5-1, with 39 KOs), most fight pundits figure, won't prove as challenging a foe as he did when they clashed in 2004 (it was a draw, although Marquez went down three times in the first round) and again in 2008 (Pacquiao won a split decision). For starters, Marquez is now 38, and some fight watchers say they've detected slippage in his recent bouts.
He didn't look all that crisp when he took on Floyd Mayweather in September 2009, but his backers wrote that off as mostly a weight issue. That fight was contested at junior welterweight/welterweight, with Marquez coming in at 142 pounds. The Mexican's best days came at featherweight, 126 pounds or less, and they didn't like the way he held the extra poundage on his 5-foot-7 frame against Mayweather.
Pacquiao and Marquez met at featherweight in their first tangle and at super feather (130 or less) in their second. Pacquiao has held titles in a record eight weight classes and has looked completely in his element while fighting at welterweight (147 or less). This bout will be fought at a catchweight of 144 pounds or less, so many believe Pacquiao has that edge heading into the third episode of their rivalry. We wondered whether Pacquiao thinks the weight issue favors him.
"I don't know what Marquez can improve moving up in weight," he said. "We fought at 130 pounds in the last fight, and the third fight is 144. I don't know what he can do. When I saw his last fight, I saw a still-good Marquez, but the difference is, I changed a lot since the last fight we had. ... I changed a lot of my style, and improved my technique and strategy and my power. I'm not underestimating him."
Pacquiao is the anti-Floyd Mayweather when it comes to expressing himself before a fight. He never resorts to tearing down a foe to help build fan interest or to give himself a kick in the tush. But he is politely irked that Marquez has for years claimed that he won both the previous tussles. (Marquez had a T-shirt made up that said, "I Beat Manny Pacquiao Twice," and wore it after he beat Michael Katsidis in November.)
"I already proved it," Pacquiao said, "but somebody is claiming they won the fight. I have to work again and prove I won the fights. I want to prove that somebody is wrong and somebody is right."
Pacquiao says he has grown so much as a technician in the past three years, that in reality he isn't the same person he was then. "I learned more techniques and strategies for being a fighter," he said.
His trainer, Freddie Roach, said he wants Pacquiao to remove the doubt and the judges from the equation.
"Pacquiao will knock him out somewhere along the way," Roach said when asked for a specific round. He, too, sees a different brand of boxer in Pacquiao than the one who had difficulty solving the counterpunching wizardry of Marquez twice before. "Manny can't just walk in like we did [in the] first two. He was just a young kid then; he's a much more intelligent fighter. I'm very confident we will knock him out."
There are fewer questions posed to Pacquiao during this media tour about his "rival," Mayweather, than in the recent past. Maybe it's because the media has tired of speculating on rumors and innuendo.
Maybe it's because Pacquiao has tasted firsthand how troublesome Marquez's style can be. Quite likely, he has the gut feeling that there will be tougher times in the ring Nov. 12 than he experienced against Shane Mosley, Antonio Margarito and Joshua Clottey, his previous three foes. But the name Mayweather does at times pop up.
Pacquiao was asked whether that fight is on his "must do" list.
"I don't really need that fight," he said. "If it happens, good, it's the fight the fans want. If not, I'm satisfied with what I've done in boxing."
Pacquiao allowed that he pondered whether Mayweather might be readying himself to fight him, because he chose another lefty, Victor Ortiz, to face off with on Sept. 17. In any event, the specter of Mayweather isn't dogging the congressman as much this time around. "I think I am more focused on this fight compared to last two because Marquez denied he lost the fight, complaining he won the fight, complaining, blah, blah, blah, and that makes me focus and train hard for this fight," he said.
With Pacquiao hinting heavily that he next sees himself running for governor of his province, which would preclude biannual ring forays, his fans are curious how much longer he'll keep up this extreme juggling act.
Arum told ESPN New York that Pacquiao has agreed to do five more fights and to hang up the gloves in November 2013. Arum said he'll aim to get Mayweather to the table after Mayweather takes care of business with Ortiz, and if and when Pacman handles Marquez.
"I'm more certain about when Pacquiao will be fighting than who," Arum said. "He's going to fight in the spring, and he fights in fall; that's the pattern we've had recently. I would look first to make the Mayweather fight and don't see reason we can't ... but we haven't been able to do it. Hopefully we'll sit down after November and if Floyd's criminal situation doesn't interfere." (Mayweather faces serious legal trouble in Nevada, including felony charges in a domestic violence case.)
Bet on it: When Pacquiao exits this savage science, more tears will be shed for the humble hitter than from boxing writers succumbing to the sweet charm of "Sometimes When We Touch."
Michael Woods is the editor of TheSweetScience.com.