LAS VEGAS -- Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao seem to be made for each other.
Four years ago, they waged an epic battle for the ages, a slugfest in which Marquez was knocked down three times in the first round and battled back for a draw in a featherweight championship fight.
Finally meeting again in one of the most anticipated fights of the year, they waged another ferocious and savage fight that could certainly have been a draw and one that will challenge the March 8 rubber match between Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez -- Juan Manuel's younger brother -- for fight of the year honors.
But Pacquiao, the idol of the Philippines, pulled out a razor-close split decision to take Marquez's junior lightweight title and the vacant Ring magazine world championship in the bloody slugfest at Mandalay Bay.
It was sure worth the four-year wait.
For Pacquiao, it also cemented his claim as the "Mexican Assassin." He has defeated Mexicans in seven consecutive fights, including three probable Hall of Famers: Marquez, Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera.
Marquez made it through the first round without hitting the deck like he did last time, but Pacquiao knocked him down with a hard left cross late in the third round to take early control of the fight. He stunned Marquez again as the bell rang, igniting cheers from the sold-out crowd of 11,061.
But in similar fashion to their first encounter, Marquez controlled many of the middle rounds.
Pacquiao cut Marquez on the outside of his right eye with an accidental head butt in the action-packed seventh round and they battled toe-to-toe for long stretches.
In the end, it was another difficult fight to score. Judge Duane Ford had it 115-112 for Pacquiao, Tom Miller had it 114-113 for Pacquiao and Jerry Roth had it 115-112 for Marquez. ESPN.com also had it for Marquez, 114-113.
Although fans and media naturally would like to see a third fight between them, it isn't going to happen, at least not right away.
"I don't think so, this business is over," Pacquiao said about a third fight. "I'm moving up to 135 pounds."
Indeed, Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said he will move forward with his plan to have Pacquiao challenge lightweight titleholder David Diaz, who won a nontitle fight on the undercard. They are slated to meet June 28, also at Mandalay Bay. Pacquiao, however, suffered an abrasion next to his right eye in the fourth round, which Marquez (46-3-2, 34 KOs) cut open in the seventh round. The cut could delay Pacquiao's June bout.
"It was a close fight but we came back at the end," said Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer. "It could have gone either way in my mind. Manny followed him around too much. He didn't cut off the ring enough, but Marquez could have had something to do with that. Manny was more disciplined in training than he was in the fight."
Marquez (48-4-1, 35 KOs), who earned at least $1.5 million, was disgusted by the decision.
"I trained for this fight with my heart and I was in great condition. I don't like the decision," Marquez said. "I still feel I am the champion and it was a bad decision. That knockdown, he got me cold. But then I adjusted my game plan and I thought from then on I dictated the rest of the fight. I thought I fought a great fight and still feel like I am the champ. I don't like the decision."
Marquez, 34, of Mexico, stuck to his plan of countering and moving against the southpaw and Pacquiao sure noticed.
"He moved around a lot more and he countered a lot more than in the first fight," he said.
Marquez used a strong right hand to pepper Pacquiao but the Pacman continued to stalk forward, even in the late rounds.
They were both bleeding but Marquez's cut appeared much worse. Referee Kenny Bayless even called time in the ninth round for the ringside doctor to examine it.
Both fighters seemed to sense that the fight was still in doubt as they headed for the final rounds.
The 29-year-old Pacquiao, who earned at least $3 million, hurt Marquez with a left at the start of the 10th and hurt him again moments later with a combination in a round that featured toe-to-toe action.
Marquez finished strong with a big 12th round, after which both fighters were hoisted onto the shoulders of team members at the final bell, holding their arms aloft in victory.
"I wasn't sure but I always treat the final round as the most important," Pacquiao said. "I wasn't going to take any chances."
Said Marquez, "The knockdown did not affect me. I haven't lost anything at all. The people know I won this. Just like the first fight, it is not based on one round. I connected with more punches and I feel like I won. The people are the best judge and they were booing him. I won."
According to CompuBox statistics, Pacquiao landed 157 of 619 blows (25 percent) while Marquez was credited with landing 172 of 511 punches (34 percent).
HBO will replay the bout next Saturday (10:05 p.m. ET/PT) along with live coverage of Joel Casamayor's lightweight championship defense against brawler Michael Katsidis.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.