(This piece appeared in InterAKTV on November 15, 2011.)
by Mark Lorenzana
“I clearly won the fight.”
It’s hard to tell if Manny Pacquiao said that with real conviction during the postfight interview after another grueling fight with Juan Manuel Marquez. After 36 brutal rounds, the only clear thing is that Pacquiao seems to have found the perfect foil in Marquez. “Marquez has Manny’s number,” Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach said after the third fight. Not a lot of people will disagree with that assessment.
The trilogy has, so far, yielded one draw and two wins for Pacquiao. The third bout was supposed to be the most decisive of all three battles, but the outcome only managed to raise more questions than answers.
Did Juan Manuel Marquez hurt Pacquiao?
Does Juan Manuel Marquez, someone who has fought at the welterweight limit only a couple of times in his career, punch harder than full-fledged welterweights like Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto?
When Pacquiao fought Margarito and Cotto, he took both those guys’ best shots, even egging them on to punch him in the body so that he could taste their power. This drew the consternation of Freddie Roach, but it was all good because Pacquiao never really buckled under the onslaught. The Pacquiao against Cotto and Margarito was far more accurate than the one against Marquez because Manny seemed more confident and at ease when he fought those two bigger guys—he let his hands go freely and wasn’t afraid to engage.
Against Marquez, Pacquiao seemed nervous and tentative, he missed a lot, and most of his punches were short and didn’t connect because he wasn’t close enough to hit his target—Pacquiao seemed afraid to engage. Again, does Juan Manuel Marquez punch harder than naturally bigger men like Margarito and Cotto?
What was Pacquiao’s game plan going into the fight?
Freddie Roach said part of the strategy was to avoid Marquez’s right hand. “Manny’s a left-hander and if you’re fighting a right-hander like Marquez, you don’t slide to his right because he’s going to hit you every time,” said Roach. But Pacquiao repeatedly slid right directly into Marquez’s straight hand, and naturally, he got hit every time.
Another plan, according to Roach, was to go to the body early, something that could have slowed the 38-year-old Marquez down. But Pacquiao went to the body sporadically and essentially headhunted most of the fight, with little success.
For some strange reason, Pacquiao deviated from the game plan. Did he do it on purpose, or were there other factors that kept him from doing what he needed to do to win the fight in more convincing fashion?
Did Pacquiao overthink Marquez?
Former heavyweight champion George Foreman, who also worked briefly as a boxing analyst for HBO, always said during broadcasts that a fighter shouldn’t overanalyze his opponent’s style. His advice? Just fight.
In the first two bouts against Marquez, that was what Pacquiao did—he just fought. And because of that he was able to knock down Marquez four times. In those instances, Pacquiao just let his hands go and peppered the Mexican with punches from weird angles. Marquez didn’t know where the punches were coming from, so he eventually got hit with solid shots and went down several times.
Also, Pacquiao has a wider repertoire of punches now, so why didn’t he throw more hooks and uppercuts instead of just throwing spartan 1-2 combinations all night? Before the fight, Evander Holyfield said that all Pacquiao needs to do to win is to be himself. Against Juan Manuel Marquez, does Pacquiao find it hard to be his explosive, unpredictable self?
After three close fights where Pacquiao was very, very lucky to escape with a draw and a couple of close wins, it certainly seems to appear that way.
What should Marquez do for him to win against Pacquiao?
The first couple of fights were very close and could have gone either way, but in the third one Marquez looked to be more in control and landed the more telling blows.
Of course the Pacquiao aggression was there as usual, but it was not effective aggression. Against David Diaz, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Joshua Clottey, and Sugar Shane Mosley, Pacquiao showed effective aggression; in this fight he seemed lost and out of sync. Perhaps this was the reason why, as Time Magazine’s Gary Andrew Poole said, “No one on press row had Pacquiao winning, and only a few had him stealing a draw.”
Marquez’s “problem” (if we can call it a problem) is that he is a counterpuncher, and a lot have argued that this is precisely why he can’t win in the eyes of the judges—in close fights, judges tend to favor (fairly or unfairly, you be the judge) the more aggressive fighter even if the more defensive fighter lands the cleaner shots. What’s ironic in this case is that it’s precisely this counterpunching style that has made Marquez very difficult to solve for Pacquiao.
Needless to say, if Marquez employed a more aggressive style against the Filipino, he would be playing right into Pacquiao’s hands and would be deposited in the canvas in no time. In this case, Marquez finds himself in a quandary: fight smart and lose in the eyes of the judges or fight aggressively and get knocked out.
It’s a no-win situation for him, and you can’t help but feel sorry for the guy and all the hard work he always puts in. This is a painful case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” for Juan Manuel Marquez.
Is Pacquiao slowing down?
Was Pacquiao’s less-than-stellar performance a sign that he is finally slowing down and that his skills are eroding, or is it just purely because of Marquez’s style, a style that has given Pacquiao fits for three fights now? Pacquiao has supposedly suffered cramps again, which may be a sign that his body is not what it used to be. At 32, Pacquiao is not exactly a spring chicken, and there are a lot of fighters (especially offensive pressure fighters) who have appeared to age overnight. The next fight against another opponent (preferably one who will take the fight to Pacquiao) will, hopefully, answer that question.
Will there be a fourth fight?
Yes, perhaps. That is, if Pacquiao is still up to it.