Manny Pacquiao: Juan Manuel Marquez was the man possessed
Editor’s Note: This feature originally appeared in the November 2020 issue of The Ring.
MANNY PACQUIAO HAS FACED A HOST OF GREAT FIGHTERS, BUT HE MET HIS TRUE NEMESIS IN JUAN MANUEL MARQUEZ
It was a killer blow, and Manny Pacquiao was out upon impact.
The glitzy ringsiders, who cringed at the brutality of the punch, knew it was over. The HBO commentary team knew it was over. A disconsolate Team Pacquiao knew it was over. However, the man who delivered the Ring Knockout of the Year for 2012, Juan Manuel Marquez, remained composed. After landing that short but incredibly explosive right-hand counter – a near-perfect punch – the Mexican star moved sharply around his foe’s unconscious frame, shuffled backward toward a neutral corner and placed his gloves on his hips. All the while, Marquez refused to take his eyes off of Pacquiao, who was face-down and still. Why? Firstly, Marquez was a staunch professional, but more importantly, he wanted to make sure that his tormentor was finished. He wanted to see that with his own eyes.
In the modern era, the Pacquiao-Marquez rivalry mimicked Captain Ahab’s pursuit of the white whale. The pair first met in May 2004, and while Pacquiao didn’t bite off a portion of Marquez’s leg – Ahab’s fate in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick – he did drop him three times in the opening round, bursting his nose across his face in the process. Marquez survived the attack and remarkably battled back to earn himself a draw, but he’d been humiliated in those opening three minutes and adopted the role of avenger from that point on. It would take four fights over eight years – and three near-misses – before Marquez landed the terminal harpoon.
When referee Kenny Bayless inspected Pacquiao and waved his right hand to signal the end of fight four, the sold-out crowd at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas erupted in a deafening frenzy. The Filipino contingent was obviously devastated, whereas the Mexican faithful celebrated with the same passion that they had displayed when the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez came from behind to stop Meldrick Taylor with two seconds left in March 1990. The release Marquez felt was indescribable.
Officially, Pacquiao led the series 2-1-1, but “Dinamita” had made his statement in unbelievable fashion and was more than content with the final chapter.
“I was never tempted to have a fifth fight,” Marquez told The Ring sternly. “The Filipino people wanted a fifth fight, Pacquiao wanted a fifth fight, but why? I could never equal what I did in our last fight.
“After the fourth Pacquiao fight, I fought Tim Bradley (a 12-round split decision loss), then I had my last fight (a 12-round unanimous decision win over Mike Alvarado in May 2014). I tried to come back in 2016, but my body couldn’t do the training. My knee was injured and my shoulder was injured. I decided not to come back, and I had nothing to prove.”
He certainly didn’t. Marquez (56-7-1, 40 knockouts) won titles in four weight classes and is one of the most decorated fighters in Mexican boxing history. He should have entered the International Boxing Hall of Fame this year alongside fellow legends Bernard Hopkins and Sugar Shane Mosley, but COVID-19 dictated that he will now be part of a huge double induction in 2021. Patience, however, is a virtue, and Marquez emphatically proved that in one of the most electrifying rivalries the sport has ever seen.
The great former champion spoke to The Ring about his four-fight series with Pacquiao:
May 8, 2004 / MGM Grand, Las Vegas • Titles: Ring Magazine, IBF and WBA featherweight
“Manny Pacquiao is a special champion. He has speed, he has power, and he’s still a great fighter right now. I never could have imagined a boxer like Pacquiao, but at that time the people didn’t really know him. Most fans picked Marco Antonio Barrera [to beat Pacquiao in the first fight] and he gave the fans a big surprise. It just took that one fight and Pacquiao was known very fast. After he beat Barrera, my promoter offered me the fight, and I said, ‘Don’t worry, I can do it. I can beat Pacquiao!’ I had no idea the fight would go the way it did. In the first round, I was down three times and I couldn’t believe what was happening. I never expected any fighter to put me on the floor three times. But I had prepared myself mentally and physically for this fight. I was defending two world titles and I didn’t want to surrender them easily. I have sacrificed so much, and I didn’t want to lose in one round. I had to make an adjustment, so (trainer) Nacho Beristain told me to look out for the left hand because Pacquiao has power and speed in this punch. I changed during the fight, moved my body, started landing combinations, and I kept Pacquiao at a distance. The first round was a big surprise for me, but I outboxed Pacquiao and it came out a draw. It was close, but I thought I won the fight. Pacquiao won the first round 10-6 with the knockdowns, but I believe that I won nine or 10 rounds of this fight.”
March 15, 2008 / Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas • Titles: Ring Magazine and WBC junior lightweight
“I wanted to prove that I won the first fight, and again I prepared hard. Our first fight was close, both of us were better fighters now, so I knew the second fight was going to be difficult for me. But even then I felt like I had to knock Pacquiao out – ‘if I want to win the rematch, I must win by knockout.’ Like the first fight, I had to match his speed, land the cleaner punches and keep him at a distance. Pacquiao is obviously a southpaw, so the feet are very important. I would keep my left foot outside his right foot because I need to win the position [to take away Pacquiao’s right jab, right hook and left hand]. This is very important when fighting a southpaw, and that gives me the advantage. Also, when you know a fighter, you need to work on his game. What techniques are going to work better for me? I trained hard with Nacho Beristain and we were ready. I gave Pacquiao a lot of trouble in the second fight, and I won maybe eight rounds. I was landing with power and he was feeling the punches. I did the best I could, but the judges said that the (third-round) knockdown (by Pacquiao) was the difference, and that’s why he won this fight. But if you look at the landed punches, the person landing the power punches, I feel I had the bigger percentage. I don’t know what happened with the judges. Again, it was close, but I did what was necessary to win the second fight.”
Result: Pacquiao SD 12
November 11, 2011 / MGM Grand, Las Vegas • Titles: WBO welterweight
“Let me tell you something: Pacquiao gave me this rematch because he felt that he lost the second fight, and a lot of fans felt the same. The difference in this fight was that we were both heavier (the bout was made at a catchweight of 144 pounds), so I needed to change my conditioning. Pacquiao was bigger, but I was bigger too, and I trained very hard to make myself like a new fighter. I changed my physical preparation, and I was the best in the ring that night. The game plan was the same: Use speed, match the moves of Pacquiao and don’t fight at close distance. Defensively, I moved my upper body and I needed to use the counterpunches. I believe that I won this fight clearly, and I should have won by maybe four rounds. Again, I don’t know what happened when the judges gave a majority decision to Pacquiao. It was hurting my career, because I wanted to be the best fighter in the world, pound-for-pound. And when the fight finished, (promoter) Bob Arum told me, ‘This is a business. You’ll have the rematch. I don’t know when, but you’ll have the rematch.’ I felt very angry at this time; that comment made me very angry. The fans in Mexico were also angry because they believe this [result] was a robbery. I arrived back in Mexico at the airport, and everyone was talking about it. You can’t imagine the reaction in Mexico after that third fight. I was very disappointed, but the Mexican people supported me.”
Result: Pacquiao MD 12
December 12, 2012 / MGM Grand, Las Vegas • Titles: WBO welterweight
“Pacquiao knew that he lost the third fight. He knew that he’d never beat me and he wanted to knock me out this time. I prepared for the same fight: Match Pacquiao’s movement and speed. But this time I wanted to punch with more force. I can’t win a decision; I need the knockout or I can’t win. This, to me, is our best fight. I knocked him down in the third round, but he got up and came back at me. The mistake [Pacquiao made] was that he would feint and attack. He would feint, come fast and throw punches. He would do that all the time. In Round 6, this time, I saw him coming and was able to land a very hard punch. Some people call it a lucky punch, but there’s video (available on YouTube) where I land the same right hand on a sparring partner [and knock him down] in training camp for this fight. I stepped back and used that punch on Pacquiao. I was one of the best counterpunchers. I knew he was knocked out when he went down. It was unbelievable! Winning this fight was like winning the first fight, the second fight, the third fight … all the fights. It meant everything to me. I did it for my country – the Mexican people. You can’t imagine the reaction when I won this fight, not just in Mexico City but all over Mexico. This knockout made up for the close decisions that went against us. I would like to thank the Mexican people who supported me for my fights against Manny Pacquiao and all through my career.”
Result: Marquez KO 6
Alfonso Nava helped to coordinate this interview. The Ring would like to thank him for his assistance.
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Tom Gray is Managing Editor for The Ring Magazine. Follow @Tom_Gray_Boxing