So continues our marathon coverage of Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez III Nov. 12 on HBO pay-per-view. Previously: The big question about Pacquiao-Marquez III; what’s at stake; keys to the fight part I. Next: the undercard.
Mind. Matter. How do Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez stack up in those categories? In the second of two parts, we compare their more mental attributes.
(The [Church]Keys to the Fight [a wonderful D.C. restaurant and bar, by the way])
Offense. Pacquiao is the best pure offensive fighter in the game, so as good as Marquez is in that regard, this category is no contest. Watching their previous two fights against one another and what Pacquiao has done since, his growth has been remarkable. In 2004, he was a totally one-dimensional southpaw, a 1-2 artist whose gifts of speed and power were all it took up to that point. By 2008, he was blossoming into a two-fisted fighter and even could counter some, but the biggest improvement was in his footwork, in how much better his balance was, in his refusal to rely on clumsy, quick lunges. He’s better in every single way on that front — he gets out of position far less, he’s takent to stepping in and out or to the side, and he has completed his evolution into a two-fisted boxer.
Marquez thrives in a counterpunching role, which has allowed him to feed off Pacquiao’s aggression in the past, but his overall offensive game is really impressive, too. He’s one of boxing’s best combination punchers, he throws savage body shots, and his uppercuts are divine. If there’s a knock on either of these guys, it’s that they neglect their jabs, which are excellent when they bother. It’s academic. Edge: Pacquiao
Defense. Here’s one where things are a touch closer. It’s hard to say right now what kind of defensive fighter Pacquiao is. Going back to 2008 and before, he was pretty atrocious. His offense was his defense. By the fight after Pacquiao-Marquez II, Pacquiao went and turned himself responsible. David Diaz couldn’t lay a glove on him. Nor could Oscar De La Hoya or Ricky Hatton. It was all about footwork and getting his gloves back up after attacking. Then he reverted to preferring to brawl against Joshua Clottey, Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito. In his last fight, against Shane Mosley, whose power he clearly respected, Pacquiao got back to trying to defend himself and took fewer unnecessary risks, although Mosley made it easier on him by not doing much.
For both of their fights, Marquez had been the better defensive fighter than Pacquiao. That might have changed. Marquez isn’t a bad defensive fighter today, but he’s not as good as he was before. His reflexes have dulled, so he gets hit more often than he used to, and he’s increasingly aggressive on offense in a way that leaves him all the more vulnerable. His primary means of defending himself is to take a step back or two, which works out just fine for him because he can fight going backward and probably prefers to do so. Those steps set up his counterpunches. One constant for Marquez is that he’s an absolute sucker for left hands. Of the seven times an official knockdown has been scored against Marquez — four by Pacquiao, once by Floyd Mayweather, once by Michael Katsidis, once by Freddie Norwood — all of them have been left hands, and he’s been wobbled by plenty of other left hands besides. It’s astounding that he’s made his reputation against Pacquiao, arguably the best left-hander ever. Whatever the explanation, the best defensive version of Pacquiao today is better than the best defensive version of Marquez today, by my eye, so one man gets the slight edge. Edge: Pacquiao
Intelligence. I feel like I say this every time, but there’s nothing dumb about Pacquiao in the ring — it’s just that his ring intelligence doesn’t really stand out. The main thing he has going for him is that he’s a sponge for trainer Freddie Roach’s knowledge, having become a better overall fighter over time and usually coming in to the ring with a great gameplan for exploiting his opponents’ weaknesses. Pacquiao does occasionally dispense with that gameplan and get careless when the urge to brawl strikes him, and you won’t see him typically make adjustments midfight when an opponent throws him a different look, though. Overall, though, Pacquiao is a smarter fighter than he used to be.
Marquez’ intelligence, by contrast, is his biggest asset. Only once have I seen Marquez losing a fight and not adjusting, and that was against Mayweather, a rare active boxer who is smarter than Marquez. He figured out Pacquiao in their first fight after nearly losing in the 1st round. He figured out Pacquiao in the second fight, too, despite improvements Pacquiao had made. Getting knocked down, too, seems to be the equivalent of Marquez eating a bunch of genius pills — something about it makes him sharper, more focused. Like Pacquiao, he does make stupid mistakes in the ring at times, usually the result of over-aggression when he thinks the fight could be about to end. And like Pacquiao, he has a trainer in Nacho Beristain who gives him a good gameplan coming in. If Marquez is to beat Pacquiao, it will be with his brain: He’ll have figured out a way to overcome all of Pacquiao’s physical advantages, just like he did in the first two fights. It’s just that Pacquiao has closed the gap some on fighting intelligently since then. Edge: Marquez
Willpower. There’s not much lack of the stuff in either camp, but like modern boxing judges who tend to score a round 10-9 when they think things are pretty even, I’m going to pick a winner. Marquez’ will has thus far proven indomitable, a will we first discovered in the 1st round of Pacquiao-Marquez I where three knockdowns couldn’t persuade Marquez to give up. He’s made of iron. Check out, too, how hard he fought against Mayweather even after it became clear he could barely touch Mayweather, let alone hurt him, even after he was hurt himself. If there’s any question here, it’s how seriously he’s taken his training for this fight, since HBO’s Max Kellerman said he’s heard that Marquez is slacking. That, combined with his friendlier attitude toward Pacquiao after being so nasty and unsportsmanlike for so many years, is concerning.
At times, Pacquiao’s willpower has gotten excessive, manifesting itself in macho pride, like when he has responded to big punches by choosing to stand and trade. At other times, it’s dipped a little. There are no reports of him slacking off in training for this fight, but in the past his discipline has waxed and waned. Also, cuts tend to distract him more than some fighters who treat them like they haven’t even happened. Those slight dings — as opposed to the theoretical ones in the Marquez camp — means that he loses this category. But if the theoretical problems with Marquez’ willpower surface, not only does Marquez not have a chance of winning, he also doesn’t have much of a chance of making it a fight that’s exciting albeit one-sided. Edge: Marquez
The Rest. This catch-all category for everything else usually has at least one interesting variable, but not really this time. Let’s go through them all anyhow. The referee is Tony Weeks; he has no record of favoring any particular kind of fighter’s roughhouse techniques, and besides, neither man really cheats. In the two fights Marquez had a tendency to stray low, but it had no impact on either fight because it didn’t happen often enough to matter… All three judges are competent — Robert Hoy, Glenn Trowbridge and Dave Moretti — and didn’t judge either of the men’s previous fights. Off the top of my head, I couldn’t think of any particularly controversial calls involving those judges, although a quick search does turn up a bad call by Moretti to score Miguel Vazquez-Breidis Prescott for Prescott, which might suggest a slight edge for Pacquiao as the aggressor…
Both have been on the big stage before, Pacquiao a bit more often. Neither has shown any indicator of crumbling beneath the pressure. Both should have a lot of passionate fans of their respective heritages, Mexican for Marquez and Filipino for Pacquiao. Whoever has more fans there — probably Pacquiao — it won’t matter, because it’s never affected either before in the negative… If anyone is going to be affected by an injury in the fight, I’d pick Pacquiao, since he’s acknowledged leg cramps in the past and has dealt with them in this camp. Both have been cut by the other and Pacquiao was more bothered by his, but neither have had a fight stopped because of it… Both are pretty good finishers if they get their man hurt, but Marquez tends to get a little more reckless in pursuit of the knockout. Add all that up, and what do you have? Not much. Somebody’s got to get the 10-9, though. Edge: Pacquiao