For Manny Pacquiao, Dec. 8 was a nightmare ending to a long fairy tale. For Juan Manuel Marquez, Dec. 8 was a fairy tale ending to a long nightmare. It was an ending written out with one tremendous right hand.
Pacquiao has been boxing’s happy, innocent warrior, its smiling, bouncing ball of lightning. Marquez has been boxing’s surly brainiac, prone to whining about slights big and small. They have fought each other so well four times now because of the ways in which they are different: Pacquiao’s natural speed, power and aggression mixes well with Marquez’s calculating, clinical knack for timing and counterpunching. It’s not nearly that neat, of course, because Pacquaio has become more like Marquez in the ring over time, evolving into a smarter, more versatile fighter. Nor is he a total choir boy; his recent conversion to devout religiosity came only after some philandering, gambling and other sins. Marquez, once maligned as boring, has slowly turned into one of boxing’s most reliable action heroes, and he eventually has been rewarded with popularity and the good times that come with that.
But fighting Pacquiao was indeed a recurring nightmare for Marquez. No matter what he did, no matter how much better he fought Pacquiao in three meetings from featherweight to welterweight, he couldn’t get the win. By the end of the third one last year, he was so disdainful of the whole ordeal that he conducted a post-fight interview on HBO naked except for a sombrero over his junk. Pacquiao, meanwhile, had to revel in each escape.
All of this background is necessary because knockouts like the one Marquez would author grow richer and more dramatic in full context. There would be no revelry from Pacquiao this time, and no escape. After a hot start, Pacquaio got dropped in the 3rd round, ample evidence that Marquez would once more mount a serious challenge. Pacquiao almost escaped in the 5th after dropping Marquez and then pounding his nose bloody and leaving his knees stiff, almost finishing the bout.
After another 2:59 worth of excellence from Pacquiao in the 6th, disaster struck – or, if you’re Marquez, long awaited vengeance arrived. Pacquiao lunged forward for one final attack, but Marquez saw it developing and was already throwing his own punch by the time Pacquiao was cocking his left. The moment of impact was the kind of pure moment that only boxing can deliver: pure perfection, pure destructiveness, all wrapped into one split second of instant, shocking victory.
The imagery afterward was horrific, for Pacquiao fans. The unconscious, face-down Pacquaiao’s chest heaved, his wife cried hysterically and more than a few wondered if Pacquiao was actually dead. Marquez celebrated the thing he has wanted more than any other: a win over his greatest rival.
Perhaps the fairy tale/nightmare dynamic as it looks now is a false narrative. Pacquiao could yet write another happy chapter in his career, in an era that he has co-ruled with Floyd Mayweather. Marquez’s affiliations with a former BALCO chemist already tarnishes his fairy tale for some, and maybe some revelation will turn suspicion into proof. We might view what happened in Marquez-Pacquiao 4 differently later. But there should be no doubt of its import. Immediately, it turned into a rare pop culture moment for the sport as a whole, from Mitt Romney's face ringside to Justin Bieber populating Instagram with memes about it and risking a ban from the Philippines. And at the conclusion of 2012, it is the Knockout of the Year, a moment that will be talked about for generations, one way or another.