As the diminutive idol plummets face first into the mat, a country of 95,000,000 people watch in stunned silence… their breath stolen away by a Mexican fighting god.
Manny Pacquiao lay motionless, unconscious, for almost exactly a minute. In that blackness he is oblivious to hundreds of millions of eyes on him. Ten seconds vanish in a blink as everyone stands, or shouts, or swears. Mouths hang agape, eyes are wide, hands are on heads in dismay, fists strike the electrified sky in triumph.
All three of the HBO announcing crew are up out of their chairs staring at the sport’s pound-for-pound best fighter, crumpled on the ground. Roy Jones is shouting “He’s not getting up Jim!” Referee Kenny Bayless, on a knee, peers at the fallen iconic warrior for a few moments. He waves the fight off.
Ten ticks from that freight train punch, Marquez has bounded up onto the ropes in a corner, his face, chest and arms are spattered with droplets of blood from his own crunched nose. He releases an ebullient shout, the sound lost to the night in a swirl of chaotic cheering and tumult. The shriek is a release of eight years of frustration, toiling hard work, dedication, blood and pain.
Up on those corner ropes, his arms spread wide in triumph. Before his eyes: a roiling sea of people, spectators to his triumph. The mass is a frenzy of humanity in shock, dejection, exaltation, worry and exuberance.
As Marquez is lifted from the ropes and onto shoulders, Pacquaio is still lost in the blackness…. unconscious to the hysteria, the sudden shift in fortunes and esteem, the tilt in perspective and minds around him.
Manny Pacquiao went to sleep and woke up to a changed world.
That their pitched fourth go around is the Fight of the Year, there is no doubt. Marquez and Pacquiao once again served notice to every other would-be king of the ring that it’s not about a glossy lossless record, or meaningless belts, or perfect defense, or vicious-less victories.
No… what sets these two apart from all the other elite prize fighters in the sport is that both are truly willing to get knocked out to win.
When Paquiao toppled over from a concussive overhand right in round 3, he bounded back up and attacked his longtime foe. When Marquez went stiff legged and badly starched by Paquiao punches in stanza 4, he didn’t hold to survive, he flung punches with little caution along the ropes.
Just two weeks ago Andre Berto and Robert Guerrero engaged in an energetic fight that many counted as a strong candidate for Fight of the Year. But viewed through the prism of performances like those in this titanic fourth encounter, it pails by comparison.
And the difference? Drama.
For all the back and forth action, it never seemed like Berto could hurt or stun Guerrero. Marquez’s eye-opening salvo in the 3d round which exploded into Pacquaio’s head and sent him to the floor in a heap shook everyone wide awake with the sudden knowledge that this was new territory in the rich battlefield of their nearly 40 rounds of combat.
Andre Berto has a great fighting spirit that pushed him to not give up, and keep fighting even after the two knockdowns he suffered in his bout with Guerrero. He held on, buying time, trying to think, recuperate, survive.
Marquez and Pacquiao don’t look to survive. They only come to win. Incredibly they are another level beyond even the heart and courage of a noted warrior like Berto.
The truth is, what they have is something that goes beyond choice, something that is beyond simple willpower or determination.
Marquez was badly hurt in round 4, perhaps the most damaged he’d ever been in their many go arounds, and he never looked to clinch or buy time, as a reasonable man would. He instead fired back with every thing he had left, like a wounded scorpion stinging anything that dare come near.
When difficult moments come at these two men there is no thought, only reaction. Not a survival instinct — a kill or be killed instinct… truly the actions of natural born fighters — or wounded animals. It’s a primal mentality that overtakes them in those heated, clouded moments of extreme strife and jeopardy.
And so it is no coincidence that the only two men to defeat Pacquiao in the last 13 years (discounting the scoring atrocity in the loss to Timothy Bradley last summer) are the two fighters who could, and were willing to, match Pacquiao’s ferocity head on:
Juan Manuel Marquez and Erik Morales.
As Pacquiao ripped through the junior welterweight and welterweight divisions, among the litany of fighters that squared off against Pacquiao, even highly touted warriors such as Miguel Cotto and Shane Mosley ultimately conceded instead of giving their all in the ring. They were spared the embarrassment of a crippling knockout, but gave up some of their pride to purchase it.
Instead of going out in battle, in looking to avoid embarrassment, they acquiesced, surrendered, admitting to all and themselves that they could not compete with the dynamic fighter from the Phillipines.
That admission of defeat is something Morales would not entertain in his classic victory over Pacquiao.
Morales is the epitome of a rare and particular type of fighter.
He is the kind of fighter who doesn’t have any thought but to win or be stopped trying. His dynamic decision over Pacquiao is like watching two wild dogs tear into each other, Pacquiao attacking and driving Morales to the ropes with a swarm of devastating punches only to have Morales dig his heels in and chase him back across the ring with a volley of chilling blows.
That inability to break or merely survive is what Marquez too has finally bested Pacquiao with. When two men with iron wills clash, bashing into one another again and again, there is nothing to happen but for one of them to get irreparably damaged.
That it took three and a half fights for such a devastating outcome to be thrust upon one of them is extraordinary in itself, but it underscores how closely matched these two intertwined prize fighters are and what they share like brothers.
They are warriors down to the marrow in their bones.
As a minute ticked off the clock and Marquez rode upon the shoulders of his cornermen, Pacquiao lay unconscious. Turned finally to his back, he slowly fluttered his eyes open and peered up at the ceiling of the MGM Grand ceiling.
A cluster of his men, and doctors, and cameramen crowded above and around him, like spectators at a crime scene. Somewhere behind him his wife Jinkee was crying loudly, terrified, trying to get to the ring apron and her fallen husband.
The new world to which the fighter awoke differed drastically in several key ways from the one he knew from just a minute before.
In that world a fighter named Manny Pacquiao had been nearly invincible and his vast legacy of dominance secure.
Suddenly the future paragraphs of his biography in the boxing Hall of Fame were altered. Articles yet to be written analyzing his career in the decades to come were suddenly amended.
The perception of his place in boxing lore shifted.
To what degree and place it shifted, only more time will tell. But in the space of that black, lost minute in Pacquiao’s life, when he was at his most defenseless, his most vulnerable, asleep in front of millions, dark figures appeared in the shadows and stole away a little of his sheen, his credit, his legacy, like thieves in the night.
Whether he continues to fight , as one expects he will, should Marquez grant him a fifth fight, Pacquiao long ago assured his greatness and emblazoned his presence on the minds of anyone following the sport in the past decade.
Indeed, those eight years between the two men’s first fight and this last one have been packed with nearly unbelievable amounts of drama and prize fighting.
Their first fight came before Marquez reinvented himself from cautious counter puncher to risk reveling rampager, going on a mad streak of exciting match ups with Marco Antonio Barrera, Joel Casamayor, a Fight of the Year with Juan Diaz and a long line of other stirring victories.
Pacquiao’s string of successes is the most storied in the sport’s modern history, winning belts across a plethora of divisions and buzzing through high profile fights and opponents like sparring sessions.
That they would return to one another every few years and rekindle their indelible feud has set their rivalry up as perhaps the greatest in the sport and this generation.
These two men are so perfectly matched in pure fighting force of will that they could likely have fought at any point in their lifetimes both backwards and forwards in time and been tit for tat, tooth and nail, at every incarnation.
That scintillating straight right hand shotgunned into Pacquiao’s face and blasted away some of his personal esteem. It bled away as he lay motionless on the ground.
But that same punch also shot their series of fights up the charts with a bullet.
On the list of great fight series, the bouts between these two will be high in any argument over which is the best. And certainly of quadrilogies, the Marquez brothers have all but cornered the market.
Only Rafael Marquez, Juan’s younger brother, and his four fights with Israel Vasquez can compete in terms of drama and excitement.
Whatever the Marquez brothers have coursing through their bloodline, it seems to ignite combustible nemeses like lighter fluid.
The dark shadow that fell across Manny Pacquiao, stealing his consciousness, and leaving him with a little less luster, is the same shadow that dogged Marquez for much of the prime of his career.
No matter how brightly he shone, who he beat or how exciting he could become, there was always Pacquiao looming in the background — the man he could never seem to get past, fighting on bigger stages, for better money and broader accolades.
While Pacquiao went to sleep and slumbered through the sudden and seismic shifts in the sport that his defeat has caused, Marquez reveled in the changes, basking in the adulation of a crowd hungry to erupt in appreciation.
He had vindication in the form of sweet victory.
For much of Marquez’s career he toiled with less esteem then others of the era. With this electrifying knockout special he has finally managed to escape the long shadow of these men he had chased for so long: Mexican boxing contemporaries Barrera and Morales, who thrilled boxing spectators for a decade with numerous violently entertaining outings.
For once and for all, Marquez managed to emphatically distinguish himself from those two, the Julio Cesar Chavez torch bearers. With his stunning annihilation of Pacquiao, Marquez just snatched the flame from their hands and crowned himself the new king.
Canelo Alvarez, Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., the boyish Mexican superstars, will have to wait until Marquez says he’s ready to step aside and concede the stage.
Already a modern Mexican legend, Marquez punched his way to prizefighting immortality when he mopped the mat with Manny’s mug.
If you were to take the first of their 42 rounds with its three knockdown blitzkrieg and contrast those men with the two who came out for round number 42 and it’s thrillingly concussive conclusion, you would be hard pressed to fathom that these are the same fighters.
Time and experience have changed them from a fresh faced 25-year-old Pacquiao and 31-year-old Marquez to violence hardened legends.
For Marquez, he has been pushed to impossible ends to get credit for what he and many others have felt he deserved all along.
But to finally be known as the man who is Pacquiao’s equal in the ring he had to do something extraordinary. He had to show the world that even an all-time talent can be knocked cold.
Marquez tucked Pacquiao in, and put him to sleep.
Manny slept soundly, never stirring from his slumber, finally resting in respite from the whirlwind life of a superstar icon.
And while he did, Juan Manuel lived his dream.