“He’s not gettin’ up, Jim!”
That’s all anyone has to say. You know what they’re talking about. In a single moment on Dec. 8, 2012, and with a single punch, Manny Pacquiao was rendered unconscious and mortal. And he was rendered so by the only man in eight years who’d managed to withstand him. The one man who’d already shared a ring with Pacquiao about whom we couldn’t declare Pacquiao the superior fighter: Juan Manuel Marquez. Odd then, that the victor would shortly wrap up his career, and here we’d be, eight years later, with Pacquaio as one of the three best welterweights in the world.
Pacquiao is the elder statesman of the welterweight division now. When we thought his signing with PBC was a farewell tour, he turned it on its head by embarrassing fringish contender Adrien Broner and then outfighting elite Keith Thurman to let us know that even at 41, he’s a fucking legend for a reason and that his status as a premier fighter will only be violently cleaved from him.
In 2012, Pacquiao was not yet human. True, he’d just been blindly robbed on the scorecards against Timothy Bradley, and had struggled with Marquez in 2011. But, in the four years just prior to that, he’d savaged a lightweight belt holder, retired Oscar De La Hoya at welterweight, annihilated junior welterweight champion Ricky Hatton, and then run roughshod over most of the top five at welterweight.
But Marquez was still out there. He represented not so much a blemish on Pacquiao’s record, but something else entirely, a question mark. The only true blemish on Pacquiao’s record from 2001-2012 was a unanimous decision loss to Erik Morales in 2005 that Pacquiao brutally avenged. Twice. Marquez was a sore at featherweight and junior lightweight. Constantly seeping and aggravating. When Pacquaio went to lightweight, Marquez followed. Not content to snag a belt like Pacquiao, Marquez knocked out lineal lightweight champion Joel Casamayor, then Juan Diaz, then Michael Katsidis. Then followed Pacquiao to welterweight.
The pair had fought three times to this point, dating back to their meeting at featherweight in 2004. All contentious, action-packed, absurdly skillful, and debated endlessly afterward. The score tally through three 12 round fights, 108 judged rounds: 1024-1017 for Pacquiao, which averages out to 113.7-113. They’re equals. Depending on who you asked, either man deserved to have gone 3-0 in that span, but everyone admitted it was razor-thin.
In the lead up to the fourth bout, both fighters discussed the need for permanent victory. Guys talk constantly about making sure they knock their opponent out, so it’s generally easy to dismiss it, but after eight years and three fights, it seemed the only way this story could end was destruction. Most assumed that Marquez would be the victim. In 36 rounds, he’d only hurt Pacquiao sporadically and been dropped in the process four times, but in each fight, he’d hit Pacquiao cleaner than before.
There will never be a day, while they both draw breath, that Marquez is faster than Pacquiao, but by Dec. 8, 2012, the gap had closed just enough. Pacquiao began as he always did, darting and probing. Marquez, ever the patient counter puncher, landed body shots and looked for openings. As Pacquaio sped up the pace in the 2nd round, Marquez was digging heavy right hands in the Filipino’s rib cage. Then it happened. With 1:20 left in the 3rd round, Marquez popped a jab and dipped like he was going to the body. As Pacquiao wheeled back with his left hand low, Marquez launched a looping right hand that caught an off-balance Pacquaio high on the head and dropped him on his ass.
That was the first time Manny Pacquiao had been knocked down since 2003. He would get up, survive the round, and then fight on even terms with Marquez in the 4th. In the 5th, it was Pacquiao’s turn. He feinted a jab, fired a left cross, and Marquez had to use a handle to keep from falling down. He had taken back control of the fight, and punished Marquez throughout the round. The 6th was more of the same. Marquez was landing hurtful counters, but couldn’t quite keep up with Pacquiao’s volume.
By the closing moments of the 6th round, Marquez was bleeding badly from cuts and a broken nose, and clearly hurt. With 10 seconds remaining, Pacquiao knocked Marquez off balance with a straight left. Marquez retaliated and then retreated to a corner. Pacquaio feinted a jab and stepped forward. Marquez threw his right cross just as Pacquiao attempted a left. Marquez’s cross landed flush.
The bell rang just as Pacquiao landed on the canvas in a heap, his face flat down and his arms folded under him. The crowd erupted. Marquez stood slightly behind his felled opponent in the neutral corner. Kenny Bayless knelt over Pacquiao and waved the fight off. A victorious Juan Manuel Marquez sprinted to the opposite corner of the ring and climbed the ropes.
Pacquiao did not move for over a minute.
Marquez had his victory.
In the aftermath of the fight, many justifiably considered whether Pacquiao should fight on. That seems a little silly seven years after the fact, given what Pacquiao has accomplished in the ring. But it didn’t then. It took Marquez 42 rounds and eight years to catch Pacquiao with a perfect punch. And when he did it, no one could possibly deny how perfectly destructive that punch was, even if the destruction didn’t last forever.
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(Photo by Julia Jacobson/AP)