On November 12 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao will meet for the third installment of a rivalry that has thus far been classic. In bloody chess matches in 2004 and 2008, the two were as evenly-matched as possible. Both possessing deep reservoirs of moxie, Pacquiao overcame Marquez’ edge in rounds won by lifting the Mexican icon off his feet a combined four times. Just as you thought Marquez had taken control with superior ring generalship, Pacquiao’s movement would become more expeditious, his attacks more surgical, and he would take the reigns back behind explosive athleticism. The battles crescendoed into dramatic final rounds in which both men showed the desperation we yearn to see in the closing moments of championship bouts. Their styles seem divinely configured for each other.
Consequently, the reasons a boxing fan would lack enthusiasm for a rubber match are peripheral but substantial. There would be nary a complaint if the trilogy concluded at lightweight, months after the rematch. But plenty has happened in the last three years, the most significant of which was Marquez suffering the lone uncompetitive loss of his career to Floyd Mayweather in an ambitious leap to welterweight. He’s about to make that leap again.
Logic follows that Pacquiao, now six fights deep at welterweight, is far more comfortable above 140 pounds than Marquez is, comfort that’s perceived as a profound enough advantage to make him an 8 to 1 favorite in Vegas. Mayweather, of course, has made many an accomplished opponent look silly, so nobody knows exactly how much the added weight factored in Marquez’ lopsided loss. The image of a sluggish Marquez swatting at air nonetheless remains prominent when sizing up how he’ll fare against his old nemesis on November 12th.
Within a larger trend, Marquez is Pacquiao’s third consecutive opponent who started his professional boxing career in the early 90s. The dust cloud from the Filipino star’s run through Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, and Miguel Cotto – when his jump to higher weight divisions was still novel – has long dissipated. Now, Pacquiao fights carry a safe feel to them, even if Marquez likely provides the sternest test since the last time they locked horns.
Shane Mosley’s shiftless dawdling during 22 of the 24 rounds he spent inside the ring with Pacquiao and Mayweather left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth, amplifying the demand for adversaries with fresh legs as we wait for the mega-event that may never materialize. As a result, news of Marquez-Pacquaio III prompted more than a few yawns, while, despite Victor Ortiz’ limitations, Mayweather’s decision to fight someone under the age of 35 induced gasps and raised eyebrows.
Still, the 37-year-old Marquez, with Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera, is part of a trio of Mexican icons who have shown resiliency against age and low expectations. Recall that Barrera, also moving up to a new division, was placed as a firm underdog in his 2004 rubber match against Morales before beating his rival in close, but convincing fashion. More recently, Morales, thought to be fodder for the bigger, younger Marcos Maidana, flashed power to go along with his trademark know-how and durability to give as good as he got. And, of course, Marquez well exceeded pre-fight assumptions in his rematch with Pacquiao, trumping the notion that a more developed right hook would give Pacquiao the decided advantage that he lacked in their first bout. Pacquiao is susceptible to skilled fighters with strong right hands, and the two opponents that fit the description since Marquez – Joshua Clottey and Mosley – were far too gun shy to test him.
The odds are undoubtedly stacked against Marquez. The mash of styles and his penchant for surpassing expectations, however, allows for at least cautious optimism that this will contain some of the drama of the first two battles, and not be another flogging of a faded warrior handcuffed by ring wear.
A venerable foe and familiar face is welcome, for now. But patience is wearing thin.