Manny Pacquiao returns to the ring tomorrow night in Las Vegas trailing the usual mixture of glee, outrage, and incomprehension that follows him whenever he so much as arches an eyebrow. To some, this fight deserves a flashing neon asterisk beside it; to others, it is a long-awaited sequel to a pair of blistering slugfests. To the Anti-Pacquiao Squad, this fight is worth the usual hot tears and blubbering.
Because of all the gnashing and mewling about Pacquiao, however, it is easy to overlook a simple fact: Manny Pacquiao, along with Floyd Mayweather Jr., is one of only two moneymaking machines in boxing, and tampering with a $100 million dollar formula is senseless for any enterprise, not just for the rare prizefighter who can produce bonanza after bonanza.
And to make sure the gold keeps panning out, careful attention is paid to the merits of each Pacquiao bout on a prestige basis. Yes, his opponents have been selected carefully over the last two years—they have been chosen to maximize marquee value. This way, the cash register never stops ringing. With the exception of Joshua Clottey, a top 5 or 6 welterweight at the time according to The Ring (and everyone knows its Ratings Panel holds dominion over heaven and earth in boxing), Pacquiao has faced only opponents that will generate Powerball payouts. More than anything, this is what seems to be the stumbling block between the Pacquiao and Mayweather camps: When a boxer can bring in as much as $80-$100 million in revenue per fight, a pick ‘em affair is not what a manager or promoter is looking for.
Pacquiao has also been excoriated for catchweight bouts by the same people who demanded he fight Juan Manuel Marquez in the first place. So what is really behind this cacophony of kvetching? In fact, what you are really being told in many of these poorly spelled jeremiads is that the only thing that matters–to the exclusion of all else–is what some poor nincompoop who hunts and pecks for boxingtribulation.com thinks. Ultimately, a general consensus—one based on reasoning—cannot be reached concerning Pacquiao. Now, after years of fighting bigger men, Pacquiao will, naturally, be criticized for fighting someone smaller. Go figure.
Tomorrow night at the MGM Grand, Pacquiao, 53-3-2 (38), once again faces his old nemesis, Juan Manuel Marquez. Marquez is faded, yes, and over his best weight, definitely, but dangerous nevertheless to almost anyone who answers the bell against him. At least below 140 pounds. A prohibitive underdog against Pacquiao, Marquez remains the quintessential professional prizefighter, one who seems to toss aside risk the way a bronco would send a drunk amateur airborne for twenty yards or more.
To fight Pacquiao, Marquez, 53-5-1 (39), has agreed to a catchweight of 144 pounds. Against Floyd Mayweather Jr. in September 2009, Marquez, bulkier than ever, looked slow and jaded—and that was during the ring introductions. On the other hand, Mayweather never bothered to make the agreed upon catchweight of 144 pounds against Marquez, opting instead, in a calculated move, to pay a fine for coming in above the agreed upon weight. So Marquez had the added difficulty of having to face a fighter who had not debilitated himself in training to shed pounds. Will fighting Pacquiao at welterweight be any different? The answer is: maybe. First, Pacquiao is a smaller welterweight than Mayweather, and, second, Marquez has demonstrated in two previous fights that he can more than hold his own against Pacquiao. Of course, Marquez, 38, was younger and in his natural division when he fought Pacquiao in 2004 and 2008, so he will definitely be at a disadvantage when the bell rings tomorrow night. But Marquez facing Pacquiao is not the same as Marquez facing Mayweather. No, this is a different kind of mismatch altogether, one predicated on a pre-existing narrative and the fact that Marquez can, indeed, still wreck 95% of the lightweights in the galaxy. No one can say, after all, that Marquez is not a world-class fighter, even now, after nearly 60 fights.
At 142 pounds, Marquez, Mexico City, Mexico, looks better than he did at the same weight against Mayweather. Two years have passed since then, and in addition to naturally gaining weight as he ages, Marquez has used different training methods than he did in his first fight at welterweight. In addition, Pacquiao is also far more aggressive in the ring than Mayweather is, and this temperament will give Marquez opportunities to score with some of his pinpoint shots.
Still, unless Marquez has been taking liberal doses of “Uña de Gato,” he is going to have to all sorts of trouble keeping up with Pacquiao. As a natural counterpuncher, Marquez might be a little too slow at welterweight to catch Pacquiao, General Santos City, Cotabato del Sur, Philippines, between shots. Even so, he will look to keep Pacquiao turning by moving to the left and try to take advantage of any openings. Defensively, Marquez has slipped over the years, and this might be the biggest factor in the bout. Pacquiao, 32, has developed his right since 2008, and combining his improved offense with a deteriorating Marquez defense means trouble for “Dinamita.”
Although he has never been stopped in a career that goes back to 1993, Marquez will be in serious danger of hearing “10” for the first time tomorrow night. If that happens, Pacquiao will get little credit, but if Marquez has his say, Pacquiao will have to work as hard as possible for as long as the fight lasts. Marquez would not have it any other way.