“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Beckett
Contemporary boxing is so ersatz—from tinfoil stars mass-produced by premium cable networks to P-4-P stalwarts who are soon wandering HTML Palookavilles when ADD worrywarts and Super Bloggers are momentarily distracted by their own navels—that it almost seems comforting to see Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez square off for the fourth time. After all, these are not dime-store attractions with million-dollar price tags attached to them: these are two of the best prizefighters of the last twenty years.
Since 2004, Marquez has been as obsessed with Pacquiao as Heathcliff was with Catherine in Wuthering Heights or Scottie was with Madeleine in Vertigo. “Dinamita” will likely get his final chance for some sort of psychological closure when he faces Pacquiao on Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada, in a scheduled 12.
It goes without saying that the judges will likely be the key players tomorrow night. Pacquiao, it was claimed after he narrowly edged out Marquez by majority decision last year, was protected by Nevada, whose coffers are filled every time he laces up in the Silver State. Never mind the fact that Pacquiao had never been in a competitive fight since becoming a pay-per-view phenomenon. To the madball mythmakers in boxing, his last win over Marquez was a sign that the Illuminati controlled more than just the international banking system.
Of course, then came the Tim Bradley debacle six months ago, which laid another dopey boxing meme to rest when “Desert Storm” was given a decision over Pacquiao so outrageous that it prompted Senator Harry Reid to demand a congressional inquiry. Nothing in America—with the exception of politics and the Barney Awards, perhaps—requires as much suspension of disbelief as boxing does. Not only were we supposed to believe that Bradley defeated Pacquiao, but we were also supposed to believe that Bradley performed this extraordinary act with two gimpy feet. No sooner was the decision announced in his favor than Bradley clambered onto the ropes to celebrate amidst the catcalls of thousands. But it was Bradley who inadvertently opened the door for Marquez. First, the Bradley-Pacquiao fiasco had the added drawback of being dull; second, the PPV receipts fell far short of previous Pacquiao bouts; and third, an immediate rematch would have justified the paranoia of those who misbelieved that the fight was rigged specifically to generate a rematch. Bob Arum was certainly not interested in shaking the dicebox on Bradley-Pacquiao II under those circumstances.
Enter Marquez, whose fixation with Pacquiao recalls how Thomas Hearns felt about Sugar Ray Leonard—anguish, resentment, and envy all combined together to form one bitter prizefight trifecta. You change your fate in boxing—if you get the chance—with your own bare, or almost bare, hands, and Marquez is looking forward to trying to make or remake his own destiny. “This fight is more important than the last three,” Marquez said in a press conference. “Because it’s for my legacy. The honor. The pride. For everything.”
Now that Pacquiao, General Santos City, Cotabato del Sur, Philippines, has given up gambling, cockfighting, and the nighthawk bit, much of the coverage surrounding this promotion has focused on the sinister Angel Heredia, AKA Angel Hernandez (or is it the other way around?), and the pompous sourpuss Alex Ariza, who has gone from conditioning wunderkind to unconditional blunderkind in record time. Nitwits of all stripes dominate boxing—which is the reason why, ultimately, any PED movement is doomed to failure—but Pacquiao-Marquez IV has brought some dark allegations forth that threaten to overshadow what should be another competitive fight.
Although Pacqiuao, who turns 34 in a little over a week, is younger than Marquez, he seems to have lost more than just a step recently. The freewheeling attack that left so many fighters looking like they were fending off a swarm of killer bees has been replaced by a much more deliberate style. That furious pace, in place for well over a decade, can whittle a fighter down over time, and Pacquiao, 54-4-2 (38), no longer seems capable of generating such ferocity. And a slower pace favors Marquez, who will have more time to react and put his punches together. Even at 39, Marquez remains a ringmaster, one with few peers in the game. Too often, however, Marquez, Mexico City, Mexico, fights with the patience of an eavesdropper. After having griped about close decisions in the past (against Freddie Norwood, Chris John, and thrice against Pacquiao), Marquez can no longer adopt such studious tactics. Outworked by Pacquiao on three different occasions, Marquez,54-6-1 (39), has to open up more and land precision shots in sequence, instead of in single counters. While Marquez waits, like a sniper in his nest, for the perfect opportunity to strike, Pacquiao is working hard enough to catch the often watery eyes of the judges at ringside. As he showed in their last fight—one which he appeared to edge out–Marquez merely has to step to his left to nullify Pacquiao, whose onrushes grew increasingly ragged from round to round. By adding a little gusto to his style, Marquez ought to be able to catch an off-balance Pacquiao more often than he did in 2011.
Since failing to impress the judges against Pacquiao last year, Marquez has fought only once: a wide decision over Serhiy Fedchenko in April. Retirement cannot be far from his thoughts. But if he loses to his nemesis again, primal scream therapy might loom in his future. “I think what is most important is the obsession of wanting my hand raised,” Marquez wrote on an ESPN Deportes chat. This time around, then, perhaps obsession, that overriding need that drives Marquez forth yet again, gets the job done. All he has to do is fail better than he did the last time.