Despite the tortured logic of an army of zealots, history was not revised Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. That Juan Manuel Marquez prevailed over nemesis Manny Pacquiao does not prove he won the previous three encounters, or that he was robbed in not winning. Nor does the sinister right hand that ended affairs in the sixth round prove Pacquiao was overrated, or cheating, or any other nonsense that blockheads who cannot appreciate competition without imbuing it with their warped worldviews would suggest. What transpired in the ring did, however, prove that neither man has ever had a more deserving opponent, and that the knockout remains one of the most dramatic spectacles in sport.
The fight began with Marquez, Mexico City, Mexico, moving to his left, away from the neurological toxin in Pacquiao’s left hand, while reacquainting himself with the conundrum bobbing and feinting just beyond his reach. Looking to establish the unpredictability that augments his power, Pacquiao used footwork and angles to bury home straight lefts over the first two rounds. Unintimidated by the fury that has paralyzed so many, Marquez slammed his fists into Pacquiao’s body in retaliation. Pacquiao, General Santos City, Philippines, was winning the fight with his speed and left hand, but a pattern was emerging, and a pattern—in its repetition and predictability—favored Marquez.
In the third round Marquez, 143, exploited that pattern. Feinting a jab to the body, he got Pacquiao to lower his hands and move to his left to avoid the punch. Marquez intercepted the escape with a looping right hand that smashed into Pacquiao’s jaw. On his back for the first time in nearly a decade, Pacquiao regained his feet and banged his fists together in an invitation to combat. But Marquez would not be goaded into a fight, save for a heated exchange as the round ended.
The fifth round saw Pacquiao, 147, return the favor, lancing Marquez with a left hand that forced his glove to the canvas. Having been dropped by Pacquiao four times previously, Marquez rose undeterred and welcomed his antagonist’s aggression with a hard right hand. Pacquiao wobbled him again with a right hook, but Marquez confidently let fly with his own shots as the round closed. Returning to his corner, blood flowing from his nose, Marquez looked unperturbed by the consequences of the round. It was more than familiarity, both with the canvas and the follow up onslaught, that preserved Marquez’ cool. A waning tempest, Pacquiao was still dependent on the athleticism that had begun taking its leave years prior, and Marquez, with a style conducive to longevity, was finding it easier to parse the riddle before him. In the next round he would provide his final answer.
Pacquiao’s feints and left hands carried the action for all but the final seconds of the sixth round. In those fateful last ticks of the clock, Marquez sealed his greatest victory. As Pacquiao stepped in with a jab Marquez dipped to his left and uncorked an overproof right hand that shook Pacquiao to his boots. Pacquiao pitched forward in an unconscious heap, and referee Kenny Bayless waved the contest off without a count at 2:59 of the sixth round.
A knockout this chilling, one that had his wife in hysterics and his promoter wearing the look of a pall bearer, is liable to haunt Pacquiao for some time. Of course, no fighter is better equipped for consolation than Pacquiao, now 54-5-2 (38). Without taking into account the fame, the millions of dollars, and the professionalism and comportment that typified his career, the violence itself promises some relief. Having wreaked similar destruction on a number of men over the course of his career, Pacquiao was certainly aware that such an outcome was always mere inches from reality. Better that Pacquiao be shown the black lights by a fighter worthy of the task and distinction that accompanies it, a man who had fought him on even terms over 42 unforgettable rounds, than by a fighter whose only merit is youth. There is honor—and some solace—in this loss to Marquez. “Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose,” Pacquaio said, with a smile, in the aftermath. It is unlikely that he was feeling as philosophical as he tried to appear. Yet however trite his words were, he was right. And he will wager with that fortune again.
The man who landed the already legendary recumbentibus was less committal about his future. Marquez, 55-6-1 (40), now has the accolades Floyd Mayweather, Jr. was unwilling to earn, and his scarred face deserves more than ever to be chiseled into the pantheon of Mexican greats. There are a number of compelling matches available to Marquez if he chooses to continue fighting; a rumble with rancorous Brandon Rios being the most spellbinding of the lot. But when questioned about his future, and in particular a fifth fight with Pacquiao, he wished only for rest and a conversation with his family. Marquez gives the impression that he has nothing left to prove, and that he has achieved a semblance of closure in stopping Pacquiao after coming up short in three previous tries. That logic is hard to dispute.