By Kieran Mulvaney
Manny Pacquiao was sitting in the press conference room, his body straining against the confines of a white T shirt. It was hard to believe he could squeeze his frame into 130 pounds; as it turned out, it would be the last time he did so, his final fight before beginning a march through the weight classes that would carry him to the very top of his sport.
On that 2008 Las Vegas morning, Pacquiao was just three days away from his rematch with Juan Manuel Marquez, a contest that would mark the eleventh time in twelve contests that he had squared off against a Mexican opponent. It was a sequence that had earned him the nickname the 'Mexican Assassin' or, more cleverly, 'The Mexicutioner,' but Pacquiao shook his head in displeasure at the label.
"I don't like that one," he said. "I'm just a fighter doing my job. I know the Mexican people want Marquez to win on Saturday and also my people want me to win on Saturday. It's just a sport."
He emphasized that feeling in the opening episode of 24/7, the latest season of which is airing on HBO each week until Pacquiao’s third encounter with Marquez on November 12.
"I do not like the nickname 'Mexicutioner'", he repeated. "I love the Mexican boxing fans and that name does not reflect my true feelings about Mexico and its people."
It is a quote that highlights, as does 24/7, Pacquiao’s persona: outside the ring, quiet and respectful; on his way to the ring, cheerful and smiling; but, once he has stepped between the ropes, an intense fighting machine without contemporary peer.
It just so happens that the great majority of his biggest fights have been against Mexicans or fighters of Mexican descent: From his two dominant wins over Marco Antonio Barrera, to his enthralling trilogy with Erik Morales, his career-boosting annihilation of Oscar De La Hoya, his beatdown of Antonio Margarito and, perhaps above all, his draw and razor-thin win against Juan Manuel Marquez.
Marquez continues to insist that he was the rightful victor of both those contests, an ongoing assertion that has apparently started to irk even the mild-mannered Filipino.
"He talks a lot, and it’s not good for a fighter to talk a lot without action," he said recently. "Me, I don’t talk a lot. I just do some action […]That’s why I train hard, because I want to end this, all the doubts. This is our last fight."
I was ringside for their first meeting, my eyes widening at the violence of a first-round assault in which Pacquiao floored Marquez three times before the Mexican somehow hauled himself back into the contest; at that 2008 rematch, a back-and-forth tussle that swung the Filipino’s way largely courtesy of a third-round knockdown; and at fights with Barrera, Morales, Margarito, David Diaz, and De La Hoya, the constant factor at them all being the almost deafening roars that accompanied every punch, the Filipino and Mexican contingents in the crowd matching each other decibel-for-decibel.
It will be the same on November 12, a packed MGM Grand Garden Arena crowd screaming intensely as a storied rivalry that stretches back almost eight years finally reaches what is all but certain to be an explosive denouement.