By Eric Raskin
They call boxing “the sweet science” for a reason. Sure, sometimes two guys just slug away with minimal technique (and there’s nothing wrong with that, as those who watched James Kirkland vs. Alfredo Angulo last weekend can attest), but at the highest levels, there’s a chess-match element to boxing. With help from the trainers, Freddie Roach and Nacho Beristain, we break down both Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez, head to toe, in order to identify the subtle strategic elements to watch for on Saturday night:
1. THINKING OR SINKING?
There’s no question that Pacquiao has become a smarter, more technically sound fighter over the last six or seven years. But Beristain believes that works to Marquez’s advantage. “Freddie Roach has done a great job making Pacquiao a more complete fighter,” Beristain said. “But that helps us. Before, he was a little wild, throwing different punches from different angles. Now he’s a more efficient fighter, and you can see what he’s doing. Now we know exactly where the punches are coming from.”
2. LIGHTNING LEFT
Pacquiao’s southpaw left put Marquez on the canvas three times in the opening round of their first fight. Marquez defended against it much better over the next 23 rounds, and he has to continue to do that for 12 more if he wants to win. “Pacquiao has a great punch,” Beristain acknowledged. “Every minute of every round, you know you’re in danger. He hits you, that’s it. So we’re trying to find ways to not let that happen.”
3. TWO-FISTED TERROR
For much of his career, Pac-Man was essentially a one-handed fighter. That began to change after his 2005 loss to Erik Morales, and both his right jab and right hook seem to get better with each fight. “The right hand is my baby,” Roach said. “I told everyone I’m not going to be satisfied until Manny’s right hand is as good as his left, and it is at this point. He can knock Marquez out with either hand.”
4. ATHLETE’S FEET
It’s the last thing most fans notice, but Pacquiao’s footwork has gone from one of his worst attributes to one of his best. You don’t see him lunging and stumbling off balance much anymore, and Roach thinks his man’s footwork is the key to the fight. “The thing about Manny Pacquiao is he’s so hard to judge because you don’t know when he’s coming and going,” Roach said. “Manny used to move in only one direction. Now he moves laterally both ways much better.”
JUAN MANUEL MARQUEZ
1. COUNTER INTUITIVE
Marquez is arguably the best counterpuncher in the sport, and while he can counter brilliantly with either hand, it’s the right that packs the most effect. Beristain revealed that counterpunching was something his fighter excelled at from the very start. “When we first started in the gym, when he was a kid, that’s one of the things he did naturally,” Beristain said. “As he got older, he developed it better and better, and now he’s one of the best in the world.”
2. NO BACKING DOWN
Recent Pacquiao opponents like Shane Mosley and Josh Clottey got one taste of the Filipino’s speed and power and started looking to just survive. Nobody expects that response from Marquez. He showed tremendous heart getting up four times over the course of his two fights with Pacquiao, and it’s almost unfathomable that he’ll show any less on Saturday night.
3. A WEIGHTY ISSUE
When he lost to Floyd Mayweather in ’09, Marquez bulked up the wrong way, sporting a spare tire around his waist on fight night. This time, he’s adding muscle. “He can now punch much harder than he ever did before,” Beristain claimed. Roach is prepared for that. “I told Manny to be ready early because Marquez put a lot of muscle on, and why else would he put muscle on except for strength?” Roach said. “I think he’s going to come out aggressive, try to get Manny out of there, and try to make the exchanges start early.”
4. TAKE A SEAT
Roach said simply of his man’s power as a welterweight, “If Manny puts him down this time, I don’t think he’ll get up.” In the first two fights, knockdowns made a crucial difference on the scorecards. Roach has said all along that he doesn’t expect to go to the cards this time. Marquez has never been KO’d before. If Roach has his way, this time his backside will hit the canvas and stay there.