by Eric Raskin
The larger the sample size, the more the statistics matter. And by boxing’s standards, this sample size that Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez are giving us is getting to be downright massive. The statisticians and punch counters at CompuBox have analyzed all the trends from the first 36 rounds of Pacquiao-Marquez action (as well as other fights for both men) and presented that data to HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney, and now the two fight writers sit down to discuss what it all means:
Raskin: CompuBox put together a chart showing just how many fewer punches Pacquiao throws against Marquez as compared to his activity against all other opponents, and I found the data to be fascinating. What was your first reaction to seeing those numbers?
Mulvaney: I thought it was an interesting statistical endorsement of what our eyes seem to tell us when we watch these guys fight. Even though Pacquiao has yet to officially drop a decision to Marquez, he has the hardest time figuring him out. Whereas normally Pacquiao’s constant motion is a means to deliver punches from all angles, against Marquez it seems to be a case of just looking for a way in.
Raskin: Indeed. And, of course, Pacquiao’s diminished activity speaks to his awareness of Marquez’s greatest skill: counterpunching. Here’s one additional observation worth mentioning … Against most of his other opponents, Pacquiao has reached a point in the fight where he gets the other man softened up or downright hurt and he’s able to open up and throw with impunity for a while. Other than Round One of Fight One, that hasn’t really happened against Marquez. So does that skew the statistics a bit?
Mulvaney: I don’t know that I’d say that it skews them so much as highlights the fact that Marquez remains consistently dangerous. Marquez never folds; he is always in a position to counter Manny with hard punches. This makes Manny more reluctant to commit, which saves Marquez from the kind of fusillade other opponents receive, which leaves him stronger to consistently land hard shots. And so it goes, on and on.
Raskin: I thought Marquez won the third fight clearly, and I was a little surprised afterward that the CompuBox stats favored Pacquiao. How did you score that third fight, and do you recall being surprised that Manny not only out-threw Marquez but, according to the punch counters, out-landed him as well?
Mulvaney: You know, it’s an interesting thing. I scored the first two fights for Marquez by a point. Watching the third fight unfold, it felt more than the others like a Marquez win. But when I totaled my scorecard, I had a draw. Still, I was a bit surprised by those CompuBox numbers.
Raskin: Let’s talk about an even more controversial decision: Pacquiao vs. Tim Bradley. I found CompuBox’s data very interesting, illustrating how much more offense Pacquiao generated in the final minute of each round against Bradley than he did in the first two minutes. He tried to follow the Sugar Ray Leonard blueprint, and it backfired with the judges. Does any of this have any bearing on Saturday’s fight with Marquez, in your opinion?
Mulvaney: Only in the sense that I think we have all felt for some time that Pacquiao is slipping a little. That he essentially cruised for the first two minutes of every round against Bradley suggests that maybe he is aware of it too, that finally all those fights and all that attrition are catching up to him. But it’s a really good question, and the one area that may have direct bearing on Saturday’s fight is, does this mean Pacquiao won’t be able to bounce around all night, looking for a way in? If not, will he just try and come forward, more flatfooted? And what will that mean?
Raskin: Interestingly, that’s exactly what Roy Jones recommended Pacquiao do when I spoke to him for the blog to get his keys to victory. He said Pacquiao should move less and play the role of stalker/puncher/knockout artist. If he does that, it could well blow up in his face and play right into Marquez’s hands. But the fan in me wants to see Manny try it. We’ll get a different fight from the third one, and maybe we’ll finally get a knockout--one way or the other--instead of a controversial decision. Here’s my last question, and it relates to that. Both guys have claimed they’re looking for the knockout. If you had to handicap it, what’s the percentage chance this fight ends early rather than going to the cards again?
Mulvaney: Man, I still have a hard time seeing this ending early. It could--Marquez had Pacquiao badly hurt in the second fight and we all know what happened in the first fight. But both guys have pretty stout beards, and I’m not at all sure that either man, if he has his opponent hurt, will dare to open up too much. They know each other so well, they know what damage they can do to each other, that there will always be that wariness. That said, I do have a sneaking suspicion that this might be the most consistently exciting fight of the lot, because both guys are keen to end this rivalry with a major statement. What about you? What do you see happening?
Raskin: Like you, I see every sign pointing to a close distance fight. It’s what we’re conditioned to expect from these two. And I think all the talk of knockouts is mostly a matter of marketing. But here’s the thing about boxing: Just when you think you’re comfortable in your knowledge and understanding of a fighter or a matchup, something very unexpected happens.
Mulvaney: I like to say about my prediction abilities: I’ve become very good at predicting what just happened. But I’m looking forward very much to seeing what these two can produce one last time.
Raskin: Yes, it’s bound to be compelling, no matter what. Great chatting with you again, Kieran, enjoy the fight!