by Kieran Mulvaney
Often, the perfect boxing rivalry is encapsulated in a trilogy: One guy wins the first fight, the other guy wins the second, and the third is the decider. Think Manny Pacquiao-Erik Morales, or Morales-Marco Antonio Barrera, or of course Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward. By the time the process is completed, the two men have spent so much time together in the ring and at press conferences that they either detest each other (as did – and do – Barrera and Morales, although the seeds for that hatred were planted before even the first contest) or, in the case of Gatti and Ward, become close friends.
But sometimes three bouts just aren’t enough. Azumah Nelson and Jesse James Leija needed four fights to finish their rivalry, as did Israel Vasquez and Rafael Marquez. Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake La Motta fought six times, even though La Motta won only one of them. Sam Langford and Sam McVey fought each other on 15 documented occasions.
It seems safe to say that Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez will never square off quite that often, but they have elected to go toe-to-toe for a fourth time, when they meet at the MGM Grand on HBO Pay-Per-View on December 8.
Each of their previous encounters has been a fast-paced, tightly-contested affair, and there’s every reason to believe this one will be too. Each man will have plenty of questions to answer, about himself and about his opponent, among them:
Can Pacquiao Find His Power? In both the first and second fights, Pacquiao’s powerful left hand was the difference on the scorecards, dropping Marquez three times in the opening contest, and once in the second. But in their third fight, that power was missing – as it has been, relative to his explosive peak, for the past few fights.
Does Marquez Still Have the Speed? The biggest confounding factor for Pacquiao against Marquez has been that the Mexican is the one opponent who has been able to time him, by combining controlled aggression with precision counter-punching. Doing so requires skill, technique and swiftness, but Marquez is now far bulkier than he was when the two men first fought. He’s also 39 years old. Does he still have the speed to befuddle Pacquiao?
Can Marquez Win the Fight Twice? There is an argument to be made that Marquez deserved to win all three of his fights with Pacquiao; instead, he is officially 0-2-1. Can Marquez do enough to not only beat Pacquiao in the ring, but also, if it goes the distance, convince the judges that he won the fight?
We’ll have a lot more coverage of this contest over the next two months. In the meantime, let us know what you think: Who’s going to win? And how?