by Kieran Mulvaney
Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez are indisputably two of the half-dozen best professional boxers in the world. Yet, for all the fame and fortune they have accrued, for all the title belts they have fastened around their waists, for all their familiarity and comfort with performing on their sport’s biggest stage - for Pacquiao, Saturday’s fight with Marquez will mark his tenth appearance in the ring at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, while Marquez will be taking his seventh such bow -- each man arrives in Las Vegas this week knowing that the last time he was here, he left defeated.
It is certainly highly unusual for a pay-per-view to be headlined by two men whose last big fights added an L to their ledger, but then both those defeats were, to put it mildly, disputed.
Pacquiao’s loss, to Timothy Bradley in June, seemed especially larcenous, given that when the final bell rang the consensus ringside opinion was that the Filipino had won by several rounds. The first scorecard, a Jerry Roth verdict of 115-113 for Pacquiao, prompted raised eyebrows at its closeness; few if any anticipated that it would be the most strongly pro-Pacquiao score of the night. In the post-fight press conference, Pacquiao sat in stunned disbelief, his trainer Freddie Roach asserting that the fight had been one of his fighter’s best performances in a while. The surreal nature of the episode was completed by the way the nominally victorious Bradley, who had badly injured an ankle in the contest, quietly addressed the media from a wheelchair.
The boxing world’s collective response to what remains officially a Pacquiao loss has been to pretend it didn’t happen, that two ringside observers had bad nights and that Pacquiao’s stock remains undiminished by defeat.
But whereas Pacquiao has chosen to move on from his official loss, Marquez burns to revisit his. He will be doing that on Saturday, because that loss took place a little more than a year ago to Manny Pacquiao.
Three times now, Pacquiao and Marquez have clashed -- twice at the MGM Grand, once across the street at Mandalay Bay. There are those who feel that Marquez should have won them all; officially, however, he has won none of them. He famously recovered from three knockdowns in the first round of their first meeting to earn a draw that both he and Pacquiao felt should have been scored in their favor. In their second meeting, a third round knockdown turned a 10-9 Marquez round into a 10-8 Pacquiao frame and proved the difference in a close Pacquiao win. And last year, in a razor-thin nip-and-tuck affair, Marquez inexplicably eased off in the final round to help Pacquiao pick up a majority-decision victory.
Each one of those previous fights has been astonishingly close. There is no reason to suppose that the fourth will be any different. Hence, each man has made the assertion that he needs to find a way to finish his opponent inside the distance. Because if, once again, the contest goes twelve full rounds, then one of the two greatest fighters in the world will, for the second time in a row, leave Las Vegas burning with resentment at being denied a victory that he is absolutely convinced should have been his.