by Kieran Mulvaney
Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez are many things. But they are not the kind of men to publicly trash their opponents. For this, we are grateful. Boxers and their camps throwing punches at each other at press conferences and weigh-ins may make for colorful copy and endless highlight reels, but it’s rarely an edifying experience.
So the final press conference for what both men insist will be their final in-ring meeting was relatively swift, perfectly smooth, and entirely polite. The mood was light. Promoter Bob Arum, running through the list of sponsors, highlighted the presence of pistachios in the media room. The Filipino and Mexican representatives in the upcoming Miss Universe pageant smiled and towered over their respective countrymen, and everyone said all the right things about respecting the other team.
But almost unnoticed was the fact that, throughout it all, Juan Manuel Marquez did not crack a single smile.
He can be a serious type at the best of times anyway, of course. This is, after all, a man who has been known to drink his own urine if he thinks it will help him defeat his opponent. But he is rarely the scowling kind, and his lack of emotion during the festivities hinted at the resentment that is burning inside him after three closely-fought contests with Pacquiao, none of which he has been adjudged to have officially won. He opened the window on that emotion a little more widely just prior to the press conference, when he sat down with a few reporters in the MGM Grand.
Asked what his motivation was for fighting his nemesis yet another time, Marquez didn’t hesitate.
“I want them to raise my hand in the ring,” he said. “People tell me, ‘You really beat him,’ in the last three fights; a lot of people feel I beat him. But I want to have my hand raised. I want the judges to really look at what they’re doing and get it right this time.”
Does it bother him that if he loses again, his defining legacy might be, “Juan Manuel Marquez was a good fighter. He just wasn’t as good as Manny Pacquiao?”
“I think everyone has seen the three fights,” he countered. “I don’t think anyone can just say ‘he lost’ because I didn’t. There have been decisions; they’ve been wrong decisions.”
Marquez doesn’t just think he could have legitimately been judged the winner in one or more of his contests with Pacquiao; he knows, in the very core of his being, that he won them -- all of them -- and that those victories were taken from him. Indeed, he admitted, in the immediate aftermath of his majority-decision loss to Pacquiao 13 months ago, his initial reaction was to exclaim, “What’s the point?” But then, he continued, “I sat down with my team, sat down with my family, and we decided that maybe there’s an opportunity for a fourth fight.”
That fourth fight is a chance that Pacquiao says he was happy to afford his rival, “so maybe he can prove something.” But what at first sounds like an altruistic gesture soon reveals itself to be something of a sly dig. Speaking to the same reporters after Marquez had left, Pacquiao, rarely one to say much bad about anyone, let slip his own mask of frustration. The Filipino, it seems, has had enough of his rival’s complaints, particularly given Marquez’ counter-punching style.
“He always claims he won the fights,” he protested. “So he needs to prove something. You cannot say, ‘Yes I won the fight’ when you are always backing off. It’s contradictory. If you’re claiming that you won the fight, then you have to press the action.”
Perhaps most telling was each boxer’s reaction to the suggestion that, when all this is over and each man is resting in the Happy Valley Boxers’ Retirement Home, they might be able to bury the hatchet and perhaps, like Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward, become friends.
“All my opponents, I have always treated them as my friend, my brother,” said Pacquiao.
Marquez responded differently.
“After what happened in the first three fights I don’t think we can ever have a personal relationship,” he insisted.
Told of his opponent’s response, Pacquiao offered a slight shrug and a brief flicker of disappointment.
“That’s his problem.”
It seems safe to say there will be no brotherly love in the ring on Saturday night.