by Eric Raskin
Don't miss the fight replay Saturday night at 9:30 PM ET/PT on HBO Sports.
Powerful images elicit powerful responses. And within the context of sports, the image of Manny Pacquiao leaving a full-body sweat stain on the canvas, eyes shut and body shut down, is as powerful as it gets. An image that indelible creates a lasting memory.
The challenge is to not let it color other memories, memories it has no business intruding upon.
Juan Manuel Marquez knocking Pacquiao unconscious is a moment that those who witnessed it will never forget. It absolutely should impact our current opinions of Pacquiao and our opinions of what he’s capable of in the future. But if you stumbled down the wormhole of social media in the immediate aftermath of Marquez-Pacquiao IV, you also saw a rushing undercurrent of observers using it to revise history. And that’s unfair. If this destructive loss causes people to rewrite and lose sight of who Pacquiao was and what he meant during his remarkable pugilistic prime, that would be a sad aftereffect of an otherwise spectacular night for boxing.
So let’s have a brief history lesson, shall we? Here is a partial list of the men Pacquiao has defeated over the course of his career: Marquez (twice, officially), Marco Antonio Barrera (twice), Erik Morales (twice), Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto, Ricky Hatton, Shane Mosley, Antonio Margarito, Oscar Larios, Lehlo Ledwaba, and Chatchai Sasakul. That list includes five guaranteed Hall of Famers (Marquez, Barrera, Morales, De La Hoya, and Mosley), one probable Hall of Famer (Cotto), and one possible Hall of Famer (Hatton).
Pacquiao has won straps in eight different divisions, from flyweight up to junior middleweight. In four of those divisions, Pac-Man won lineal championships. Even if some of his achievements are cheapened by the proliferation of titles and the politics of boxing, the numbers are remarkable.
If you believed Pacquiao was the Fighter of the Decade at the end of the ’00s, he still is the fighter of that decade. It’s perfectly reasonable to opine that Floyd Mayweather was “better” than Pacquiao all along (as some insisted at the time and others have theorized in the past year or so). But the Filipino fireball accomplished more during those 10 years. He went 23-1-2 with 20 knockouts against opposition that trumps anyone’s. The only blemishes were a technical draw against Agapito Sanchez, a draw against Marquez, and a close loss to Morales that was twice avenged.
Pacquiao has been the face of boxing from the moment he thumped Oscar De La Hoya until now. He carried the torch from Naseem Hamed in terms of elevating the financial ceiling of sub-lightweight fighters. He reached new heights for foreign-born fighters in terms of capturing the attention and fascination of the American public. (Which is to say nothing of what he meant to Filipinos, a standard by which he could be judged the most important athlete ever.)
Pacquiao went from a supremely talented one-handed puncher to a supremely skilled two-fisted boxer who sat among the top two on every pound-for-pound list for five years. And he did it while ranking among the most exciting fighters of his time, a distinction most practitioners of the Sweet Science must sacrifice in order to keep winning.
Over the past two or three years, Pacquiao, who turns 34 in about a week, has slowed down. And twice in that span, Pacquiao has faced Marquez, who clearly has the style and skill to neutralize Pac-Man. Nearly every fighter loses to someone eventually, whether it’s Father Time or a specific opponent who has his number. For Pacquiao, it was a little bit of both.
Pacquiao lost on Saturday night. He lost in brutal fashion. It is a part of the narrative of Pacquiao’s career, and a part that will rightly appear in boldface type or all caps.
But it shouldn’t erase any of the chapters that came before it.
As for the winner of Saturday’s expectations-exceeding slugfest, let us waste no time in beating the drum for the fight that needs to happen next: Marquez vs. Brandon Rios. They were the winners of the two most thrilling fights of 2012. Rios is a junior welterweight. Marquez weighed in just three pounds over the junior welter limit for Saturday’s fight. I recall thinking in 2000 and 2001 that it would be a terrible shame if Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward, the two most exciting fighters of their era, who were then arriving at the same weight (140 pounds, coincidentally), never fought each other. We all know what happened when we were spared that what-if.
The most telling moment of Marquez-Pacquiao IV wasn’t necessarily the sixth-round knockout. In the fifth round, Pacquiao had Marquez hurt, and rather than run or hold, Marquez stood and brawled. Why? Because he knew those moments provided his best opportunity to hurt Pacquiao.
That’s the mentality Marquez brings to the table. Anyone who’s ever seen “Bam Bam” Rios compete knows the mentality he brings to the table.
Let’s bring those mentalities to the same table in 2013.