By: CARNILO DACULAN
What made December 8, 2012 a top three moment in boxing history is not the punch thrown by a hulking Marquez that was heard all over the world and rendered Pacquiao senseless for close to two frightening minutes. Among other conjectures, the quadrilogy answered a series of questions nine years in evolution. As the boxers themselves morphed into their country’s national sporting heroes and the more famous Pacquiao appeal crossed boundaries unheard of for a dirt-kid Asian boxer, we fans continue to muse on our boxing generation’s greatest. Here’s my take on Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez rivalry.
The Boxer-Puncher Equation
Who is the better boxer? This is the most hotly debated question between Pacquiao and Marquez and the fourth fight is supposed to answer this question. But lo and behold! The living history has a way of spawning only science can gloat in envy.
On the dying seconds of the 6th round in a Pacquiao onslaught, the resilient Marquez – bloodied and nose broken – pulled a Rocky Balboa moment with the precise series of movements of a brilliant boxer-technician: he anticipated Pacquiao’s 1-2 combo (right jab and left straight) by stepping to his left, moved also his head to the left, planted his right foot to serve as the anchor, timed Pacquiao’s combo and sneak in the right punch before Pacquiao can launch the coup de grace left straight. It was a split second “2-inch” punch (as Roach calls it) that Marquez waited and trained all of last nine years of boxing life at the Romanza Gym. The miracles of plyometrics (and hopefully no PEDs) were in full display in this sequence, I call it the “sweetest experimental gamble in the science of boxing.” Marquez delivered the coup de grace himself. Floyd Mayweather – the other missing link in the Pacquaio-Marquez rivalry – aptly termed them “inches”. He wins fights by “inches”, mistakes that his opponents made and capitalized on it like a physician in surgery.
But going back to our question: who is the better boxer? Obviously, Marquez KTFO’ed Pacquiao but prior to that Pacquiao dominated the fight and was ahead on all the judges’ scorecards. Roach assessed it this way: “Pacquaio was boss. He was in charge before he walked into that big right of Marquez.” Pacquiao also won their last two fights by split decision (in 2008, by mere 1 point difference!) and majority decision (in 2011, by mere 1.5 round difference!). With these statistics, what then is our conclusion?
The fourth fight is conclusive in a lot of ways. After 42 gruelling rounds, it appears that Pacquaio is the better boxer but Marquez is the harder puncher! There you go. And the 5th fight? It will not make sense, if only Pacquiao is out for blood. His pastors will tell him though that the Holy Book does not support it and “if your enemy slaps your left face, give him the right.” Unless, these pastors have hidden motives themselves, and decide to interpret the Bible to suit their whims.
Lest I digress, let me ask few more questions: why does Pacquiao sell more fights than Marquez? Why are Manny’s previous knockouts more spectacular than Juan’s? This brings us to the next equation on why is Pacquiao more successful than Marquez in terms of achievements and fan appeal.
The Success Equation
In an interview prior to Pacquiao vs. Marquez IV fight, Marquez the crybaby not only alleged that he won the last 3 fights but that “Pacquiao took away my life.” He was referring to the number of fans, endorsements, HBO box-office appeal, even P4P rating.
If we look at each boxer’s history, Pacquiao started plying his trade in 1995 as a 16-year old strawweight (105 lbs.) boxer while Marquez probably started at super bantam weight (122 lbs.) in 1993. Pacquiao traversed several weight categories and went to fight for the 8th belt at light middleweight (154 lbs.) with Antonio Margarito in 2010. That is a difference of 49 pounds. Marquez’s highest weight category where he contested a championship belt is in welterweight (147 lbs.) where he first fought Floyd Mayweather in 2009. That is a 25 pound difference altogether.
Why are these statistics important to the success equation argument? One thing is clear: Pacquiao being Pacquiao – what Tim Starks call “a gunslinger who goes down with his pistol blazing” – is a risk taker par excellence, a quintessential embodiment of what boxing is both in life and metaphor. One who came from abject poverty and who can look at the poorest person straight to his eyes and tell him “I know how it feels. I once was one.” The dictum “throwing caution to the wind” does not embody the Pacman. He is “the caution riding the wind.”
Marquez is more like business suit compared to the Pacman. He is a thinking man strategist. The sad thing about it is that he is not a trailblazer unlike Pacquiao. He hates it that he follows Pacquiao’s footsteps. He did not venture beyond his comfort zone (fighting at 135 lbs.) until he saw the trail that Pacquiao created for him in 2009. For Marquez, it is always the baby steps. For Pacquiao, it is the long strides to success.
And why not, with Freddie Roach by his side?
The Trainer Equation
The mental conditioning of Marquez as a fighter is very much molded by Nacho Beristain, his only and lifetime trainer. Nacho is the best proponent for counter-punching in boxing. For him that is the best model. He tells his boxers to wait for the opponent to attack and then hit back with angle shots to the body and head. It is a very effective strategy but not the most exciting. It works based on the concept of economy: thrift deadly punches that come as one-two. Not the punches in bunches like what Pacquiao does. Nacho tells his boxing students not to leave themselves open by initiating the fight but to wait for his opponent to throw the first punch, find the hole in the defense, then attack with power and precision. It does not amaze me that Marquez was quite as thrifty with his punches as with his ambition. He is a four division champion, that’s great. But compared to an eight division champion in Pacquiao, he is half as great.
Pacquiao will never be Pacquiao without Freddie Roach. Manny was a one-handed slugger who measures his opponents with his quick right jabs before flooring them with left straight. That has always been the formula of Pacquiao’s success before his 2001 US debut with Ledwaba. It became very prominent when he lost to Morales in 2005 and the rival’s solution was quite simple: negate Pacquiao’s left power punch by moving to Pacquiao’s right. But not until Pacquiao discovered the now famous Manila ice (a right hook) and who else concocted it? Yes, who else, but Freddie Roach.
The method of Freddie Roach is a lot flexible compared to Nacho’s as it works on the strength of his boxer. Freddie admitted that his life as a boxing trainer changed the moment Manny Pacquiao walked into his Wild Card Gym in 2001. Several moons later, Pacquiao accepted the fight with Ledwaba as a substitute boxer with 2 weeks’ notice. It started the legend as Pacquiao not just dominated his opponents but endeared himself to the boxing public.
Freddie’s approach in boxing is quite simple too: it is your job to knockout your opponent before he knocks you out. For him, real boxing ends in a knockout. The perfect match was made in 2001: a gunslinger Pacquiao hiring a gunslinger coach who once had a record of 26-1 prior to 1982 and whose best payday as a boxer was $7,500 (I’m not sure though if this accurate). Roach is a risk lover himself who kissed the canvass several times as a boxer before calling it quits in 1986. This was how his final bell toll several years after his famous boxing coach Eddie Futch recommended his retirement and resigned as his coach. This was also how he developed his patience as a trainer and boxing strategist, still under Eddie Futch, when he realised that his boxing career is over at an early age of 26.
Pacquiao always has that mentality of a trailblazer. With Roach’s guidance as a trainor, he improved his defense, diversified his punches and added more science to his repertoire of skills as a boxer. Pacquiao had the tools of a good champion; with Roach around, he became a great champion and collected 7 more titles in different divisions.
The Conditioning Coach Equation
Pacquiao evolved into a great boxing specimen with the aid of Alex Ariza, his strength and conditioning coach. It is not just cardio research, supplements and protein shakes, but mainly roadwork and plyometrics. Ariza probably joined the Pacquiao team in 2005 when Pacquiao ventured into the 135 pound division. His main role really was to bring Pacquiao’s power and speed in the higher division. So far that has been the case until he decided to be more publicly outspoken and wanted to take a bigger share of the Pacquiao popularity pie. But don’t get me wrong: Alex is best at what he does.
However, it appears like he is a midget compared to the enormous talent of Angel Hernandez. All things taken equal, Hernandez did one hell of a job transforming Marquez’s physique into a hulk through exercise and supplements. Marquez at age 39 will beat all the younger Marquezes in his career spanning all of 19 years. The old Marquez is not just heavier but way, way stronger than the one who won four championship belts. Gee, in my fantasy, I even thought that Marquez can KO either Cotto or Margarito faster than what Pacquiao did. Marquez is not just stronger but also more resilient, a mental toughness that belies his achievements. If Marquez is 30 or 32, I’d love to see him trample Pacquiao’s achievements by winning 9 divisions as a boxer. With Angel Heredia by his side of course. Or even Balco boss, Victor Conte. And follow Nonito Donaire’s lead: drug testing for 24/7/365, i.e. random testing all year round. In that way, there will be no questions asked after Marquez wins his 9th division title and donate all of his championship gloves – with his signature, of course – to his Mexican President for posterity’s sake. This will also shut Mayweather’s mouth since I suppose, in this fantasy world, Mayweather is presumed to kiss the canvass for good in his second fight with Marquez. Marquez and Justin Bieber will then record songs together after Justin decides to break-up with the Money Team. Marquez will become so popular that he will be a boxer, singer, politician, actor and philanthropist rolled into one. He will also grace the Time Magazine as the man of the year and will finally tell Pacquiao “this is my life and I have taken it back.”
The Lone Trajectory
Should Pacquiao fight again, the fifth tussle with Marquez makes no sense at all except for its financial windfall. It will be the most lucrative but the least satisfying of the fight and will be the snooze of the decade. Note that by this time, Marquez will be 40 and it is on Pacquiao’s hands that the health of Marquez lies. Manny can be KO’ed himself but if he KOs Marquez the way he was made to swallow his bitter pill on that fateful Vegas night, it will be Pacquiao’s conscience at stake. Revenge is never better, especially if served as a cold dish. It will ruin lives, friendships, legacies and everything in-between. Pacquiao’s main mistake in fighting Marquez the fourth time was not his overconfidence. It was his proud heart. After the defeat, Pacquiao woke up from a more dangerous slumber and found himself the man that he really is: a humble pugilist in a narcissistic boxing world. Pacquiao gave Marquez the chance to see who the real Marquez is too. Juan salvaged his pride as a boxer; it is his turn to search for inner self of contentment and peace. That is for him tread and find out.
As for the lone wolf, Floyd Mayweather, he can babble all he wants but his legacy is never defined the way Ali vs. Frazier was, the way Leonard vs. Hearns was…the way Pacquiao vs. Marquez was.
Photo Credits: Al Bello/Getty Images