No fighter can ever hope to strive for greatness without a worthy rival to compete against.
Sugar Ray Robinson had Jake LaMotta, Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier and Manny Pacquiao has Juan Manuel Marquez. For Pacquiao and Marquez, their careers will be forever linked, and their four matchups will serve as defining moments in both fighters’ careers.
In Saturday's bout, the first five rounds were full of action as both fighters showed little fear or hesitation. It all built up to a shocking moment at the end of the sixth round when Marquez caught Pacquiao with a vicious counterpunch that ended the fight.
Matchups make fights, and these two have proven four times now that their respective skill sets create wildly entertaining fights.
Pacquiao is the more talented boxer. He has superior speed and power, and among his contemporaries, only Floyd Mayweather, Jr. can claim to have equal physical gifts.
But Marquez is a gritty, determined and experienced fighter whose best attribute—counterpunching—has acted as Pacquiao’s kryptonite in each of the four fights.
The first three contests resulted in one draw and two victories for the Fillipino fighter, and each decision was met with disagreement from many boxing fans. Regardless of where a person falls in these debates, the contentious and close nature of these bouts cannot be disputed.
But the fourth fight was completely different.
The bottom line for Pacquiao is that he cannot go down as one of the all-time great fighters if he does not clearly establish himself as superior to his greatest rival. The disputed results in the previous fights have not conclusively proven that Pacquiao can go out and decisively win a fight against Marquez; the only clear decision in the series did not go for Pacquiao.
Counterpunching has been so effective against Pacquiao because of his aggressive style. He is incredibly quick, powerful and explosive and when he smells blood, he attacks.
But that leaves Pacquiao open, and fighters with Marquez' poise and savvy know how to take advantage of this. Many referred to the first round in this fight as Round 37, and this proved to be true. Marquez' knockout blow was something he had been setting up and waiting for throughout all four bouts.
Whose legacy was affected more by the latest fight in the series?
Pacquiao needed this victory to solidify his status as one of the truly great fighters of his generation and a near-equal to Mayweather. But after two consecutive losses, boxing fans are left with an exceptionally talented but flawed fighter.
Marquez is not as highly regarded as Pacquiao, but he fully capitalized on a chance to improve his standing in boxing history. He is one of the best fighters of his generation, but he will not be remembered in the same light as Mayweather and Pac-Man.
Still, this victory will have a massive impact on Marquez' legacy. This will be the most memorable bout that he takes part in, and he was able to finally earn that elusive victory over Pacquiao.
With a loss, he would have gone back to being an excellent fighter who was a perfect foil to Pacquiao—but nothing more. Now, he will be forever remembered as a master technician whose patience set up one of the most memorable punches in recent boxing history.