Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Manny Pacquiao has been the greatest boxing rivalry of our young century. Since 2004 they have fought three times, with none of the contests yielding a decisive, unanimous decision.
Nobody has given Pacman more trouble than Marquez. According to the record books, Timothy Bradley beat Pacquiao last June, but not a lot of people believe that decision reflects reality.
On the other hand, quite a few people think Marquez has beaten Pacquiao. Quite a few people think he's beaten him twice.
Officially, the record stands at 2-0-1 in favor of the Filipino Congressman. After a draw in their initial meeting, he won by split decision in 2008 and again by majority decision last November.
On my own cards, I have it 2-0-1 for Marquez. And I am hardly alone. Among fight writers, I'm not even sure that I would be in the minority.
Last November, I predicted that Marquez would win a decision on my own card but would drop a highly disputed decision among the judges. Not a lot of people agreed with me at the time, but I was confident and I ended up being exactly right.
This time around, I am feeling slightly more equivocal. With both superstars now firmly in the twilight of their careers, I sense an element of unpredictability around this bout.
But I'm still going to go on the record again predicting a victory for Marquez. And this time I think it will be decisive enough for him to earn the nod among the judges.
And this is how he's going to do it.
This is Basic Boxing 101, but like so many simple things in fighting, it is absolutely crucial. When a southpaw clashes with an orthodox fighter, the first, most essential contest is the battle to establish dominant positioning of the lead foot.
The reason Marquez has given Pacquiao so much trouble in their three fights is because he excels at this. He is a master technician with some of the best footwork in the sport this side of Floyd Mayweather.
Just how bad things can get for Marquez if he fails at this was made vividly clear in the very first round of their first fight. Marquez allowed Pacquiao to get the angle on him and the result was a staggering, three-knockdown round.
Only Marquez's legendary resiliency allowed him to recover and battle his way back into the fight.
The greatest rivalry of the century almost never got off the ground.
Last November, a lot of fans and writers were penciling in an easy win for Pacquiao in his third fight with Marquez.
To justify this, they pointed to Pac's recent performances against the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito, much larger fighters who Pacquiao had brutalized with relative ease.
I wasn't buying it. None of those fighters had Marquez's footwork or his skill for controlling distance and counter-punching aggressively. Few boxers in the sport's history can match him in these areas.
To win their fourth fight, Marquez must continue to do what he has mostly done in their last three fights: force Pacquiao to come forward aggressively, leaving himself vulnerable for surgical counterattacks.
When Pacquiao prepares to deliver one of his stiff jabs, Marquez must make sure he has space to slip left and disrupt it with his own lead left hook.
When Pacquiao attempts to explode forward with his dangerous overhand left, Marquez will need room to fade back and then side step to his left before delivering his own right cross.
Pacquiao has traditionally flustered and overwhelmed opponents by attacking from a dizzying array of angles. Marquez has largely managed to stand up to this because he has made sure to give himself room to adjust and counter aggressively.
Juan Manuel Marquez is among the best body punchers in the sport. He has both the patience to commit to it as a strategy and the necessary footwork and skill to attack in the body without getting into a dangerous position himself.
I feel I must add a caveat here, though. While body punching is one of the most critical aspects of boxing, it is also one of the most overlooked. Unfortunately, many judges today seem to have a regrettable habit of ignoring it when scoring.
This was particularly true in the case of the last Pacquiao-Marquez fight. I don't think the judges gave Marquez anywhere near the credit he deserved for banging Pacquiao's body.
Nevertheless, I am still including it as an essential part of Marquez's blueprint. He needs to follow up his right cross with a left hook downstairs, his lead uppercut counter with a thudding right to Pacquiao's ribs.
When Paquiao inevitably over-committs and misses on his big punches, Marquez needs to whack his torso again and again.
I feel like the judges, after last year's controversy, are going to make sure to pay more attention to what Marquez is doing this time around. I think this time around he will get the credit he deserves when he scores effectively downstairs.
Beyond that, pounding Pacman's body all night long is Marquez's only real hope for winning. He has little chance of coming out on top in a head-hunting battle with the heavy-handed Pacquiao.
The old adage goes "Break down the body and the rest will follow."
Breaking down a physical dynamo like Pacquiao is easier said than done. But by consistently hitting him in the torso, Marquez can certainly slow him down, especially during the crucial late rounds.
Marquez has made no secret of the fact that he believes he deserved the win in all three of his fights with Manny Pacquiao. He feels he has been robbed three times and he'll be going all out to prevent it from happening a fourth time.
But it is crucial that he avoids the temptation to be over aggressive. Even in slight decline, Pacquiao is the quicker, more explosive athlete. Marquez has become his greatest nemesis by playing the foil.
Marquez must remain patient and wait for the explosive Pacquiao to commit himself. Only then can he attack with his own, multiple-punch combinations.
It was an ill-timed aggressive burst that led to Marquez getting knocked down in the third round of their second fight. I still scored the fight for Marquez, but there is no doubt that slip cost him the fight on the judges' cards.
When Marquez has played to his strengths, he has consistently had the upper hand.
Marquez doesn't need to take unnecessary risks. His technical precision and Pacquiao's own aggressive style will give him openings if he waits patiently.
The video linked here was clearly created by a certified Pacquiao hater, but it provides a pretty good demonstration of Marquez picking his spots and then unloading ferociously on his rival.
Even though I scored both of the last two fights for Marquez, I don't consider the fights robberies. They were both hotly contested battles, waged on even terms with the majority of the rounds extremely close.
In the second fight, Pacquiao secured an extra point via knockdown. It was enough to sway two judges' cards in his direction.
Last November, even though I think Marquez again deserved to win, I also think he has to take the largest part of the blame for his majority-decision loss. Down the stretch in that fight, Marquez eased up, allowing Pacquiao to take most of the late rounds.
In the corner between rounds his Hall-of-Fame trainer Nacho Beristain could be heard assuring him that he was way ahead, winning the fight with ease. He seems to have taken it to heart and eased up, as if he believed he was so far ahead he could simply cruise to victory.
It was something of a shock to see him opt for this strategy. During the 24/7 series leading up to the fight he had commented that in order to win a decision against Pacquiao he would have to win every single round.
But he didn't fight that way when it came down to it.
In the last slide, I asserted that Marquez must avoid becoming over aggressive and abandoning his patient counter-punching style.
But Marquez is not the sort of counter-puncher who dances on the outside, looking to sharp-shoot from a distance.
He is a counter-puncher who stays in close range and keeps the pressure on his opponent, staying in range to attack aggressively when the opportunity arises.
To make sure he beats Pacquiao this time, he will need to keep that pressure on for all 12 rounds.