When they first touched gloves in 2004 at the MGM Grand, Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez put on a show that opened the eyes of a lot of people in boxing. Pacquiao, the Filipino phenom, showed he was going to be a force in the sport for the next decade. Marquez, a proud Mexican fighter who'd gone overlooked in the shadow of both Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales, showed that he would be one of the most durable and smartest fighters of his era.
We know how that fight ended, a draw. We also know how the subsequent two fights in 2008 and 2011 ended, Pacquiao victories which have been questioned and debated ever since.
Now we come to the rare fourth fight between two men who are tailor-made for one another. The last time we saw this wasn't too long ago and involved another Marquez. After a truly epic third fight to cap their legendary trilogy, Israel Vasquez met Juan Manuel's little brother, Rafael, for an unwarranted fourth time in May 2010, and it ended his career. He was knocked out after going down twice in the third round, evening the series at 2-2 and showing that the rivalry had more than run its course.
At age 39, Juan Manuel Marquez shouldn't be where he's at in the sport. Historically, fighters who've been in as many wars as he has fade much quicker and their body simply cannot produce at the same level it did in their prime. But that's what makes him such a great and dangerous opponent. His preparation is as renowned as his cerebral approach to the fight game and his ability to get put on the canvas, get up, shake it off and then pick his opponents apart.
Pacquiao, meanwhile, may finally be stepping back into the ring with something to prove not only his critics, but to himself as well. I went on record before the third fight in saying the killer instinct which he displayed so amazingly through his career may have finally ebbed in favor of being a polished fighter. Moreover, based on his performance against Marquez last year, I think Pacquiao was very lucky to get that decision, because I thought the case could be made that Marquez not only outsmarted him, but outboxed him as well.
Now, following the still incomprehensible decision loss to Timothy Bradley on June 9, and the ever expanding political aspirations, Manny Pacquiao does not have many more reasons to get back in the ring. Even though at 33, he's capable of being a challenge for anyone who stands across from him, it is clear that if he was to retire after this fight, he wouldn't have much else to prove.
"Wait, wait, wait!" I hear you shouting. "What about Mayweather?" What about it? The window on that fight is shut and there's no incentive to open it. Mayweather made his demands, Pacquiao made his, and the fight we all wanted to see never materialized. It's over. Let it go.
The message from the Pacquiao camp has been consistent, as Freddie Roach likes it to be. Manny's in great shape, the past distractions are gone and they have a singular focus to knock Marquez out and put a definitive cap on the rivalry once and for all.
Marquez, meanwhile, is sticking to his guns in saying it should be he, not Pacquiao, who won the first three fights and he will step into the ring Saturday night to make sure this time he will walk out with the victory.
Two of the greatest fighters of their generation will come together one more time at the MGM Grand Saturday night, with no title on the line. It will just be two men getting together one more time and trying to decide once and for all, who's the best.
Either way, if the fight lives up to the previous three, it may be the perfect swan song for both Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez.