Manny Pacquiao is the overwhelming favorite (per Vegas Insider) to win the fourth installment of his epic series against Juan Manuel Marquez on Saturday. However, that doesn't mean Pac-Man is an impenetrable force without exploitable weaknesses.
By now, Marquez knows Pacquiao better than any other fighter on the planet. The men already have a trilogy of bouts in the books, all of which have been down-to-the-wire slugfests that went down to judges' scorecards.
On Saturday, Dinamita should walk in fully prepared for yet another down-to-the-wire battle. Still, Pacquiao's last fight against Timothy Bradley exposed even more weaknesses than the ones already well-documented. If he can take advantage of those missteps, Marquez may finally be able to get a win over his biggest rival.
With that in mind, here is a look at Pacquiao's biggest deficiencies in preparation for his epic bout against Marquez.
Throughout his career, Pacquiao has never been known as a defensive mastermind in the ring. It's always been his otherworldly punching power and Brahma bull-like aggressiveness that made him one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in boxing history.
Pacquiao's most glaring defensive weaknesses come against orthodox fighters like Marquez. In the same sense that orthodox fighters oftentimes struggle to defend counter-punches and crosses when facing southpaws, the opposite is true for the southpaw Pacquiao.
When he defends and steps away from an aggressive fighter, Pacquiao opens himself up constantly to easy punches to the head. For a guy like Marquez, who has already faced Pac-Man three times, exploiting this fact will be imperative.
If he avoids over-aggressiveness and picks his spots, Marquez should be able to land an inordinate amount of solid strikes to the upper body.
When facing the all-time greats, familiarity is an easy inroad to superiority. Marquez needs to take advantage of what he already knows and adjust his strategy accordingly.
Dirty little secret: Of late, if you can stick with Pacquiao as the fight goes along, he'll give you more opportunity to land those aforementioned counter-punches.
All it takes is one glance at the scorecards from Pac-Man's loss to Timothy Bradley from back in June. Ahead on all the judges' cards at the midway point, things cascaded downhill for Pacquiao the rest of the fight.
Starting in Round 7, Pacquiao won four rounds the rest of the way. Combined. On all three judges' scorecards.
Say what you will about the ultimate outcome of the fight, but the scorecard results don't lie—either Pacquiao faded down the stretch of the fight stamina-wise, or he coasted because the fight was supposedly in the bag. There's no other logical explanation.
But considering Bradley gave him a strong fight early on, my money is on the former.
Possible Decline in Power
Someone must have forgotten to tell Pacquiao that he's considered the best pound-for-pound power puncher in boxing.
None of Pacquiao's last five fights none have ended in a knockout victory. That's the longest streak of the 33-year-old's storied career and the first time he's strung together more than two non-knockout results since his first three professional bouts.
Even more disconcerting is the almost complete lack of knockdowns in those fights. The last time Pacquiao sent an opponent to the mat was in the third round against Shane Mosley in May 2011. And that was his only knockdown in the past five contests, though Antonio Margarito might as well have been knocked down at points in their contest.
It's wholly plausible 60 professional fights would send any boxer into a decline phase. With the outside-the-ring responsibilities in Pacquiao's life now taking an increased importance, his lack of single-minded dedication toward boxing could simply be expediting that process.
If Marquez can avoid any critical blows in the early rounds and take advantage of Pacquiao's defensive weaknesses as his guard goes down in the later rounds, he may well pull off the upset in Las Vegas.