It took Juan Manuel Marquez 39 rounds to drop Manny Pacquiao to the canvas for the first time in their epic quartet. When he knocked him down again three rounds later, it was more than Pacquiao's unconscious body that plummeted to the ground. His entire legacy hit the mat and shattered into a million pieces.
With his sixth-round knockout of Pacquiao, the kind of finish that left no room for ambiguity, Marquez settled the score with the Pac-Man once and for all. While Marquez hadn't technically won any of the three previous fights, at least on the official scorecards, some of the decisions were so dodgy that fans didn't feel the series had a definitive winner.
As Pacquiao lay face down on the ground, it was clear to everyone that Marquez did more in one night than Pacquiao did in three to answer the question "Who is the better boxer?" In the three previous bouts, Marquez had left things in the hands of the judges. Three times, he had left the arena disappointed.
This time was different. As Pacquiao pursued him into the ropes in the sixth round, looking for a knockout of his own, Marquez lined up a perfect counter right hand, sliding it over the top of Manny's lunging blow. What followed was truly shocking.
For the first time since he took America by storm in 2001, Manny Pacquiao was truly and unquestionably knocked out cold. He dropped so fast and landed so hard, many were legitimately concerned for his well-being. His wife, watching ringside, was in near hysterics as what seemed like 100 people entered the ring in the aftermath of the blow.
While it's unclear if his career is over, certainly his reign as boxing's pound-for-pound kingpin is at an end. But what a way to go out—with a bang and not a whimper, even if that bang was Marquez's fist caroming off his skull.
The hard punch even seemed to knock the English language out of the foreign star, who struggled to answer HBO commentator's post-fight questions.
"I started to overconfident," Pacquiao stammered, once again showing how ridiculous it is to question a man after his brain has been rattled and his soul ripped from his body. "I thought I got him."
To his credit, Pacquiao seemed determined to live up to his pre-fight hype. He and trainer Freddie Roach had promised a knockout, and the pride of the Philippines certainly gave his all to deliver it. But the two hardest punches of the night were both Marquez right hands. The first dropped Pacquiao cleanly in the third round. The second ended the night and will reverberate through history.
After all, in many ways, every time Manny Pacquiao steps into the ring, he is fighting not just an opponent, but for his place in boxing lore. Already a first-ballot Hall of Famer, he competes to join a rarefied class of boxing's true elites. Willie Pep, the Sugar Rays, Joe Louis and others of that caliber are his real foes.
And, like it or not, Floyd Mayweather Jr.
When the ramifications of this night are truly pondered, Mayweather will emerge beside Marquez as the bout's true winner. He and Pacquiao, who have been playing chicken with each other for years, have been engaged in a neck-and-neck battle to determine the top fighter of our era.
With no direct comparison, we will look to compare them by how they competed with their peers. Pacquiao has lost five times in 61 career fights and has also fought to two draws. All of Mayweather's 43 bouts have been victories.
Advantage: Floyd. But Pacquiao counters those raw numbers with a more fan-friendly style and an obvious lead in media and public relations. Before the fourth bout with Marquez, they were stride for stride as they raced into history. No one else is even close.
That's what made this such an important fight. Pacquiao's loss, not just of the single fight, but of the rivalry with Marquez, has to vault "Money" ahead of him in any historical ranking. It's hard to forget, as Pacquiao lay on the mat unmoving, how easy a time Floyd had in his own fight with Marquez, winning 120-107 on one scorecard. He toyed with the same man Pacquiao, in the end, could not vanquish.
That means something. If the two never meet in the ring—and with Mayweather already 35 and Pacquiao days away from his 34th birthday, it looks more and more unlikely—it is the little things like this that will decide where we rank both men among the immortals.