Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez III: Why This Is Closer Than You Think

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Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez III: Why This Is Closer Than You Think

Juan Manuel Marquez has his wish: another shot at Manny Pacquiao. The fight is set for November 12th in Las Vegas. The two have already fought twice, resulting in two scintillating, back and forth wars.

They seem to be made for each other. Marquez, the patient counter-punching craftsman is 0-1-1 against Pacquiao, the dynamic mega-athlete southpaw, but anyone could have seen each fight go for either fighter. In their first confrontation in early 2004, Marquez was dropped three times in the first round, caught almost unawares by Pacquiao’s speed and (at the time) crushing power. But after losing the second round, Marquez took control of the fight and came back dramatically for a draw. He felt he deserved a decision, as did many ringside observers.

Then, after a series of career mismanagement that led to him losing a title in an ugly fight (that he once again probably deserved the win in) with Chris John for the measly sum of 25,000 dollars, Marquez battled back to the top of the rankings with a feather-in-his-cap win over fellow Mexican legend Marco Antonio Barrera. He fought Pacquiao again in early 2008, again suffering an early knockdown but winning the majority of the rounds. This time, Pacquiao was awarded the decision in extremely close majority fashion. 

Pacquiao has gone onto dominate weight classes above and beyond super-featherweight (130 pounds), where their last fight took place, embarking on a meteoric rise to superstardom.

Marquez enjoyed had similar success, taking on all comers at lightweight (135 pounds) and destroying most of them. The only blemish on his record since then was a twelve round unanimous decision at the hands of Floyd Mayweather, where he was outweighed by 20 pounds and just generally outclassed by an all-time great fighter. And with Marquez’s incessant chattering in Pacquiao and promoter Bob Arum’s ears and public criticism of increasingly sketchy matchmaking for the Filipino star rising, the fight is finally on. 

Sun Tzu, Chinese general and philosopher and author of the celebrated text The Art of War outlines a way of predicting the victor of a battle or war. By applying these principals to a fight, one can get a rough blueprint of the outcome. These are not perfect calculations, but serve as a starting ground.

1. “Which of the sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law (i.e. is in harmony with his subjects)?”

Sun Tzu’s concept of the moral law is one of familiarity and harmony in the camps. This is easily translated to boxing: what is the environment like in training camp and what is the relationship between trainer and fighter? Well both fighters have long, close and even familial relationships with their trainers, Nacho Beristain for Marquez and Freddie Roach for Pacquiao. Advantage: Draw

2. “Which of the two generals has the most ability?”

This could be interpreted in several ways, but I read it as their tactical acumen of the fighters, or in Pacquiao’s case, Freddie Roach. Roach has a reputation as a premiere strategist and is intimately familiar with Pacquiao’s capabilities. But Juan Manuel Marquez has been repeatedly and correctly referred to as the smartest fighter in boxing and has proved his ability to make adjustments on the fly again and again and again.

In a fight with Juan Diaz where he was being outworked and out-hustled by the younger, more energetic fighter, Marquez found the way to slow down Diaz’s left hook (something of a bête noire for Marquez) and land his uppercut until he found the KO in the ninth round. And then he has another premiere strategist in his corner and this is a clear win for Marquez. Advantage: Marquez

3. “With whom lie the advantages derived from  heaven and earth?”

This is a much more abstract category than the others. Sun Tzu means weather and seasons by heaven and indoor arenas have eliminated that factor.  But Earth, “distances great and small, danger and security, open ground and narrow passes,” could easily be interpreted as the ability to control the ring. And the mobility advantage goes clearly to Pacquiao.

One of his most overlooked strengths is his ability to keep the fight at the exact range he wants. His infighting is mediocre at best, often clinching and waiting for the referee to break the two up and his jab is not consistent enough to be used as a tactical weapon on the outside. But such is Pacquiao’s footspeed that he stays right in between the two ranges and it is there that he can best utilize his speed, power and aggression. Marquez is an able mover, but allows himself to be pressured and can be made to look unsettled, if not uncomfortable. Advantage: Pacquiao

4. “On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?”

This is a straight forward conversion. Simply put, which side has the better training camp? In any other case, this one be an easy win for Marquez.

Historically, fighters from Mexico City have had some of the best conditioning in the world. For a view of the sadistic training which Beristain puts his fighters through, including wind sprints and marathons in the huge mountains where the air is so thin, one only needs to watch the episode of Discovery Channel’s Fight Quest in which Beristain is featured and Marquez makes a guest appearance.

But I know the name of Pacquiao’s conditioning trainer. That never happens. Alex Ariza is one of the best in the world and his training routine is so efficient that fighters who train with him are inevitably faced with baseless steroid concerns. Between Mexico’s mountains and Alex Ariza, both sides have it even here.  Advantage: Draw

5. “Which army is stronger?”

Simply put, which fighter has more natural ability? If Marquez and Pacquiao went punch for punch until one of them dropped, Marquez would not make it out of the first round. He has proven this, almost not making it out of the first round of the first fight. Pacquiao is a special kind of talent, with explosive speed and power and an iron chin.

Marquez, for all of his skills and combination punching, does not have eye-catching speed or power, and has a tendency to be knocked down. Pacquiao has the clear edge in the exchanges. The trick is to avoid them. Advantage: Pacquiao

6. “On which side are officers and men more highly trained?”

The other half of the fighter, this is the technical ability of both fighters. Let me tell you something: the reports of Pacquiao’s technical improvements are vastly exaggerated.  Yes, he has added some defensive wrinkles and a new array of punches, including his patented “Manila Ice,” a deadly right hook that sneaks in over the orthodox fighter’s guard. But Pacquiao showed me something in the Mosley fight. He is still the fighter that Marquez and Erik Morales gave trouble at heart.

When Mosley was not available to be hit, Pacquiao grew more and more frustrated, even regressing to the point of throwing a running double-straight left that I haven’t seen in years. It’s visually impressive but leaves his defense completely full of holes. And if there is a fighter to take advantage, it is Juan Manuel Marquez.

He is the most skilled offensive fighter in the world, throwing combinations that bring the boxing purist (i.e. me) to tears of joy. He throws graceful, accurate and shocking combinations. While he is not naturally strong or quick, the accuracy and timing with which he throws his shots almost simulate those abilities.

There are “buttons” on the face where a fighter can land and just put the lights out and Marquez could land a counter-uppercut on the chin in his sleep. And when faced with a superior speedster, the way to counteract that is by throwing at just the right moment to land when there are holes in the defense, then get back and defend yourself. Marquez has shown complete mastery of both skills. Advantage: Marquez

This pre-fight report could not be more even. It came up with two advantages for Pacquiao, two for Marquez and two even. And it makes sense.

Both fights have been deadlocked affairs with much controversy about scoring. There are a few external factors, though, that tip the scales ever so slightly in Pacquiao’s favor. I make absolutely nothing of the weight, although some Pacquiao-detractors have pointed out that Pacquiao has been in a higher weight division for years and that he is bringing Marquez up to a weight where he looked poor in his only other fight. But if one looks at the actual numbers, they would see that Pacquiao has remained the same size while climbing weight classes. The day-before weigh in allowed him to cut from his natural weight of about 150 pounds all the way down to 130.

In every instance since the second Marquez fight, he has weighed between 145 and 148 pounds in the ring. He is not any bigger. But Marquez is 37, and while he has shown resistance to age, nobody can avoid it forever and smaller fighters like him tend to fade long before he has. Because of the 4 year age advantage for Pacquiao, I have to give him a slight nod, but this is by all-means a pick ‘em fight. Hopefully, it lives up to their first two fights, which were torrid affairs, and we can all put the Mosley fight behind us.

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