This Saturday, November 12, 2011, the fighter The Ring ranks No. 1 pound-for-pound in the world, Manny Pacquiao, will meet the man who has been his greatest rival, Juan Manuel Marquez, for a third time.
In May 2004, Marquez came back from three first-round knockdowns and a huge 10-6 hole to more or less give the still-raw Pacquiao a boxing lesson the rest of the way, in route to a draw.
In March 2008, Pacquiao took a razor-thin split decision in the rematch; Marquez maintains he won that fight, and a lot of boxing fans and writers agree with him.
How close have those two fights been? According to the most recent issue of The Ring, if you add up all six judges' cards from both fights, Manny comes out on top by a single point, 679-678.
Reasonable people question whether this third match up will live up to the excitement of the previous two classics. It comes three years after the first sequel, and seven beyond the first bout, a lifetime in this unforgiving sport. The catch weight of 144 pounds is nine above where Marquez has been most effective so far in his career.
So maybe I just don't see this like a reasonable person, because when I hear Marquez and Pacman are going to finally fight for a third and final time, I just think, "Great, it's about time."
Until this fight finally takes place, each man will hang like a shadow in the background of any other fights they make.
Mayweather grabbed attention last week by talking about May 5 of next year as a likely date for a fight with "the little fella," which was widely interpreted as referring to Pacquiao. Yesterday, Boxing Saga reported that it turns out he might have instead been talking about Erik Morales.
The Mayweather pronouncements come after Bob Arum's smack-talk seminar at Pacquiao's media workout day, when he essentially declared that the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight will never take place because Mayweather is scared.
Through all this hoopla, Pacquiao has characteristically kept his mouth mostly shut and his head down and focused on preparing with trainer Freddy Roach for the man who has given him two of the toughest battles of his career.
Just like everybody else, Pacquiao has heard Marquez declare time and again that he was robbed in their last fight, that he really won the fight. It has clearly had a motivating effect on the Filipino Congressman.
While commenting on twitter last Friday during the HBO rebroadcast of their previous fights, Pacquiao vowed that this time "there will not be any doubts."
A lot of fans who bought the Pacquiao-Mosley PPV last May came away feeling burned by the experience, as the main event failed to deliver any of the thrills that one has come to expect from a Manny Pacquiao bout. Mosley, a future Hall of Famer, showed his 39+ years and a never-before-seen timidity over the course of a frustratingly boring fight.
To me, it looked like Mosley got a taste of Pacquiao's power early, was surprised by it, didn't like it and spent the rest of the night running from it.
That's not going to happen with Juan Manuel Marquez, who already knows as much about Pacquaio's famous power as anybody, and who has already demonstrated an ability to adjust to it and eventually negate it.
Moreover, Marquez clearly wants to use this fight to prove once and for all that he is better than the celebrated Pacquiao. Marquez comes into this fight with an entirely different level of motivation than Mosley did.
Even if this fight doesn't end up being as competitive as the past two, expect it to be exciting. Marquez is a warrior who will go out on his shield, trying to win against all odds.
Pacquiao's trainer, Freddy Roach, has gone on record predicting a Pacquiao knockout victory next Saturday night, much like he did during the buildup to the Mosley fight last spring. To be fair, if Mosley hadn't spent that fight on his bicycle, Roach may very well have ended up being correct.
He's going to be wrong again this time, but for a different reason. Pacquiao won't knock out Marquez next Saturday for the same reason he didn't in 2004 or 2008—Marquez is just too good.
In 59 professional fights, Marquez has never been knocked out. Each time he has been rocked in fights over the years, he has proven more resilient than any other elite fighter of his generation.
When he has faced the most furious pressure in the ring over the years, he has time and again responded with breathtaking rallies.
There is no denying that 38 is a bit long in the tooth for any professional athlete, let alone a fighter. But we now live in the era of Bernard Hopkins and Randy Couture. The athletes of this generation long ago learned the importance of a scientific approach to training and nutrition.
Marquez is the kind of smart fighter who can expect to extend his career beyond what is normally viewed as realistic. Watch him train during the HBO 24/7 broadcasts and you will see: He is clearly not your typical 38-year-old man.
Moreover, Marquez has the kind of style that should make him somewhat less vulnerable to aging than many of his peers. He has always relied more on high-level craft and big-time guts than on blinding speed or superior reflexes.
Of all the reasons I have heard for why this third fight will not be as competitive as the previous two, the fact that it occurs at 144 pounds is the one that seems most valid to me. But deciding that Marquez won't be effective at that weight based on his shutout loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. would be a mistake.
Marquez has traditionally had problems with fighters who use movement effectively, and Mayweather is the best of their generation at playing that game. It was Mayweather's significant advantages in reach and speed that made the difference in that fight, not his ability to overpower Marquez with extra weight.
The fact is, Mayweather would have been a terrible matchup for Marquez at any weight.
Pacquiao's ability to move up and dominate at over 140 pounds has truly been remarkable. But against bigger men like Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto or Antonio Margarito, he was able to exploit a speed advantage that will not be nearly as pronounced when he once again battles the smaller Marquez.
A power-punching, left-handed fighter like Manny Pacquiao is always dangerous, and in the first round of their first fight, Marquez learned this the hard way, as he ate repeated left hands from Pacquiao and went down three times.
However, Marquez weathered the storm, and for the rest of the fight, he put on a clinic about how to neutralize, and even dominate, a southpaw. Aside from round three of their rematch, the second fight looked much the same.
Of course, the days of Pacquiao being overly reliant on his big left hand are far in the past. Freddy Roach has developed him into an elite, all-around fighter. But the first step in beating him is still dealing effectively with his southpaw stance. And Marquez has already demonstrated that he's one of the best of his generation at that.
While I expect Marquez to mostly neutralize Pacquiao's southpaw stance, there's no way he's going to get out of the fight entirely unscathed.
To me, the big story when it comes to the later part of Pacquiao's career is not only about the way he has climbed up in weight classes, but also the way he has developed such a dangerous right hand. It's going to be a major problem for Marquez to deal with.
Very few fighters would have even survived the first round of Pacquiao-Marquez I. Marquez not only survived, but came out for round two ready to start all over, down 10-6 on all three cards. He proceeded to climb back into the fight, taking control for much of it, and ultimately earned a draw when crushing defeat had appeared inevitable.
But the ability to come back quickly from being hurt has always been a signature characteristic of Marquez, one of the the things that his made him one of the sport's true greats.
Expect him to need that quality again this Saturday. And expect him to have it once more when he needs it.
Marquez is a classic example of a boxer-brawler, which means he can do a lot of things to hurt an opponent and a lot of things to steal close rounds. An aggressive opponent like Pacquiao brings out the best in him, allowing him to showcase his excellent counter-punching abilities.
And when Marquez looks to counter-punch, he's not trying to snipe shots here and there. He uses counter-punching opportunities to launch his own aggressive attacks.
Against Pacquiao Saturday night, expect brave and durable Marquez to stay in the pocket, weathering "Hurricane Manny" and looking for his own shots. And expect him to land on Pacquiao in a manner we have not seen in many fights.
I think I might be in a minority among boxing fans and observers, but I feel this fight will be a classic just like the last two. I believe Marquez will still prove able to do all the things he has done when fighting Pacquiao in the past.
I think Marquez wins a decision of something like 114-112.
But I also predict we might once more see controversy around the decision. Close scorecards will not bode well for Marquez, and I would not be shocked if the great Mexican champion once more walks away feeling he was robbed.