On Saturday night the great Mexican champion Juan Manuel Marquez gave Filipino superstar Manny Pacquiao his toughest fight in four years, since 2007, when he last fought Marquez. Once again Pacquiao left with a close, less than unanimous, decision from the judges.
And once again Marquez and his trainer Nacho Beristain came away feeling they had been robbed. They left the ring in protest once the verdict was announced, refusing to stick around for the usual post-fight pomp and circumstance.
Pacquiao's own post-fight interview was largely drowned out by the boos of fans who agreed with Marquez.
So Was Marquez Robbed for a Third Time?
"Robbed" is a strong word that implies bad faith on somebody else's behalf, so I do not throw it around carelessly. When you say a fighter was robbed you are accusing somebody of being a liar and a cheat.
I thought Marquez won their 2007 split-decision but it was very close and with Pacquiao scoring the fight's only knockdown, it was not a shock to see him get the decision. I scored the first fight a draw.
I thought Saturday night was a clear victory for Marquez. I had it 115-113 and could see the argument for 116-112 Marquez just as easy as the argument for 114-114 all.
I gave the first round to Pacquiao; it was very difficult to score, but I would assume that any scorecard that had Pacman ahead must have given him the first. Round 2 was again a very close, feeling out round, but I gave it to Marquez. The third was more of the same and I gave it to Pacquiao based on a very solid right hook, the first really good punch of the fight.
During Rounds 4-8 I feel Marquez put on a boxing clinic. The fourth was very close and Pacquiao was acting as the aggressor, but I believe Marquez clearly put the round in the bank in the closing seconds, landing first a very quick, smooth left right combo on a counter, and then scoring big with a right hand that put Pacman on his heels as the round ended.
Round 5 was all Marquez, the least competitive round of the fight. In Rounds 6-8, the action continued to be very competitive but Marquez was masterful at attacking Pacquiao's body, at stepping away from his dangerous left and at using impeccable timing with his own jab to negate Pacquaio's speed advantage.
If I had been watching this fight on some sort of feed that bypassed the HBO broadcast, I would have been confident that Marquez was comfortably in the lead. Instead, I was watching Harold Lederman give his own round by round updates for what I would rate his worst card in my own recent memory. So I knew something was up.
Lederman had Pacquiao up five rounds to three after eight. I just don't see how it's possible. I admit every round but the fifth was close, but I had Marquez up six to two at that point and I just don't see how anybody could have had it less than even.
Thank god at least Max Kellerman was there to point out that somebody else could easily have the exact opposite of Lederman's card.
The HBO broadcast will frankly contribute to a lot of people's perception that the decision was less than legitimate. Clearly, the network that stands to make a couple of hundred million dollars from promoting a Pacquiao-Mayweather pay-per-view was loathe to see that possibility crumble away on one of their own broadcasts, no matter how dramatic the sight.
In Round 8, Jim Lampley was raving about Pacquiao's exceptionally quick footwork, even as Marquez was scoring on Pacquiao with a brutal hook to body, uppercut to head combination!
Does Lampley really not understand that it means nothing if Pacquiao is darting back and forth at all kinds of super quick and agile angles out of range if Marquez proceeds to adjust and claim the superior angle in close where they can actually score?
Lederman kept invoking the term "Ring Generalship" to justify giving close rounds to Pacquiao and by the end of the night I was very keen to know just how, exactly, Lederman judges Ring Generalship.
Because for my money, the edge in Ring Generalship was for Marquez almost all night long. It was a very close fight with two elite, technically sound boxers, both of whom were able to keep clear headed and focused on their agenda. But Marquez much more often had Pacquiao off-balance, and his punches were more accurate and effectively placed.
Moreover, the fight looked pretty much exactly the way Marquez and Beristain had hoped it would look. So how does Marquez not get the credit for Ring Generalship?
Likewise, I found Lederman's claim that Pacquiao deserved the close rounds due to his "aggression" to be very weak. In a fight at this level, aggression itself is much less important than effective aggression, and Marquez had that in spades, like he always does, at least during the middle rounds when he appeared to be building a comfortable lead.
Still, Marquez Has to Put Some of the Blame on His Own Shoulders
I think it is safe to say that most of the people who make a lot of money from professional boxing did not want Juan Manuel Marquez to win. That one judge could have ended up 116-112 for Pacquiao borders on the outrageous for me. At the very least, that judge needs a tutorial in body punching, an aspect none of the judges gave Marquez enough credit for.
But Marquez said himself when being interviewed at one point during the 24/7 show, to take a decision from Manny Pacquiao, (in Las Vegas, no less) he was probably going to need to win almost every round. And down the stretch Marquez did not always fight like he was desperate to win every round.
Round 9 was probably the most exciting round of the fight. Both men let their hands go and scored nice combinations. Both fighters had the other off-balance and in potentially dangerous positions throughout the round.
It was an extremely close round, and I scored it for Pacquiao.
At this point in the fight Freddy Roach was furiously rallying Pacquiao between rounds. It seemed clear that Roach realized his fighter was probably trailing on the cards, or at least could be.
Meanwhile, Nacho Beristain took the puzzling strategy of reassuring Marquez that he was way ahead. Marquez seemed to ease off the gas down the stretch, and while the last rounds of the fight remained competitively close, they mostly seemed to be Pacquiao rounds.
I scored Round 10 for Marquez, though Pacquiao made a strong claim to it when he became more aggressive near the end of the round after getting cut on the accidental head butt. I gave Pacquiao Rounds 11 and 12.
I think this fight will go down as more controversial than the last two, and you will hear the word "robbery" thrown around whenever it gets discussed.
For me too many of the rounds were too close for the fight to be called an outright robbery, especially when Marquez really did lose so many critical rounds late. I saw Dan Rafael's card on SportsCenter after the fight and I believe he had every round scored the same as me, except that he gave Round 10 to Pacquiao—a very reasonable decision—and that made it a draw.
If it had been a draw, I would not even be entertaining this discussion.
The judge who scored it 115-113 got it wrong in my book, but wrong within a margin that I could accept as honest disagreement. The judge who went 116-112 Pacquiao seems to me to be a red flag. There were not eight rounds in that fight where I can see a reasonable argument for Pacquiao.
So did Marquez get robbed? Maybe, maybe not. But to me the biggest part of the story is that he did not press to do everything possible to win late. As a result, a fight he was winning clearly became legitimately too close for me to say that this was a clear-cut robbery.