Juan Manuel Marquez is still all that Manny Pacquiao can handle, and then some. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Juan Manuel Marquez is 38 years old. For the last three years, save for one awful night against Floyd Mayweather, he's been a lightweight. A blown-up lightweight, in fact. He has won fights over the likes of Joel Casamayor, Michael Katsidis and Juan Diaz. He's been an exciting fighter, having lost a little speed as he's grown older and fought heavier, relying less on his great boxing skill than he used to, favoring toe-to-toe machismo. And he's won because he's been good enough to get away with a style shift.
Fighting last night with a 144-pound catchweight, it was assumed that he would be blown out by his great rival Manny Pacquiao, fighting him now at a point where the Mexican star would just be too old and too small. Marquez, ever the brave fighter, would either go out on his back, in the referee's arms, or at the judges' hands, without putting up much of a fight along the way.
Many protested the fight from the moment it was signed. For a while, I figured we'd get five or six rounds of great action, with Marquez eventually falling. But this week, re-watching the first two fights, I let it creep into my mind that Marquez was still good enough to go 12 rounds.
He did that last night. What I didn't expect was that Marquez was still good enough to win the fight. He was.
While Marquez didn't get the scores in his favor, and leaves another fight with Manny Pacquiao feeling as though he's been robbed, his argument to have his hand raised was valid. So, it should be said, was Pacquiao's. Both of them fought well. The difference is, Marquez outperformed expectations, especially to those who believed he didn't stand a chance. And Pacquiao underwhelmed, especially to those who dismissed the fight as another lame mismatch for the Filipino icon.
Over 12 rounds of tactical fighting, Marquez was brilliant. He stung Pacquiao with right hands upstairs, left hooks to the body, and some beautiful counter shots. It had been three years and eight months since Manny Pacquiao had truly been tested by an opponent.
Marquez, as much as anyone does, has Manny Pacquiao's number. This happens in all sports. Floyd Mayweather Jr had a guy like this. Jose Luis Castillo gave Mayweather all he could handle in April 2002, with many believe Castillo deserved the win. They rematched eight months later, and Castillo still gave Floyd plenty of trouble, losing a decision on scores of 115-113, 115-113, and 116-113.
We saw last night a pair of surefire Hall of Famers duke it out. We saw that Marquez still has something incredible left in the tank. And we saw Pacquaio, not at his peak anymore, dig down and fight him. It's been a long time since Manny Pacquiao had to grit his teeth and try to sort one out in the final rounds, and though he didn't ace last night's test, I'd say from a performance standpoint, he deserves a passing grade.
It takes two to have a fight that good.