Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez have come to symbolize much of this era in boxing. Two tremendous talents, they have manufactured a rivalry which showcases all that is good about boxing. Their battles have been cause for much celebration over the last nine years, and it is to be deserved. I don't expect any of that to change after their fourth tussle.
Their first three fights have all been excellent to varying degrees. Their first, contested at featherweight in the spring of 2004, was an instant classic. Fresh off his breakthrough demolition of a near-prime Marco Antonio Barrera, Pacquiao rolled into this fight with more momentum than James Toney rolling down a hill. Marquez himself was nearly flattened by it in the first round when he tasted the canvas three times. Amazingly, Joe "I didn't see a thing" Cortez didn't panic or stop the fight or anything. He simply let them fight on. And fight on they did. The next 11 rounds were largely dominated by Marquez's boxing skills giving a younger, more archaic Pacquiao fits. When the scores were added up, the bout was declared a draw. Maybe you feel Pacquiao won. Perhaps you thought Marquez won every round after the first. Either way, this was a time when I feel a draw wasn't such a terrible call after the epic battle that occurred in the ring. Regardless, these two gave us one of the best fights of 2004.
Their second match was fought just four pounds north, though four long years later. Each man was a little heavier, and, perhaps, a tad slower. Nevertheless, they enthralled us with a fight I would rank as the second best fight of 2008, a special encounter that left us begging for the days of 15-round fights. In another razor-thin battle, Pacquiao took home a split decision, a third-round knockdown being the difference on the cards.
The third fight, taking place just last November at a catchweight of 144, is generally regarded as the least and I would have to agree. That said, I would be lying if I told you it was a bad fight. In another extremely high-level boxing match, Marquez appeared to most observers to get the best of his rival. For long stretches he outboxed Pacquiao, using his jab, straight right hand, and the occasional left hook to the body to keep the Filipino congressman off balance. It wasn't a shutout or anything, and Pacquiao certainly won some rounds. But the majority of the effective work seemed to be done by Marquez. Going with the aggressor, the judges gave the win to Pacquiao via majority decison.
Now we are here. Just a mere 60 hours or so from now their fourth fight will have already come and gone. It almost feels surreal. After Saturday, it's virtually guaranteed we will never see another heated contest between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. I know that brings a feeling of relief to some of you, but to me it brings a feeling of uncertainty. I have grown up watching these two men over the last decade as both a boxing fan and as a young man. Knowing without a doubt that this is it, this is really it for these two as rivals, gives me a sort of empty feeling. Maybe I'm being all romantic and gushy about it, but when you have spent so many Saturday nights sitting in your living room with family and friends watching these two men do battle, it brings a reminder that we are not getting any younger, and that yet another era is ending.
I've grown up listening to my father talk about immortal men like Roberto Duran, Ray Leonard, Alexis Arguello, Carlos Monzon, and Joe Frazier. I would be forced to sit there and hear how Duran made Esteban Dejesus crawl across the ring near the end of their third fight, trying in vain to reach the ropes so that he could pull himself up and beat the count. Or I would hear about how one of my grandfather's favorites, Goerge Chuvalo, was able to land a glancing left hook on Muhammad Ali in the last round, and how for one fleeting second it caused my grandfather to leap and yell.
Someday, I hope to make a son of mine roll his eyes as I tell him about the way boxing used to be. I'll tell him how Juan Manuel Marquez got dropped three times in the first round and somehow got up, broken nose and all, to outbox Manny Pacquiao the rest of the way. I'll also let him know how Pacquiao could turn a fight on one punch and tell him about the time in the second fight when it looked like Marquez was going to take an early lead on Pacquiao until one left cross in the third round forced Jim Lampley to scream, "DOWN GOES MARQUEZ!".
Maybe you're relieved about this rivalry coming to a close. That's understandable. We've seen three fights and, frankly, there has been very little difference to the manner in which they were fought. Marquez boxes while Pacquiao flurries in spurts. But I can't help but think their fourth battle is going to be special as well. Like its predecessors, the style matchup is great and the egos in the ring won't allow it be anything less than good.
So I'm going to cherish Saturday night. Maybe I'm a fool and a "mark", but I like the security that a fight between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez brings. And, maybe, I just don't want to grow up.