In the lead-up to the weekend, there are various determining factors that, eventually, help conclude whether Fighter A is a bet versus Fighter B, be it price, form line, mutual opposition, venue, weight, knockout percentages, and so on and so forth. Unlike most other sports, however, where such statistics can stretch back over various seasons, what's usually not available for analysis in boxing is the two competitors' head-to-head records, their performances not only against those around them, but a shared history, a body of work that tells us conclusively what has gone before between the pair.
It would be fair to say that Manny Pacquiao (-240) and Juan Manuel Marquez (+250) have that history.
Saturday's latest instalment - the fourth in the saga - was arguably neither required nor heavily demanded, but it should at least draw some kind of line under a series now that's over eight years long and, with it, one of the best in-ring rivalries we've seen over the past few decades. What does it actually achieve, though? The answer, save for giving us one of the year's biggest boxing events, likely another entertaining, elite-quality fight and making a hell of a lot of money in the process, is probably not a lot. That's no bad thing, of course, but, when framing it in the context of a specific Pacquiao-Marquez narrative - should you be inclined to do so - it's hard to deny this is anything much other than a lucrative dead rubber.
Statistically, Pacquiao is 2-0-1 up over Marquez, but whether we're looking at a final tally of 3-0-1, 2-1-1, or even 2-0-2 come Sunday morning, there's never likely to be a clear consensus - at least among objective observers - that this particular league table reads like it really should. Though hotly disputed, last November's catchweight split-decision Pacquiao win is perhaps as close as there's been to unanimity with regard to the outcome - the problem with that being, of course, the prevailing belief that the judges got the official verdict wrong. There's a case for Marquez being 3-0 as much as Pacquiao being unbeaten over the course, but what's more difficult to dispute is that, three fights in (and counting) there's anything more than a handful or so of the 36 completed rounds separating them.
2004, 126lb. 2008, 130lb. 2012, 144lb. 2013, 147lb. The more things change, the more they stay the same. There have been countless articles written about this fight already, many of which will, once again, closely examine the style matchup here, many dissecting the footwork of Pacquiao, the counterpunching ability of Marquez, and probably many throwing in a few jokes about each being the other's Kryptonite or something, too. This doesn't need to be one of them. The reason being it may be that we know what Pacquiao-Marquez IV looks like already.
Or do we? One of the distinct features of this particular build-up is the assertion from each man that they're going looking for the knockout. We do, of course, hear that most weeks, from most fighters, in most fights, and finding a long-term correlation between a boxer promising a stoppage and then actually delivering would be problematic at best. There are other elements in play here, though. Marquez, in response to not getting the judges' nod once again, has made drastic changes to his approach, bulking up with a focus on power, pledging that, this time, he won't let it go to the cards. Pacquiao, meanwhile, has a different motivation than before, too, coming into this fight off the back of his own questionable points reverse against Bradley, his first loss overall since Morales in 2005. The message from him, too, is a familiar one - that, in response to what he perceived to be Bradley's negative tactics last time out, a blowout of Marquez on Saturday would simply be a case of ‘doing his job'.
It would be no real surprise to see this played out slightly more aggressively than last November's more cagey affair, but age could be a determining factor here. It seems improbable, for example, that now, both deep into their thirties, either would be durable enough to bounce up from three first-round knockdowns as Marquez did in 2004, or perhaps even be willing to risk the prolonged offensive required to force such a situation. We may well see the war that each guy predicts, but with each fighter a more mature, plain better overall, version of their 2004 selves, don't expect an early night. The overs line at 8.5 round is as short as -450, and the layers appear unconcerned by the KO predictions, with -225 available that we see the full twelve rounds once more, and +175 that either man emphatically punctuates the quadrilogy inside the distance.
For those wanting to be more specific, there's a best-priced +250 that it's Pacquiao who gets the stoppage, but - high-calibre sequence of opposition or not - the fact that Pacquiao by KO/TKO is an outcome we haven't seen in over three years, together with his inability to stop Marquez in three fights prior, means that's a price which looks a little on the short side and holds no real appeal. For the Mexican to earn the knockout, there's up to +900 available. Comparatively, it looks the better bet of the two - +250 and +900 look a bit disparate from this viewpoint - but Pacquiao has surely faced much harder punchers than even this brawny, supercharged 2012 version of Marquez, and his chin has held up well. There is a question about just how much added ammunition Pacquiao will be up against here - and the legitimacy of how it got there - but it's one it would seem he's likely to be able to answer.
Picking an outright victor here is far from an envious task, but certainly the -240/+250 here - which will fluctuate considerably right up until the first bell across books worldwide - is wildly different from the -800 (Pacquiao) and +500 (Marquez) that was quoted prior to what was expected to be a physical mismatch last November. Based on that contest - which turned out to be anything but - there's a clear case that says that these two prices should now be even closer together.
More appealing, though, is that form line: draw, split decision, majority decision. In three fights, the biggest margin between Pacquiao and Marquez on the cards has been five points - and, in that case, two 115-110 calls were split, one to each man, with a third, tied, score confirming the draw. Since then, the gap has been shorter still - 115-112 either way was as wide as it got in 2008, while last year's iffy 116-112 from Glenn Trowbridge stood out for all the wrong reasons. It seems unlikely that either will, finally, manage to comprehensively outbox the other - at least to an extent that is reflected in the scorecards - and so, while the +125 about a Pacquiao decision and the +400 for Marquez hold more appeal than the outright odds, it's by process of elimination that singling out a more specific call still is of interest. Dutching the split decision either way will pay around 4/1 and, should you be unable to pick a winner, has the obvious advantage of getting both men on side, and the same tactic could be used if you fancy a repeat majority verdict, which gives a slightly higher return. For those looking to build a position on the exchange markets and trade the fight in-play, it's very hard to dissuade draw backers from +2200 as a starting point that should not only go shorter as the rounds progress, but may well end up turning into a real runner.
There's a batch of uninspiring short-priced favourites this weekend, both on the Pacquiao-Marquez undercard and across Europe. Yuriorkis Gamboa is as short as -1600 (best-priced -1200) to see off what's likely to be a straightforward out in Michael Farenas (+800), and just -450 to end matters early. Similarly, Javier Fortuna is listed at -1400 over Patrick Hyland (+800), and again is heavily odds-on to get the KO (-250). Mikkel Kessler (-700), James DeGale (-800) and Darren Barker (-800) complete the set and, through a combination of unconvincing recent performances, inactivity and likely durability of the opposition, it's difficult to imagine many getting too excited about either of the three.