On a night many felt going in was a rerun, those who tuned in for Pacquiao-Marquez IV were handsomely rewarded with one of the great fights and knockouts of recent memory. Eddie Gonzalez was one of the skeptics.
I spent a few hours in a daze last night, in awe of what my favorite sport had just given me. All my complaints about the state and politics of the sport muted while I celebrated it delivering on the promise that comes with every big fight weekend. In retrospect, this is actually the third "big fight weekend" this year that boxing, the sport, lived up to boxing, the promotion.
Our gracious little niche sport had become the center of the sports world with one devastating pinpoint counter right hand and suddenly, on Heisman Saturday, a boxing match was the lead story on SportsCenter. Suddenly, the "dead" sport was not only alive and well, it was thriving.
I tried to think of ways to express what I thought of the weekend, ways to put all the feelings into words, and make the words coherent enough for you to make sense of them. Thought of ways to summarize the weekend, the new state of boxing, who won and who lost this weekend, but ultimately I decided that none of that would do it all justice.
Make no mistake, Juan Manuel Marquez IS the story of the weekend, and any story where other fighters were given as much attention as him just wouldn't do what he did for us justice.
Last night, on his way to the ring, Marquez was already a surefire Hall of Famer. On his way out of it, he was a legend. Now he opens up debates that previously weren't conversations to being with. Is he the greatest Mexican fighter of all time? Was his career better than Manny's? Where does he rank in the top five fighters of this generation, etc.?
I try to not overreact, I really do, but last night was one of the best boxing moments of my lifetime. Marquez had finally ripped the monkey off his back. After eight years, five weight classes and three rematches, he had finally done it. With that crushing right hand not only had he ripped that monkey off his back, he beat it to death, dug a hole and buried it. With one punch, little 5'7", urine-drinking Juan Manuel Marquez had, against all odds, reached the absolute zenith of the sport.
Marquez was disqualified in his pro debut; six years later he lost his first shot at a world title. He didn't see another title shot for almost three more years. In his first HBO headline bout he was knocked down three times in the opening round. For years, he sat in the shadows of fellow Mexican greats Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera, then later in the even bigger shadows of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. These are the type of things that end careers, but Juan Manuel fought on.
And somehow, after a 19-year career, three amazing fights with Manny full of incomprehensible drama, he found a way to top it all.
In what was undoubtedly the Fight of the Year, Juan Manuel and Manny gave us even more than we've come to expect from them. Marquez stuck first, a knockdown with a looping right hand that has become his weapon of choice in these fights. Manny countered with a stiff straight left that had become his weapon of choice throughout the previous 36 rounds, and scored a knockdown of his own. After more damaging left hands over the next round and a half Pacquiao had seemingly grabbed control of the fight.
What happened next, well, you kind of had to be there. Unfortunately for me, I kind of wasn't. I heard the clap for the last 10 seconds of the round, looked at my phone to check twitter and read this:
RT @brentbrookhouse Great fight but Manny is taking it over.
And before I even finished reading those eight words I heard screaming. Roy Jones had lost it, my brother was in shock, Jinkee Pacquiao was shattered, her husband was asleep and I was dumbstruck. Within seconds our good friend Brent summed all of our thoughts up as coherently as possible with this:
RT @brentbrookhouse HE DID IT!@ MARQUEZ KOED HIM! HOLY SHIT! JUAN MANUEL MARQUEZ! YES!
And those two tweets pretty much sum up the entire gamut of emotions within that short 10 or so seconds
This probably concludes one of the greatest series of fights of all time. The cat and mouse game between fights was almost as intriguing as the fights themselves. After the first fight Marquez chased the rematch for two years. When he finally gets it he loses a controversial decision. Manny immediately moves up to 135 and wins a trinket, Marquez goes up and snatches the Lineal title. Manny moves up two divisions and batters Oscar de la Hoya into retirement, Marquez skips up to 147 as well and fights Floyd freaking Mayweather.
The fights themselves, are the kind of fights I'll talk to my son about endlessly, and if he one day gets into boxing half as much as me, they're the fights I'll show him and hope he loves as well. He won't be able to have lived through that amazing moment when Juan Manuel landed the perfect counter right hand, but hopefully he will get an equivalent.
There will be plenty of talk about where he goes from here. I personally hope this is his Jerome Bettis moment, I hope he keeps doing gigs for ESPN deportes, maybe since he's learned English (seemingly out of nowhere) he can get some gigs on American networks as well.
What I don't want to hear about right now is where Manny and Floyd go from here. Who cares. Saturday I got to watch something legendary happen. Manny Pacquiao's jaw, along with mine and many others, simultaneously hit the floor as a result of the same impeccable stiff right hand. Max Kellerman said on twitter that it was "one of the three or four greatest one-punch knockouts in the history of boxing." I struggle to think of one better.
Thank you boxing, and thank you Juan Manuel Marquez.