After soundly outboxing Tim Bradley in a much-anticipated but, in retrospect, pointless rematch, Manny Pacquiao (56-5-2, 38 KOs) will likely take a little time off. While the Filipino superstar rests (and lives his other life as a gallivanting pop-star/politician/no-questions-asked-charity), questions burn as to who he will face next. Of course, the world still wants to see Pacquiao take on Floyd Mayweather Jr., even if the passage of time and Pacquiao's loss to Marquez have dulled the desire somewhat. That fight, however, seems no more likely to be made now than it did three years ago: Top Rank and Golden Boy still don't get along, and Mayweather, savvy businessman that he is, likely has little interest in risking his legacy in a still high-risk but lower-reward a Pacquiao fight.
So who will Pacquiao find himself battling next? Many sources, including Tim Bradley's trainer Joel Diaz, think that a fifth match with Juan Manuel Marquez is the most likely option.
Joaquin Henson of PhilStar.com shared his thoughts on the potential match.
Marquez is the oldest fighter listed in the IBO’s top 105 welterweight ratings. There was a noticeable decline in his speed and reflexes during the Bradley fight as John Dennen of Boxing News observed he may have lost some spring in his legs. By the time Marquez meets Pacquiao late this year, if he beats Alvarado and the quintology materializes, the Mexican will be 41.
Pacquiao is now wise to Marquez’ tactics. Bradley exposed Marquez’ weakness in pounding out a win on points, deftly boxing from a distance and defending against the Mexican’s lethal counter right straight. What Pacquiao did to Bradley in their rematch is what he’ll likely do against Marquez only the Filipino may write a different ending by trying to score a knockout. Pacquiao hasn’t stopped an opponent since Miguel Cotto in 2009 and it will be sweet revenge if he halts Marquez. That should deliver a strong statement to Mayweather to anticipate the second coming of the Pacific storm.
Now I don't want to accuse Mr. Henson of bias. When it comes to boxing, he only covers Pacquiao-related news, so I'm sure he's a very reliable opinion on the subject. I would like, however, to lay out a timeline of the four fights that Pacquiao and Marquez have fought together so far.
May 8th, 2004 - Pacquiao surprises Marquez, dropping him three times in the opening round, but fails to beat the Mexican great; they take one another to a split draw.
March 15th, 2008 - After four more years of tutelage under Freddie Roach (who had only been working with him for three years at the time of the first fight), Pacquiao meets Marquez again. Despite Marquez showing some of his most beautiful counter-fighting ever, it is a vintage Pacquiao performance at the Filipino's optimum weight. Pacquiao wins a split decision.
November 11th, 2011 - Marquez meets Pacquiao again, this time at welterweight. Pacquiao has gone a full two years since his last knockout, a stoppage of Miguel Cotto. Marquez is fresh off of two knockouts of his own. Pacquiao wins a majority decision, but virtually everyone but the most die-hard Pacquiao fan has Marquez as the true winner.
December 8th, 2012 - Admirably, Pacquiao faces Marquez a fourth time. For the first time ever, Marquez knocks Pacquiao down, sending him to the canvas with an overhand right in the third round. Pacquiao comes back with a vengeance, bloodying the nose of Marquez, but runs overzealously into another overhand in the sixth round, and suffers his first knockout loss since 1999, before he was really Manny Pacquiao at all.
Freddie Roach has done wonders with Manny Pacquiao, who started in boxing as little more than a powerful left hand and a pair of fast feet, but I believe he's also primed Manny to lose against Marquez. As Manny has gone up in weight and increased in technical skill, he has become safer and safer as a fighter. Really, he's become less of a fighter and more of a boxer. This theory is corroborated by the narrative of his fights with Marquez--though Pacquiao did better in their second fight in terms of getting the win, he never again repeated the dominance of that shocking three-knockdown first round.
Yes, Pac has gotten safer and smarter, and ironically, that was his doom against Marquez. Manny's technical and tactical improvements are exactly why Marquez has done progressively better in every one of their fights, culminating in the knockout that shocked the world--but really, should we have been shocked? Marquez is inarguably the second-best counter puncher alive. What's more, he has carried his power quite well throughout his career, earning five knockouts even at lightweight and above (his optimal weight seems, like Pacquiao's, to have been 130 pounds). It's clear that Pacquiao's greatest asset in the first fight with Marquez was the element of surprise--as a still-relatively-raw fighter, Pacquiao was incredibly difficult for Marquez to read. His unorthodox rhythm, his surprising power, and his unpredictable footwork made him a very tough test for a fighter who's greatest skill is his ability to read patterns in his opponents.
Since then, Pacquiao has become a much more systematic fighter. Marquez didn't knock Pac out by accident. He knew that his nemesis was liable to fall in with his chin un-tucked whenever he feinted the jab. "The time keeper signaled the 10 seconds left. I didn’t hear anything. I was just waiting for Pacquiao to feint," Marquez told The Ring after his fateful win. "When Pacquiao feints, he leans forward. I kept waiting for that feint so I could land that counter punch, and that’s how I ended it."
It's a common adage that one should "brawl the boxer, and box the brawler." Rarely is this the case against a truly skilled counter puncher, but then again, there aren't many fighters alive who could match the 2004 version of Pacquiao's raw talent for brawling. To put it bluntly, Pacquiao flummoxed Marquez earlier in his career because he was a supremely effective spaz, and by calming down and thinking things through he has actually made himself more predictable. Marquez's trainer Beristain said as much in an interview with the Examiner.
In addition, despite Mr. Henson's claims, Juan Manuel has actually improved since his last meeting with Pacquiao. Two of the judges didn't go his way against Tim Bradley, but I myself had Marquez winning that fight, and I'm confident that a careful rewatch (with the incredibly biased commentary muted) will convince at least a few of you of the same. Marquez looked like the loser at times because of his evident frustration, but looking at nothing more than the punches landed, it's clear that Marquez was very much in the fight from beginning to end. He would almost certainly done better if he'd laid back and forced the American to lead the dance, but in coming forward he showed better adaptability than ever before.
Manny Pacquiao isn't Tim Bradley. Yes, he beat Bradley (twice by most people's standards) and Marquez officially lost to him, but that's fight math, which we all know never works. Pacquiao can't do what Bradley did to Marquez, and if he tries, he'll likely end up facedown on the canvas once more.
For more analysis, as well as fighter and trainer interviews, check out Heavy Hands, the only podcast dedicated to the finer points of face punching. On this week's episode, Connor answers listener questions with boxing trainer Luis Monda.