It’s somewhat rare in this day and age to find two fighters who are so evenly matched, and have had so many exciting (and controversial) bouts that a fourth fight is perceived by the media and fans alike as being completely logical. Is it rare? Yes, but not completely improbable. As it usually tends to play out, if two fighters split the first two bouts, a third fight, known as a “rubber match”, is usually set in motion in order to declare the winner of the rivalry. But a fourth fight? It takes an exceptional strife to warrant such a situation. And after three exciting and financially successful encounters between the Philippines’ Manny Pacquiao and Mexico’s Juan Manuel Marquez, such a situation has arisen.
On a recent media conference call that involved Pacquiao, trainer Freddie Roach, and Top Rank Promotions CEO Bob Arum, the topic of conversation revolved heavily around Pacquiao’s strategy heading into his December 8th fight against Marquez. Freddie Roach, who is Pacquiao’s long-time trainer, seemed assured when discussing Pacquiao’s training camp for the fight, stating “We have a tough fight ahead of us. We know that Marquéz in a great counter-puncher. We are working on things to defeat that counter-puncher style. Manny is looking great in training. I like what I see. He is where I want him to be right now. His focus is where it has not been for some time. He is very focused for this fight and I think it’s going to be the best fight yet.”
It’s abnormal for either the fighter and/or the trainer to discuss specific strategy leading up to fight night, and yet on this particular conference call, neither Pacquiao nor Roach seemed to have any issues giving the media a peek at their blueprint for December 8th. When asked if he is looking for a knockout this time around, Pacquiao stated “Right now my mind is focused on being more aggressive for this fight. If there is a chance in the ring during the fight, why not make the fight easy (knock him out) if I have the opportunity?” And Roach, for his part, seemed only too happy to elaborate on the details. “The thing is Marquéz fought the fight at a slow pace the last time. We plan to fight the fight at a much faster pace this time like we did in the first fight in the early rounds – that’s where we had the most success. Going by all the tapes we have watched, we do our best when we are more aggressive. More hand speed. We are going to use a lot of that.”
When asked if Pacquiao was worried about Marquez being stronger this time around, Manny stated “Our strategy for this fight is to be more aggressive. Develop strength more and focus on speed. I am not worried about his strength.” Likewise, Roach seemed unfazed by Marquez’s brawn. “I don’t think it is a factor. I don’t think muscle-men have a better chin. If anything, I think if you put a lot of muscle he will be a little slower than he used to be and we are going to take advantage of that.”
So what is Pacquiao’s motivation to give Marquez a fourth fight? The theories about why this fight is taking place as opposed to a fight between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, which the boxing world has been desperately in need of for years now, have been discussed and argued to no end. However, when asked, Pacquiao cut to the chase. “I am giving him a chance. I am giving him a chance to prove he can win the fight because he thought he has won all three and he keeps talking about it. So it is very important to me, to win this fight, especially since Márquez really wanted this fight.”
Clearly, Pacquiao’s statements appear more aggressive in nature than in recent fights. When asked how Pacquiao plans to translate this aggression into an effective strategy in the ring, Pacquiao stated “More action, more condition in the ring, which I have been doing in all of training camp. I always train hard, but this time is a little harder. Harder and more punches, and some changes. We have been throwing more combinations, and changing our strategy – in movement. So it will be a little different than the last one.”
When asked what he feels are Marquez’s best attributes, Pacquiao praised his counter-punching style, but was just as quick to follow it up with a back-handed compliment. “He is a good counter-puncher. He is very patient and sits back and waits for action. If I waited for him to throw the punches first, the fight would be boring. That’s why I have always been the one to make the fight between us.”
So why has a winner in this rivalry not been declared yet after three fight? Is Pacquiao not being aggressive enough, or does Marquez just have Manny’s number? Bob Arum chimed in regarding his opinion as to why all three fights has been so close in nature, and what will change this time around. “They are close because they are close. There was controversy after the last fight and they are matched very well together. Both of them will be looking for different strategies this time so that the winner will be more conclusive. That’s what they are saying – each of them will be more aggressive and each of them will be taking the fight to the other. That may be a disadvantage for Juan Manuel whose biggest advantage is counter-punching but he’s going to be a lot more aggressive as well.” And as for a fifth fight between Marquez and Pacquiao, should the fourth meeting fail to resolve the feud, “there is a possibility. Not likely but a possibility. Robinson and LaMotta fought six times.”
So who wins and why? That is the question. If Pacquiao stays true to his word, and sticks to a more aggressive style then what we’ve seen in his recent fights, it’s fair to say he will win the fight, at least on the judge’s scorecards. Pacquiao found success against Marquez when he took the fight to him, and refused to let Marquez get settled and find his comfort zone. Marquez, as we all are acutely aware of after the previous three fights, has the stamina to last in the later rounds. If Pacquiao can’t hurt Marquez early in the fight, he risks losing his stamina in the later rounds, thus becoming more susceptible to the heavy-handed counter-punching blows of Marquez. In order for Pacquiao to win this fight, he has to swarm Marquez from the opening bell, and finish the rounds strong, even if that means resorting to stealing rounds. And as for Marquez, his job will be to weather the early storm, and overpower Pacquiao in the later rounds. Should Marquez survive the early rounds intact, he will find Manny’s punches slowing down, and becoming less effective. And if Marquez finds himself such a situation, he is likely to find a TKO victory waiting for him between rounds ten and twelve.
Marquez, for his part, has already established himself as Manny Pacquiao’s biggest rival to date. All that’s left for him at this point is to finish the job the right way, with a legit win (sorry, Mr. Bradley) over an opponent that desperately needs a dominating victory in order to revive his career. I wish him luck.