Starting at the weigh-in from the floor of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada, known as the 21st century Mecca of boxing, it seemed as though the stars were already beginning to align in Juan Manuel Marquez’s favor.
In placement of Philippine flags in the crowds were instead green, white and red with snake-eating eagle symbols, Mexican themed music pumping through an impressive sound system and a more dominant Mexican media presence than ever before for a Manny Pacquiao fight weekend.
The grand champion, Julio Cesar Chavez and Marco Antonio Barrera were decked in tuxedo’s and awaiting both fighters to step onto the scales as the crowd chanted each of their names and beckoned them to walk up to the stands, of which Barrera happily obliged. Barrera willingly thrust himself into a throng of fans and signed everything in sight while posing for pictures with passionate fans there to support Marquez with a Barrera-Chavez presence as a cherry on top.
It was almost as if it were Cinco De Mayo combined with Mexican Independence Day on the second weekend of December 2012 and there was an overwhelming feel of a pro-Marquez and pro-Mexican weekend inside the arena. Marquez came out first after a delay of a few minutes to a crowd that was already in full singing and chanting mode, and JMM looked up to the crowd and threw out a dominant fist, while Pacquiao entered second and to a half jeer/cheer response quite uncommon in recent years whenever the Pac Man is in the presence of a large crowd. Pacquiao failed to wave to the little amount of supporters who chose to clap instead of boo, somewhat warily taking to the scales and was the first of the two fighters to glance away during the stare down after the weights were measured.
The end result of December 7th, the day before the fight was a thought to be small victory at the scales for Marquez, who came in at an impressively muscular 143 while Pacquaio was registered at 147, the full welterweight weight allowed in the division in what was almost unanimously seen by media as a lack of full interest from the 8 time champion and a look of desire both seen and weighed in pounds from Marquez. In the media room afterward, I chatted with Robert Guerrero publicist Mario Serrano, and I brought up the fact that when Pacquaio was making his career defining welterweight ascent starting in 2007, the Pac Man was very apt to weigh in low.
Here are Pacquaio’s weights in those fights: for De La Hoya, 142, for Ricky Hatton, 138, for Miguel Cotto, 144, for Joshua Clottey, 145 ½, for Antonio Margarito, 144 ½ (which was fought for a light middleweight title that set the belt record at eight), for Shane Mosley, 145 and for JMM III, 143.
For Pacquiao’s two losing efforts in 2012, he has weighed in at a full 147.
It was as if the interest wane that Pacquiao has succumbed to over recent years was mirrored by his weight for fights and desires to continue to push himself physically in the ring and outside of it in the political realm. It was a bad sign that Marquez correctly played the weigh-in game at a trim 143 even with multiple gold necklaces kept on while stepping on the scales which may have even shown JMM to be a half pound to three-quarter pounds lighter than he actually was.
DECEMBER 8: LINE MOVE, VIP PARTY, BAM BAM
When the sun rose in the Nevada desert to signal fight day, the betting line dropped dramatically and made JMM a near 2 ½ underdog as an effect of the weigh-in and fans throwing gobs of green towards the Mexican countryman, with signs again aligning towards a possible Marquez win and raising of his hand that he has so desired since Pac-Marq I in the mid 2000’s.
Prior to the fight this writer was invited by a Tecate representative (many thanks to Melissa) to attend a special VIP pre-party that was held below the MGM Grand Arena with specially invited guests Mike Tyson, (who was in full working mode the whole weekend as he was announced to the crowd during the weigh-in the day prior), Sergio ‘Maravilla’ Martinez, legend Sugar Ray Leonard, Israel Vasquez and Brandon ‘Bam Bam’ Rios.
Writer note: Look for a piece on the Tecate event later this week on 3MR.
If you have been so lucky enough to attend one of these special, invite only attractions, consider yourself extremely blessed.
Tecate does a stellar job of holding promotions and giveaways that allow fans entrance to press conferences, weigh-ins and even the fights, but I was still left wondering to myself, ‘who in the heck are these lucky people’ and sincerely hoped that every selected person in that small, intimate setting appreciated being in the presence of absolute legends and not just enjoying the free beverages and table top dancing Chicas’ Tecate.
After interviewing Martinez, I chatted it up with Rios, who was humbled by being seated next to SRL, who was getting all of the fan love. Rios took it in stride and this reporter reminded him that one day that is going to be him, with a young buck like himself feeling cold-shouldered and upstaged by a legend. We spoke about him being featured on the poster behind him of Pac-Marq, and Rios agreed when questioned that he’ll step in against either future Hall of Fame inductee, as is the whispers outside the ropes that Bam Bam is in line to face the victor.
After a little more chatting with Rios that I’ll leave off the record, I moved towards the legend, Sugar Ray Leonard and shook the hand of the man who boldly and successfully took the torch from Muhammad Ali and carried the sport along with dramatic fights and a never forgotten round robin with the likes of some guys known as Duran, Hearns and Hagler. I thanked SRL for writing his biography and fought off the urge to tell him I actually liked it more than De La Hoya’s bio book, and let him continue his signing and posing because man that line was long.
Ask Rios how long it was.
To the side was Tyson, who was up on the makeshift podium jovially dancing around and posing with fans for what seemed like an hour before exiting stage left through a side door and making his way into the Grand Garden to watch the night’s main event.
THE KNOCKOUT HEARD ROUND THE WORLD
By now we have all seen, heard or read about the stunning knockout heard around the world scored by JMM with only a few clicks left on the clock in the sixth round when Pacquiao threw out a punch that was countered expertly by Marquez that showed Pacquiao the canvas face first in as dramatic an ending boxing may ever see. The climax has a ripple effect through the crowd because as Pacquiao laid motionless and almost out of the ring, the pro-Mexican crowd went into a furious rumble and threw beer in the air, not out of spite but out of pure joy, and actually, shock as the outcome that Marquez no doubt has dreamed about for eight long years actually played out live in front of their eyes.
From the first knockdown of the fight scored by Marquez, Pacquiao was in trouble, but the valiant warrior in him told him to keep his odometer way above the speed limit and continue trading with his nemesis, which lead to himself scoring a knockdown in the fifth frame, only to be caught during a trade by perhaps the one weapon that has kept this rivalry going over the span of almost a decade: the counter punch.
While still in a bit of shock due to the dramatic ending, (In fact, I’m still in shock as I pen this) I made my way through the throng of a jovial boxing crowd exiting the arena while singing ‘Ole, ole, ole, ole’ and found myself behind promoter Bob Arum, who was himself making his way to the press room with bodyguards leading the way. A good strategy of getting through a massive crowd of fans is to shadow an important person who happens to be led by menacing security types and roided’ out juggernauts to their destination. While walking behind the most successful boxing promoter in the history of the sport, a fan nearby spotted Arum and yelled his name out while telling his friends that this was the greatest night of his life. I wondered just what Arum would say to the awaiting press as his main cash cow was shown defeat face first, but Arum never broke stride and immediately to the dais and put a professional and positive spin on the situation.
Only in America.
AN EXPERIENCE I’LL NEVER FORGET
Of all the boxing events I’ve been privileged and fortunate enough to attend, I had one experience this weekend that absolutely tops everything that I’ve been a part of in this beautifully savage sport.
Somehow, some way I stumbled myself into the area where the fighters first begin their ring walk from the dressing room out to the arena. I kind of stunningly told myself, ‘no, this can’t be the area where the fighters first walk out’, but sure enough, it was and while standing next to the armed forces holding flags for the three national anthems to be sung, I watched while not physically breathing much as a hat donning Marquez and a bandana sporting Pacquiao turned a corner while being followed by HBO PPV cameras and gave head nods to each fighter, resisting the urge to throw out a fist pump to each of the gladiators making their way to the ring with all my might. While the other five or six people who were standing near me caught the footage on iPads and iPhones, I couldn’t really manage much and wished to freeze that moment in time as an experience that I will never forget.
If I could, I would personally thank both Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez for what they did on December 8.
Frankly, we all should.