Thoughts on Pacquiao vs Marquez IV

I hate Pay-per-Views and it’s not just the 70 bucks. The bigger the fight the later the main event: the biggest of all don’t really get into the ring before midnight. Most of the time I’d rather have been asleep for two hours by then. Every time I’ve skipped buying one I’ve been glad I did the next day.

Until Pacquiao Marquez 4, anyway. Oh, man did I wish I had stayed up: what awesome live TV that would have been.

ESPN re-aired it last night so I’ll do a write-up. This match touches on many interesting and controversial topics in boxing:

  1. Up until and including the knockout this fight was, technically speaking, a marvelous display of skill.
  2. We see a reversal of roles from their previous fights: Manny, once the one-armed power merchant, is now the skilled technician and got knocked out.
  3. And, generally speaking, aren’t knockouts just… horrifying? They often make my stomach turn.
  4. Is Manny, one of the most popular athletes in the world, done?
  5. Is Marquez on drugs? He wasn’t so big-looking before and never came close to this kind display before.

Here’s Bill Simmons making the point better than me:

My favorite recent look-the-other-way example: Juan Manuel Marquez couldn’t knock down Manny Pacquiao for 36 solid rounds over three of their fights. Before their third fight, the 39-year-old Marquez aligned himself with a disgraced strength-and-conditioning coach named Angel Heredia (Google his name and PEDs; it’s a fun 10 minutes), arrived in Vegas so ripped that he weighed in four pounds under the 147-pound limit, knocked Pacquiao down early with a vicious power punch, then coldcocked him a few rounds later with one of the single greatest knockout punches ever thrown. What did we do? We bought the fight, gathered in our living rooms. We oohed and aahed, tweeted our disbelief and forwarded the YouTube clip around. And when Marquez passed the bogus post-fight drug test — for the record, Keith Richards in 1978 after a night at Studio 54 could pass one of boxing’s drug tests — everyone let the moment go.

Know this: Every boxing fan I know believes that Marquez enhanced his chances that night.

Well, clearly Bill and I aren’t friends because I don’t agree. Here, read this awesome interview with Marquez:

Sanchez: You practiced that counterpunch a lot. Many people think it was a lucky punch. How did you decide that it was the right moment to throw it?

Marquez: We were waiting for the right moment. Manny Pacquiao always makes a fake move that I know too well. He fakes a charge forward and then looks like he is going to follow with a one-two. That’s a common fake he has. What I do is, I wait for the moment, he fakes the punch … that one-two. Then I go for his right hand as he throws it as a jab — I go toward his right hand. He comes forward with all his weight, and that’s why the fall becomes more forceful and spectacular — because he is coming straight to me and I make my body twist and turn, and the right hand wasn’t in a straight position. I believe that this movement made the hand even stronger. … The clash of two body masses full-on makes the punch even stronger.

Sanchez: You didn’t even have the chance to finish that punch; you were left hanging in the middle. If you had stretched out your hand, the punch would have been much more violent.

Marquez: He didn’t give me the chance to stretch out my arm because he was charging forward. That’s what helped me finish the fight by KO, and it helped make the punch even stronger — because he was charging forward. I seized that opportunity, because after three fights I know that any changes made by the other fighter, however slight, are very important. That’s why we worked on that, waiting for him to make that fake move that I know so well. And when he made that move right then, I wait for his jab and then I jump right into his punch, and that’s how I did it. A strong punch. A very strong punch, which wasn’t completely straight; it was sort of between a straight right and a hook. That made it even stronger.

Marquez didn’t knock Manny out with illegal muscles, even if he had them. He used weight, leverage, technique and, most importantly of all, strategy. None of these things are enhanced by drugs, only by hard work.*

It’s an amazing punch, have a look.

And if you get to watch the full replay you can see that Manny made that same fake two times before moving in for real. Marquez never bit. He knew to wait until Manny followed the fake with a jab. The patience and skill are astonishing.

He talks of speed in his interview but the fact is that he was the slower man all along in this fight, which he normally is against Manny. But this time he was also getting outboxed. He was losing.

There was probably a 15% chance that this fight would end this way: such a perfect shot is extremely uncommon at this level, which is why it didn’t happen in any of their other fights.

So my view is that the result was as dependent on chance as anything, but stories about randomness are incredibly unsatisfying (see this superbowl recap by Bill Barnwell). We ask why the outcome was deserved or inevitable, which doesn’t make sense unless all actions are deliberate. Response: Marquez is on PEDs.

For what it’s worth, I do think this is a career-ending loss. Knockouts scar fighters. They make them more susceptible to concussions, to be sure, but they also blunt their mental edge. The term for this is “shot”. Shot fighters are unpleasant to watch, too commonly there only to cash in on their name, fight tentatively and get knocked out some more.

I hope, for the sake of Manny’s family and himself, that he hangs ’em up.

*Incidentally, notice Marquez’ use of the plural first person “we” when describing the fight. There is no more individual sport than boxing yet he thinks in terms of his team.

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