Saturday, January 4, 2014

Analyzing the Pacquiao/Marquez Feud

The boxing universe (if there is such a thing) waxes emotional about certain feuds.Ward/Gatti, Ali/Frazier, Ali/Liston, Tyson/Holyfield, Leonard/Duran, and a whole host of others across various weight classes.Many years from now, they will be hotly debating one of the most controversial feuds in history: Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez - two certified Hall of Famers.But if you look past the fights themselves and analyze the fighters behind the fights, you'll start to see some obvious signs about why they seemed so matched...and you can easily predict how each would perform against certain other notable fighters.First, let's look at the fights.


Many don't know that Marquez and Pacquiao were at their peak in the lighter weight divisions, especially featherweight and super featherweight.At a time when Pacquiao was expressly lightning quick and seemingly could not be stopped, a young Marquez stepped up for a then-seemingly-blah encounter with Pacquiao.It was expected for Pacquiao to just dominate Marquez the entire fight - and in the early rounds he did, scoring three knockdowns in a single round.But that's when we'd start to see what would eventually become the tenacity that Marquez is known for.He would go on a vicious Rocky Balboa-like tear, winning the later rounds and controlling Pacquiao extremely effectively.To date, only Marquez and Erik Morales have managed to subdue Pacquiao's controlled burst style.Though the fight ended in a draw, many felt that Marquez's comeback should have given him the win, while many others felt that Pacquiao's early domination should have been enough to give him the split decision.


Not one to miss a marketing opportunity (think Don King Promotions), Golden Boy Promotions, representing Marquez, and Top Rank Promotions, representing Pacquiao, agreed that a rematch between the two would be easy money given the energy of the first fight.Little did they or the fans realize that the second fight would infuriate everyone even more than the first: Marquez proved that he'd learned Pacquiao well enough to dominate the punch connect rate and avoid being decimated early as he did in the first fight.However, the judges gave the split decision to Pacquiao mostly because of a single knockdown due to a punch Marquez didn't see coming at him in the middle of the fight.The second fight evinced one specific outcome: Juan Manuel Marquez had figured out the "Pacquiao Formula", and he was getting better and better with each fight, while Pacquiao seemed not to adapt to Marquez, content to fight the same fight each time.


At first it seemed the third fight was not to happen.Golden Boy and Marquez wanted the rematch right away due to what they felt was a guarantee of victory the third time out.At first, Pacquiao declined the fight and chose to fight other fighters while he moved up in weight class.Eventually the sides came to an agreement and the fight was set in stone.

All in all, Marquez again showed strong adaptation to Pacquiao's fight style, which remained largely unchanged since the second fight.He was an effective counterpuncher and though he was not able to damage Pacquiao (with the exception of a cut from an accidental butt), Pacquiao was never able to back Marquez down.Many fighting fans felt that the fight should have been a draw at least, despite the numbers showing Pacquiao ahead on punch types and counts.That's because Marquez was able to show one thing that very few of Pacquiao's other opponents did, which I'll get to later.In my mind, this fight was the best indicator of why Pacquiao should have rejected a fourth fight.


The build to this fight was ominous for anyone paying attention.Freddie Roach's camp was confident they would silence the critics and win yet another fight, hopefully the last.Now-infamous words from Marquez: "I'm not leaving it in the hands of the judges this time.I'm going to knock him out."

It was clear from the first three rounds that Pacquiao had decided to be much busier in this fight than he had in the last.He may have felt that there was nothing stopping him from outboxing and overpowering Marquez to beat him, and he may have felt that Marquez's counterpunching would fail him under an onslaught.Marquez was not only knocked down, but bloodied, and looked to be a beaten fighter even before the fight was halfway over.But in round six, with a second left in the round, Pacquiao made a critical error that was part of his normal arsenal: he tried to lunge in with a quick strike.Marquez caught him square in the face with a perfectly timed straight right that, without the lunge, probably wouldn't have done much damage.However, with Pacquiao's forward momentum plus Marquez's natural power, Manny would plant face-first to the canvas and not recover for a few minutes.This was a redeeming moment for Marquez: he'd finally beaten an opponent that in the past had seemingly had judges' favor for years.Not only that, he did exactly what he said he'd do - knock Manny out, rather than "be screwed" by decisions of judges.


Well, Marquez has said repeatedly on record that he's done with Manny Pacquiao: " I knocked him out, what more is there to do?" and it's hard to dispute that question with an answer unless you're a hardcore Pacquiao fan who thinks it was a fluke.Realistically, Marquez has nothing to gain from a fifth encounter.Pacquiao does, because he'd want to prove to the world that it was a fluke.I don't see an incentive for the fight, and I don't think it would make strong purse, given Pacquiao hasn't had an overly strong showing as of recent and neither has Marquez.If I'm Top Rank and/or Golden Boy Promotions, I would leave this feud in the books just as it is and save the conspiracy theories and "what if" scenarios for video games and best-selling books, or perhaps just sell the story to ESPN for a 30-for-30 in the future.


Marquez is a strategist.He's an extremely tactical and efficient boxer in the vein of how Julio Caesar Chavez and "Smokin" Joe Frazier were.He's not overly powerful at welterweight, but his punches are dangerous enough to make you cautious when fighting him.He excels when facing aggressive fighters: He stays in counterpunch mode long enough for the opponent to make a mistake, then he will go all out with haymakers and bully tactics to try and get a knockout or to gain favor with judges.He won't hesitate to express that in his opinion, his solid boxing capabilities SHOULD be winning judges over left and right.

Marquez's weakness is that his tactical approach is really all he has.When he counterpunches, he's capitalizing on the speed (or lack thereof) of his opponent, and he's banking on the possibility his opponent has not fully sparred with counterpunchers.He's hoping that you won't have an answer when he comes back with his straight right, which is his most dangerous punch.In most cases this is effective, but if you're going against a natural counterpuncher, that person has already purposely learned the ways to avoid being counterpunched themselves.That's why Marquez lost so effectively to Floyd Mayweather - Floyd knows how to deal with counterpunchers because that's what he is: he stays on the move even when he's punching, and after he throws, he's already on the move because he knows a punch is coming his way.The same strategy helped Timothy Bradley decision Marquez in a fight most felt Tim would have been knocked out in.

That Marquez was unable to stop fighters like Bradley and Mayweather means, all other points being equal, he would struggle against Andre Ward.He would struggle against Adrian Broner.He would have struggled against Arturo Gatti.And he would struggle against Canelo Alvarez.He would likely have dominated Erik Morales, Ricky Hatton, Mickey Ward and Shane Mosley, had he fought them.When people say "styles make fights", they mean that the style of fighter is predictable and a good indicator of which fighters would give their opponents trouble.

Many wonder who Marquez will fight next.Honestly, I don't see he has anything more to prove in the business.His legacy is already cemented, despite not having a stellar win-loss record.But if he does want to have another match against someone, he would have a pretty good bout against someone like Paul Malignaggi - a fighter who doesn't counter, he's a jab-and-move-rack-up-points fighter that Marquez would easily destroy.

The above is the reason Marquez has a tough time with judges.As tactical and crafty as he is, as skilled a technician as he may be, he's one-dimensional and in some cases, predictable.He doesn't switch up his attack vector for different fighters; he tried to fight Bradley the same way he fought Pacquiao in the third fight.That doesn't work, because Bradley and Pacquiao are completely different styles.Contrast that with Floyd, where he fought differently against Mosley, Hatton, Cotto, Guerrero, Marquez, and Ortiz.Even within a fight, Floyd will often shift from offensive to defensive, or he may see his opponent getting intimidated and start using Roy Jones-like taunt tactics to catch his opponent making a mistake, as seen in the Ortiz fight.Tim Bradley also fought Provodnikov completely different than how he fought Pacquiao or Marquez, choosing to be more cautious with Marquez due to the potential knockout counterpunch.Marquez isn't anywhere near that level of flexibility - he fights the exact same in every fight, and judges can't see anything else to judge him by when his counterpunching fails.

As I said before though, "D namita" is a certified Hall of Famer, and I would be surprised if, even if he were to retire tomorrow, he didn't go down as one of the best boxers of all time.He's a holdover from the previous era of boxing, where it wasn't about how fast you were, it was about how skilled you were at outsmarting your opponent.


And then there's Pacman.Pacquiao can only be described in two different time periods: pre-welter and post-welter.

Pre-welter Pacquiao was simply a spitfire.Leveraging lightning fast punches and overwhelming accuracy, it seemed his opponents saw him coming but couldn't react fast enough, like a car wreck that's a second from happening.He was frequently knocking opponents down and out - until he met Erik Morales in their first fight, where Pacquiao seemed to have met his match.It turned out to be a temporary speed bump since he dominated Morales in the second fight and continued his domination thereafter.

Post-welter Pacquiao seems to have an identity crisis.He wants to still fight spitfire, but doesn't take into consideration the additional weight behind it.The end result is that he is lightning fast and efficient for the first few rounds, but as the fight goes on, he goes into lighter work in the first minute and a half of each round, then comes out with a flurry the last half of the round.There have also been discussions about Pacquiao's calves causing him cramp pains where he takes extended time trying to keep them loosened up.The power Pacquiao had at pre-welter isn't as apparent post-welter, though his accuracy is mostly unchanged.Since his workrate has noticeably gone down, counter punchers find an easier time facing him, as evinced by the evolution from the Marquez feud.

The one common thread with Pacquiao, pre and post-welter, is that he doesn't do well against fighters who don't fear him, who aren't afraid to stand toe-to-toe with him, who have no problems throwing punches back at him because they have little to lose.Looking back at fights like Morales 1 and Marquez 4 it was obvious that both guys had figured out this formula: the best way to beat or stop Pacquiao is to first not be intimidated by his speed and take risks.In the Clottey fight, Pacquiao wasn't nearly as accurate as Clottey, but Clottey covered up the majority of the fight and just didn't go toe-to-toe - he was afraid to take a risk and get knocked down or out; the same thing happened (for some bizarre reason) with the De La Hoya fight, the Hatton fight, Morales 2 and the Rios fight.In all four Marquez fights, especially the second one, Marquez had no problems throwing punches with Pacquiao and getting rewarded in the fourth fight when Pacquiao made a mistake.In the Bradley fight, Bradley is well known for not being afraid to stay in the hole and go toe-to-toe with his opponent (see the Provodnikov fight), but he's also an effective counterpuncher, and with a broken ankle, managed to decision Pacquiao.

Indeed, Pacquiao's weakness is an opponent that doesn't fear him.Any opponent that goes in afraid of Pacquiao or who respects him too much has already lost.If you took Pacquiao today and matched him with pre-Leonard Roberto Duran at the same weight class, Duran would have dominated Manny Pacquiao, beause Duran would not have feared him.Floyd, in the ring, fears no fighter, and it's obvious that were they to fight, Floyd would decision Pacquiao, as he would fight similar to Tim Bradley but without the mistakes Bradley made.Back when Floyd was trained by his uncle, Pacquiao would have easily knocked him down and out.Under his father's training program, Floyd would be unbelievably elusive, and people would again claim corrupt judges.

For the above reason, when Pacquiao fights again, he shouldn't fight someone like Tim Bradley, because Bradley doesn't fear him or anyone else.He shouldn't fight Marquez again, because Marquez definitely doesn't fear him.If he's going to fight anyone, it should be someone like Ruslan Provodnikov - a fighter coming off of a stellar stoppage against Mike Alvarado and who has sparred with Manny.Or, if the promoters can get over themselves, it'd be interesting to see Victor Ortiz tie it up with Pacquiao.I'd even settle for a Pacquiao/Alvarez clash, because if Alvarez dominates Pacquaio, there's no way Pacquaio would even touch Floyd Mayweather - that'd be two fighters (Marquez and Alvarez) that Pacquiao couldn't decisively stop but Mayweather has handled without much problem - one of which with a broken hand.

Many want to see Manny just leap to Mayweather, and accuse Floyd of being afraid.Regardless of the reason, Tim Bradley decisioned Pacquiao and Marquez both - he gave Marquez a "boxing lesson" in his own words, and Marquez couldn't get off home plate against Bradley.Marquez knocked Pacman out in the fourth fight and stood like a warrior in fights 1-3; Pacquiao has never been able to dominate Marquez.Floyd made Marquez look like a rookie.In my eyes, Pacquiao would have to decisively defeat Tim Bradley and Marquez in order to even be considered capable of stopping Floyd.If he faced Alvarez and decisively beat him, Floyd would be clamoring for a fight.

Pacman will go in the record books as one of the best fighters of all time.Unfortunately, he'll also go into history for tax debts, possible PEDs (performance enhancing drugs), and financially slighting the Philippines.Many blame Top Rank Promotions for the troubles he's been having especially Floyd, but time will tell if he can cement his legacy as a positive one.
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