This Saturday, two future members of the International Boxing Hall of Fame will step into the ring at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. One of them, international superstar Manny Pacquiao (53-3-2, 38 KOs), is expected by most to win. Juan Manuel Marquez (53-5-1, 39 KOs), on the other hand, is given little credit other than a notion that he can make the fight exciting however long it lasts.
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How we got to this point just three and a half years after Marquez battled Pacquiao on even terms for the second time is a long story, but for varying reasons many in the media give Marquez virtually no chance in this third bout of theirs.
The most commonly cited reason by many in the strange, isolated world of the hardcore Internet boxing fan is that Marquez is too small to beat Pacquiao. Let’s throw this one out the window before we move on. Marquez and Pacquiao were already easily in their physical primes by the time the last fight came around, and, yes, Pacquiao was bigger and stronger. However, that didn’t prevent Marquez from making the fight very close, and — in the minds of many observers — getting the best of Pacquiao.
Despite the fact this fight is going to be fought at a higher weight, the dynamic of Marquez being smaller and less physically imposing has not changed drastically. Instead of a normal featherweight vs. a big featherweight, we now have a small lightweight vs. a small welterweight.
The next most commonly referenced point of evidence for a Pacquiao blowout is Marquez’s near shutout loss to Floyd Mayweather in his first fight over 140 pounds. This comparison (forgetting the obvious "styles make fights" counter-argument) depends on an assumption that Pacquiao is as good or better than Mayweather, and frankly there isn’t any hard evidence to support it, as we haven’t seen the two fight each other.
There is, however, one very simple, often overlooked, criterion for picking a fight. In their rush to try and one-up others in the boxing world, many writers spend countless hours on detailed style matchups and analysis of the impact of one or two pounds of weight difference and forget to ask the most important question: Who is the better boxer?
In this case, the answer is Manny Pacquiao. Despite all the great accomplishments of Marquez, he is not the eight-division world champion, he is not the pound-for-pound king, he is not the face of the sport to millions of people around the world. Advantages he may have over Pacquiao in terms of technique are not enough to propel him to a victory because of Manny’s vastly superior athletic ability. His mastery of the sweet science was not enough to win in either of the first two fights, and with Pacquiao having improved his skill set while not seeming to lose any of his speed and power, it won’t be enough this time, either.
Marquez is thought by some to have a motivation advantage because of the controversial results of the first two fights, but that certainly goes both ways. Pacquiao also feels he has something to prove here, as he’ll be facing a guy who has been chasing him for years accusing him of being nothing more than the beneficiary of poor judging. Beyond the motivation to settle the score with Marquez, Pacquiao now also may have in his future a career-defining fight with Mayweather next spring, something he isn’t going to be keen on throwing away.
Count on Marquez to show up and make this a fight. Count on him to look slightly smaller than Manny, but not physically overmatched. Count on him to counter-punch his way to winning a few rounds. Do not, however, count on him to win.