Fights like last Saturday’s Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez III bout are what keep boxing fans (including myself) in a perpetual love-hate relationship with the sport.  My various observations and points to consider are below.  (Apologies in advance as what follows is quite a hodgepodge of thoughts.)

Like many in the boxing community, Manny’s starpower caused me to overlook several aspects of boxing in general and this matchup in particular.

  1. “Styles make fights.”  Counterpunchers against lead punchers, conservative fighters against offensive fighters, and righties against southpaws are always going to have the potential for both unpredictable results and exciting fight drama.  As we saw once again in this third fight, because of styles, these two match up perfectly as one guy’s various strengths and weaknesses are neutralized by the other’s respective strengths and weaknesses.  (I.e. Marquez’s feints and counterpunching reduce Manny’s normal volume, Manny’s constant aggression causes Marquez to make more mistakes than usual, Marquez’s angles neutralize Manny’s lateral movement, Manny’s power acts as an equalizer against Marquez’s accuracy, Marquez’s timing negates Manny’s speed, etc.)  In a manner of speaking, if Manny is Superman, Marquez is Kryptonite.
  2. “Counterpunchers win re-matches.”  This is a more heavily debated point than points 1 and 3—counterpunchers and more skill-dependent boxers are believed to have a tendency to improve as they get more “looks” at their opponent.  With 24 rounds of experience with Manny previous to this fight, I should have considered the possibility that Marquez already understood all of Manny’s angles and tendencies.  He proved this during the fight with his exceptional timing of Manny’s left hand.  Much more often than not, Marquez had Manny’s left timed so well that when Manny threw it, there were three things that usually happened: Either Marquez stepped back before Manny started throwing it so that the punch wound up short, he would begin ducking in anticipation of the punch (which would sail over his shoulder), or his own counter right-hand would pre-empt Manny’s left.
  3. Skills pay the bills.”  NOT strength and size.  I made the mistake of putting too much importance on Manny’s increased size and strength at the expense of considering that it is typically the respective styles and relative skill levels of fighters that determine the outcome of bouts much more than anything else.

Something quite unsettling for Pacquiao fans is the idea that perhaps Marquez was able to pick up right where he left off from the previous two fights because Pacquiao has actually not improved since their last encounter—a topic that many Pacquiao skeptics frequently bring up.  The logic goes: If Manny is truly a vastly improved fighter with a broader range of techniques at his disposal, wouldn’t Marquez have needed more rounds to figure him out?  (Remember Marquez was competitive very early on in the fight—earlier than you would expect from a counterpuncher who first needs/wants to understand his opponent before truly getting into the fight).  Wouldn’t Marquez have been much less successful in this fight since he would have been forced to relearn the new timing and tendencies from a more versatile Pacquiao?  Perhaps the skeptics are onto something here (or at least have much more ammunition when debating Pacquiao’s improvement as a fighter).  Let’s take it further and consider the possibility that Freddie Roach’s improvements to Manny’s boxing have been more “cosmetic” rather than functional.  After Saturday’s results and following the train of thought above, I am personally no longer quite sure where I stand on this point.

Some other points…  First, the fight was very close.  While I personally scored the fight 115-113 in Marquez’s favor, I think it may be a bit extreme to say that Marquez was “robbed” although I myself initially used the term “robbery” to describe the situation.  Neither guy put on a decisive display, and the decision could have gone either way.  Because of the existence of several very difficult to score rounds, I could conceivably see scores ranging from 115-113 for Pacquiao to 115-113 for Marquez.  One thing to note about my scoring is that I watched the fight live at the MGM Grand and have not yet seen the HBO broadcast.  This is notable for two reasons:

  1. The crowd was overall very pro-Marquez and would cheer loudly whenever Marquez did anything—if you’ve ever been to a fight, you know that this energy can easily sway your perception of a fight (and judges are not immune to this), and
  2. I was told that the HBO commentators during the fight seemed to be quite biased towards Pacquiao and even looked to be justifying the scoring after the fight.  This latter reason is why you’ll often hear the suggestion that fight films should be watched and scored with the sound completely off—this prevents viewers from being caught up in the excitement from the commentators and having their view colored by the commentators’ assessments.  Remember, these guys are in the entertainment business; they are supposed to get their viewers amped up.  Also keep in mind that Manny is a cash cow for HBO—they are prone to talking and acting favorably toward him. 

As mentioned, the official decision on the fight could have gone either way.  With it being such a close fight, even if Marquez won, there would still be some unrest in the boxing community as there would be those expressing concerns going the other way (i.e. Pacquiao didn’t get a fair shake).  The bottom line is: when a fight is razor close, you generally should just accept the official decision.  Pacquiao won the fight.

A quick note on the CompuBox scoring.  While the numbers seem to favor Manny, remember that judges do not see these figures and must make a subjective assessment each round.  CompuBox also only gives you a sense of clean punching, which is only one of the four criteria on which boxing is supposed to be scored.  (For those with less experience, the four criteria are clean punching, effective aggression, ring generalship, and defense).  The point here is that the numbers aren’t everything.  My own view from an overall perspective is that in general, the effective aggression and defense categories are both a wash while ring generalship went to Marquez.  Clean punching is up in the air, but as my scoring implies, I feel that Marquez likely had the edge here.

I’ve heard several Pacquiao supporters postulate that perhaps Manny purposefully made himself look vulnerable in order to lure Floyd Mayweather into a big money fight.  I think this logic is severely flawed.  A) Manny seems to be quite the competitor and sportsman.  I do not think it would be in his nature to refrain from trying his absolute very best, especially when his countrymen are asking for and expecting a knockout.  B) Looking bad against a fighter who Mayweather destroyed would likely make demand for that fight decline among casual observers as they would infer that the match-up would be uncompetitive.  This in turn would hurt overall revenue—not something that I think Manny would strive for.

Many of the pro-Marquez crowd will unfortunately hold the fight results against Manny.  However, it is not his fault that the judges may or may not have been biased or that boxing judges tend to be fooled by both volume and aggression when making a determination as to who is winning a fight.

The two scores favoring Pacquiao can be reconciled by an unwritten rule of boxing:  To win a title, you have to take it from the champion (i.e. win convincingly since the burden of proof rests on the challenger).  This is why close rounds are given to the champion.  In a championship fight, you can’t expect judges to give the challenger the benefit of the doubt.  If a judge isn’t sure, he will generally give that round to the champion. 

Further to the point above, it is possible that there is another bias at work here for those who scored the fight in overly heavy favor of Marquez (think 116-112 or wider).  Most of the boxing world expected this to be a walk in the park for Pacquiao.  Namely, the 10-1 odds against Marquez as well as the numerous predictions of a Pacquiao knockout (including my own).  When Marquez turned out to be competitive against Pacquiao, it is only natural that some would score rounds for him solely because he was doing a lot better than expected.  When you’re expecting a guy to get blown out of the water and all of sudden he’s landing shots and backing the other guy up in spots, you are prone to believe that he’s actually winning.  In other words, Marquez was held to such a low standard (and Pacquiao to such a high one) that when Marquez far surpassed this, the natural bias was to think he was winning.

I’ve heard some grumblings from a few Pacquiao supporters that Marquez cheated by stepping on Pacquiao’s foot repeatedly and headbutting.  This is ridiculous.  Fact: When orthodox fighters fight southpaws, both headbutts and stepping on feet are extremely common.  This occurs because usually (when not fighting a lefty) that front foot won’t be in your way when you are stepping forward to throw a punch.  Pacquiao also inadvertently steps on Marquez’s foot at times.  He might headbutt and step on Marquez’s foot LESS but that is because he is more used to fighting righties than Marquez is used to fighting lefties (for the simple reason that most people, and hence most fighters are righty).

Glen Trowbridge, the judge with the widest score for Pacquiao (116-112, which I consider out of line), scored the 12th round for Marquez while the other two judges gave it to Manny—did he realize that his score was too wide towards the end and decide to tighten it up?  A couple of the more cynical folks in the boxing community (such as Steve Kim and Lou DiBella), expressed concerns that perhaps things weren’t on the “up-and-up” and that “the fix” was in.  Some in the crowd even mentioned that maybe Bob Arum had some influence over the judges.  These concerns are unfortunately not outside of the realm of possibility.  Remember folks, boxing (for better or worse) is first and foremost a business.  There is a lot of money at stake for a handful of very “influential” people in a potential Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight, and we are all well aware of boxing’s very corrupt history.  There are some boxing insiders who wouldn’t be ashamed to admit that a Marquez victory would not have been in the best interests of the sport from a business standpoint.

Random thought that I know I’m going to take a lot of heat for: Pacquiao fans in general are probably the worst kind of boxing fans.  My personal observation is that most Pacquiao fans are solely PACQUIAO fans and not BOXING fans—this leads to an incredible amount of bias when watching and debating a Pacquiao bout.  Most of these Pacquiao fans had never even watched boxing before Pacquiao came along and don’t really watch boxing outside of Pacquiao bouts.  Their opinions must be taken with a grain of salt.

Last point.  Because of the age-old adage “styles make fights,” the Pacquiao vs. Mayweather fight could still conceivably be extremely competitive despite yet further confirmation from this past weekend that Manny has trouble with adaptive counterpunchers.  Remember, boxing success is NOT transferable.  Even if Fighter A beats Fighter B and Fighter B beats Fighter C, this does not imply that Fighter A beats Fighter C due to the concept of “styles make fights.”  Sure, Mayweather pitched a near shut out against Marquez and is himself a very accomplished counterpuncher.  But his style isn’t exactly like Marquez’s, and it is precisely the unpredictable nature of these interactions between various fighting styles that make it tough for anyone to consistently forecast the results of match-ups.  You can never truly know how a style clash will work out until the two fighters are actually in the ring together. 

As we often hear in the boxing community: “That’s why they fight the fights.”

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