Earlier this week Ring Magazines website asked a panel of 15 fighters, trainers, and scribes to prognosticate tomorrow nights third clash between archrivals Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez.
The verdict was resolute, as 11 of themSugar Ray Leonard and this writer includedpredicted a Pacquiao win by knockout, with 14 total votes for the WBO welterweight champion from the Philippines, who is generally regarded the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport today.
Virgil Hunter, celebrated trainer of WBA super middleweight champion Andre Ward of Oakland, was the lone voice of dissent in the chorus. Staying in line with the pattern of the first two hotly contested bouts that were separated by just one point, Hunter has tabbed Marquez to pull out a split decision in a fight that will take place at 144 pounds, 14 above their last scrap three years ago.
CONTEST: Win a Pacquiao-Marquez autographed glove!
Logic says Manny Pacquiao because of the weight difference and things of that nature, Hunter said. But I just cant count out Juan Manuel Marquez, because he knows so much about Pacquiao.
In a sense, hes right. Aside from a decision loss to Erik Morales in 2005 that was avenged with two emphatic knockout wins, the only other competitive fights on Pacquiaos record in the past decade since his arrival in America have been the split decision victory and split draw with Mexico Citys Marquez.
In those two entertaining wars, Dinamita rose off the canvas four times to expose several flaws in Pacquiaos defense, clocking him on countless occasions and buckling his legs with pinpoint counterpunching.
Thus, while the Pac-Man proved he could solve the puzzle Morales presented, he has yet to definitively unlock what seems to be Daedalus Labyrinth embodied in Marquez, whose ring generalship and poise amid pressure has continuously confounded Pacquiao.
HUNTER NOT ALONE IN HIS ANALYSIS
Timothy Bradley, the reigning WBO junior welterweight champion, fights Joel Casamayor on tomorrows undercard and is one of the candidates to face Pacquiao next if the Fight to End All Fights with Floyd Mayweather Jr. does not occur next spring. The Palm Springs native thinks that Pacquiao is far from invincible as well.
Every fighter makes errors, Bradley told online reporter Elie Seckbach and others after a public workout last Saturday. The thing is, you got to capitalize on themManny Pacquiao punches from the weirdest angleswhen he feints you, he wants you to cover up. Hell spin around you, sidestep you, run those combinations off of you, and do it again.
Bradley then briefly delved into his formula for defeating Pacquiao.
You come back on him, hell just lay up on the ropes, hell put his hands up, and hell let you punch him, he said. At that time, hes recovering. Hes taking a breather. Then after you stop, he comes right back on youYou got to isolate him with your feet and have good defense.
Hall of Famer Emanuel Steward is another influential figure in the sport who isnt quite ready to rule out a Marquez upset. In a recent interview with HBO.coms Eric Raskin, the former trainer of Thomas Hearns and current cornerman of heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, is also of the mindset that against a seemingly indomitable battering ram like Pacquiao, the best offense is a stingy defense.
One sticking point pertained to Pacquiaos vulnerability after rattling off his combinations, as he often finds himself out of balance.
Sometimes Pacquiao rushes in recklessly, and most of the guys he fights are just blocking the punches, so he gets away with it, Steward said. But if Marquez just takes a little step back when Manny comes in, he can make him lose his balance and then he can counterpunch when Manny gets out of position. Marquez proved in the first two fights that hes capable of doing this.
Never was this idea more evident than during the two combatants meeting on HBOs FaceOff last month, when both Pacquiao and Marquez agreed that gaining position on the inside has beenand will bea deciding factor on who comes out of their various exchanges the more accurate puncher.
GUTIERREZ: Pacquiao-Marquez III -- What's changed
Obviously Pacquiaos trainer Freddie Roach has also looked at the same film that we have, and hes noted that weve always won the combat zone as I like to call it, said Marquez trainer Nacho Beristain, his words translated from Spanish. Its important that we do it again.
We know its not going to be easy. Its going to be tough to do it again, but thats why we work so hard. You have to be smart enough to know how to do it and when to do it, and thats something Juan is capable of doing.
TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL?
Perhaps the final wild card in this equation is Marquez addition of strength coach Angel Hernandez, who has helped to sculpt the 38-year-olds body to handle the rigors of battle above his usual lightweight limit of 135 pounds. While Pacquiaos body has grown 12 pounds heavier into welterweight, Marquez has not.
After all, the main factor behind his virtual shutout loss against Mayweather two years ago was his inability to carry the extra poundage. In his only other foray at welterweight, Marquez was flabby, slow, and powerless to put a dent in the Money mans chin.
However, this hiring has met its share of controversy, as former BALCO chief Victor Conte used his Twitter account last week to out Hernandez as the former Angel Heredia, who was a key witness in the BALCO cases after testifying in 2008 that he dealt steroids to numerous track stars including Marion Jones.
For his part, the new-look Marquez went on the record stating he had no idea about Hernandez past until Contes revelation.
We're using all legal supplements permitted by the rules of boxing, Hernandez told Ring Magazines Lem Satterfield after announcing he had filed a lawsuit against Conte for defamation. We're using creatine. Juan Manuel has used amino acids and enzymes that help him to recover and to reduce the lactic acids.
Marquez has also discarded with drinking his own urine, of which he informed the world on HBOs 247 documentary series two weeks ago. Whether these developments will have an impact on tomorrow night is one thing, but referring back to Virgil Hunters original quote, one has to consider the logic as well.
MARQUEZ STILL A HEAVY UNDERDOG
The sportsbook has pegged the Filipino a 9-to-1 favorite, and the bookies make sense. As stated above, no one doubts Marquez knows how to fight him tooth and nail; its just that the jurys out on whether hell be able to execute the gameplan given his perceived physical limitations.
At this stage of his career in a heavier weight class against a 32-year-old lion in his prime who has added a vicious counter right hook since their last fight, to say Marquez has a tall order ahead of him would be an understatement.
Unified bantamweight world champion Nonito Donaire of San Leandro summed up the majority opinion succinctly.
I know that Pacquiao has a lot of power, and you dont really want to underestimate the capability of Marquez, but from his power and from this weight class, I think Marquez is a bit too small for 140 or 147 pounds, Donaire said. I think that fight can end around six or eight rounds if Pacquiao can land his big shots.
Then again, as Virgil Hunter has correctly pointed out, theres a reason why we dont crown our champions before the contests have even commenced. Theres a rationale behind thousands of fans and media descending on Las Vegas or the rest calling their cable subscriber to watch it at home.
Deep down, we know why we even discuss such contingencies in the first place, likely or not. As much as this fight has been labeled a mismatch, even the most repulsed of fans is going to refresh the online browser or check the ticker on the bottom of their television screens for the ultimate result.
Its because fights arent won on paper, and the essence of competition against all odds is what drives sports fans to care about Pacquiao-Marquez III. In most cases, such wishful thinking amounts to nothing more than an exercise in futility.
But in a year where the sport has been riddled with upsets and implausible outcomes, one just has to wonderwhat if?
See you on Sunday morning.
Boxing correspondent Ryan Maquiana is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America, and Ring Magazines Ratings Advisory Panel. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.