Pacquiao-Marquez: Close encounters of the fourth kind?

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Pacquiao-Marquez: Close encounters of the fourth kind?

Manny Pacquiao’s done, they say. The million dollar smile’s still there, but the fiery desire that has defined the larruping lefty’s rise has all but disintegrated into dust, and his failure to finish off his last few foes in typically emphatic fashion is indicative of his decline.

Or is it? While his detractors have been boasting such claims after two consecutive un-Pacquiao outings tarnished his demigod reputation, the Filipino superstar has dismissed the invective heading into Saturday’s fourth bout with Mexican archrival Juan Manuel Marquez at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas (HBO PPV, 6 p.m. PT).

“In the last fight, I took Marquez too lightly because I was the bigger man physically,” Pacquiao (54-4-2, 38 KOs) said at their initial press conference. “My focus this time is to go for the knockout.”

‘PAC-MAN’ AT THE CROSSROADS

I, too, have had my qualms about whether his recent rut is an anomaly or the beginning of the end for the 33-year-old. As someone who had Pacquiao winning their first fight in 2004 by three points (the judges had it a draw) and the second clash in 2008 by a single point (which ended up being the case), I disagreed with the official verdict of split decision for Pacquiao in their third meeting last November. Rather, I felt Marquez did enough to win by at least two points on my ringside card.

“I still think I won all three fights,” Marquez (54-6-1, 39 KOs) told Ring Magazine’s Lem Satterfield. “This fight will be another war. Everybody is going to watch another war because he knows me and I know him.”

Then there was that debacle six months ago where almost every observer and his dog thought Pacquiao had outpointed Timothy Bradley by a wide margin—only for the judges to treat the general public the way Lucy does Charlie Brown with a football.

Rather than avenge the dubious decision, however, Pacquiao opted for another go-around with Marquez, who will make him more money but further opened speculation that dollars have seized control of a career trajectory that has already taken the “Pac-Man” to title belts in an unprecedented eight weight classes—four of them true lineal championships in this era of alphabet soup.

While Pacquiao-Bradley generated about 700,000 pay-per-view buys, Pacquiao Marquez III almost doubled that figure. According to Yahoo’s Kevin Iole, Top Rank president Todd DuBoef has estimated Pacquiao’s share on Saturday to be upwards of $25 million; Marquez will also rake in a lot more than his guarantee of $3 million.

Pacquiao has insisted that this fight is more than a money grab, stating, “If I chose Bradley, it would be another one-sided fight. I don’t think the fans wanted to see me fight Bradley again.”

Throw in the extracurricular distractions of trading his late nights gambling for Bible study in hopes of resuscitating his marital life, his political ambitions as a congressman in the Philippines, as well as the fact that reported to his Hollywood training camp two weeks late, and one can reasonably come to the conclusions espoused in the initial paragraph—right or wrong.

“I want to erase the last fights and any doubt in [fight] number four,” Pacquiao said. “I will focus this time…I will fight and train like the old Manny—the 25-year-old Manny.”

Of course, keeping slim hopes alive for a Fight to Trump All Fights with Floyd Mayweather would constitute beating Marquez once and for all. It was only three years ago that Mayweather—albeit enjoying a size advantage—dismantled the Mexican great with ease, and it has served as a transitive argument in the American juggernaut’s case for his superiority to Pacquiao. (The counterpoint is that styles make fights, but that’s another article in itself.)

Thus, a decisive defeat on Saturday would further impair the already waning intrigue surrounding Pacquiao-Mayweather. Then again, a resounding knockout from the “Pac-Man” of old would rejuvenate the buzz for a bout that has been estimated to generate $160-180 million in pay-per-view gross revenue alone.

So while the burden of proof is on Pacquiao to demonstrate that he still belongs in the discussion of world’s pound-for-pound king, Marquez is out to show that he has been criminally deprived of a seat at the royal table for years.

“It seems that Manny has only one opponent every time we fight—me—while I have four—Manny and the three judges,” Marquez said in his HBO training blog.

‘JUANMA’ CONTINUES HIS AHABIAN QUEST

Though Marquez’s illustrious ledger is filled with several memorable triumphs, his inability to harpoon his pugilistic Moby Dick in three tries has defined him in the public eye. In reality, the four-division titleholder’s career has been littered with instances of hard luck, with some of it self-inflicted.

Marquez’s pro debut 19 years ago was a disaster, falling to Javier Duran by first-round disqualification. As he rebounded from that setback and started winning championship bouts in the lower weight classes, he found himself overshadowed by former stablemate Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales for the distinction of Mexico’s heir apparent to Julio Cesar Chavez.

Moreover, after furiously rallying from three first-round knockdowns to earn a draw with Pacquiao, he rejected what he considered a lowball offer of $750,000 for a 2006 rematch—only to end up controversially losing his title belt to Chris John in an Indonesian parking lot for $30,000. (I can’t make up that last part if I tried.)

He would eventually secure two more bouts with Pacquiao, but would be punished by the judges for a calculated, counterpunching approach that at varying points of their three encounters was too negative in contrast to his foe’s constant aggression. But don’t tell that to the aggrieved party.

“I still get very angry when I think about those scored being read,” Marquez said. “After two fights I felt I had won at least 19 of the 24 rounds.”

In the first fight, Marquez was overwhelmed early by Pacquiao’s speed and power, and had to dig himself out of a cavernous deficit. Then in the rematch, both judges who scored it for Pacquiao gave the Filipino rounds 3, 4, 6, 9, and 10. Almost on cue, the 12th and final frame in their third battle was Marquez’s Waterloo.

Judges Robert Hoyle (114-114 even) and Dave Moretti (115-113 for Pacquiao) rewarded the Filipino’s initiative to throw punches. On the other hand, Marquez erred by conservatively backpedaling upon heeding his cornerman Nacho Beristain’s advice that the bout was already won.

But it wasn’t, and in preparation for the fourth contest, Marquez has unveiled an impossibly sculpted physique, vowing that he won’t be taking a second off this time around. The development has raised questions about the integrity of the 39-year-old’s training methods.

Marquez’s strength coach, Angel Hernandez, has a sordid past. In 2000, as Angel Heredia, he admitted to supplying disgraced track stars Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery with performance enhancing drugs. Hernandez stated earlier this week that he’s a changed man and has been working with the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) for the past six years.

“If [Marquez’s body] is natural, I will kiss his ass,” said Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach.

At this week’s press conference, Marquez shot down the insinuations, even going as far to refer to Mayweather’s allegations last year that Pacquiao has been using illegal substances. (Pacquiao filed a defamation suit against Mayweather before settling out of court in September.)

“Before the last fight in November [2011], there had been accusations about [Pacquiao],” Marquez told USA Today’s Jonny Saraceno. “People were saying things about him, and we didn't care. We never brought it up, and we did not know anything and we didn't think that it was something. So we didn't bring it up.”

Pacquiao, who according to his fitness guru Alex Ariza is focusing strictly on boxing and not strength and conditioning for this camp, refrained from touching the subject of Marquez’s new chiseled features in depth.

“I want to put that out of my mind and give him credit for working hard, and, and if you work hard, it's not about the size,” Pacquiao said. “This is not about the size. I've been fighting the bigger guys, guys bigger than me, so it's about how you punch in the ring.”

Of course, neither fighter’s calling card during his rivalry has been the gift of gab, but rather the uncanny ability to bring out the best (and worst) out of his rival inside the squared circle. Will Pacquiao and Marquez treat Saturday like Round 37 and give us the same ebb and flow that has marked this trilogy, or will we see drastically different gameplans—and at long last, a clear victor?

“There’s no way we’re going to win a decision this time,” Roach said. “When we were sitting at the press conference, Manny scratched it into the tablecloth that we need a knockout to win, and he’s never done that before. I told him that I’m going to hold him to that.”

CSN Bay Area Boxing Insider Ryan Maquiñana is a voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and panelist for Ring Magazine’s Ratings Board. E-mail him at rmaquinana@gmail.com, check out his blog at Norcalboxing.net, or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.

With Bumgarner sidelined, Blach 'taking full advantage' of opportunity

With Bumgarner sidelined, Blach 'taking full advantage' of opportunity

SAN FRANCISCO -- At some point over the next four days, Madison Bumgarner will pick up a baseball, stand a few feet across from a member of the training staff, and simply play catch. It'll be a huge step in Bumgarner's rehab, and should it go well, a boost to the psyche of a struggling team.

In the meantime, another lefty is making sure the Giants don't suffer too much without their ace, as improbable as that first seemed.

Ty Blach took a shutout into the eighth Saturday night and in true Bumgarner fashion, he added a pair of hits and an RBI. The Giants beat the Braves 6-3. They've won Blach's past three starts, and even with a 10-run outing in Cincinnati mixed in, he has a 3.71 ERA since taking the spot left open by a dirt bike accident.

"Because of what happened he's in the rotation," manager Bruce Bochy said, "And he's taking full advantage."

Blach has shown that long term, he might be a big part of this rotation. It's been years since the Giants locked a young, cost-controlled starter in, and Blach has backed up his big cameo last year. It's possible -- likely even -- that at some point the Giants will need to trade a veteran, perhaps Johnny Cueto, for young bats. Blach provides needed insurance. 

Short term, he's providing a huge boost to a team that doesn't have much going right. Blach has thrown at least seven innings in his past four starts. He has allowed just eight earned runs in four starts since the one in Cincinnati, throwing 28 2/3 innings. 

"I feel good," Blach said. "I've always been a starter, so it's been a pretty easy transition to make. I feel comfortable."

The Giants are comfortable behind him, as evidenced by a half-dozen strong defensive plays Saturday. 

"He's been consistent and he works quickly," first baseman Brandon Belt said. "He's just a great guy to play behind."

Blach even joined in at the plate. He had an RBI single in his first at-bat -- his first big league hit off Not Clayton Kershaw -- and later roped another single. Blach even showed off his wheels, busting it from first to third on Denard Span's ball to the corner before Phil Nevin held him up. 

"I worked into some good counts and I was able to get fastballs," Blach said of his night at the plate. "It's definitely a big confidence booster when your spot comes up and you're able to drive in runs."

The night was straight out of Bumgarner's playbook, and it was needed. The Giants had dropped five of six, but Blach was backed by homers from Nick Hundley and Brandon Belt. It got a little hairy late, but the bullpen held on, clinching Blach's third win of the season. He looks poised for many more, and Bochy is happy to keep running him out there.

"I'm not surprised by what he's doing," the manager said.

 

Instant Analysis: Blach does it all vs Braves, Giants snap skid

Instant Analysis: Blach does it all vs Braves, Giants snap skid

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — This spot in the rotation is the one reserved for the stopper, the pitcher who takes a game by the throat when his team really needs it. 

Ty Blach took the mound Saturday for a team that had lost five of six, and just as Madison Bumgarner often has, Blach ended the skid. The young lefty was dominant into the eighth and the bats finally provided enough support. The Giants won 6-3, tying this weekend series with the Braves.

Here are five things to know from a night we were reminded that Emilio Bonifacio is in the big leagues … 

--- Blach pitched 7 2/3 innings. He has thrown at least seven innings in his last four starts, and five of seven starts overall. Jeff Samardzija (6) is the only Giants starter who has gone that deep more often. Blach is tied with Johnny Cueto for second-most seven-inning starts on staff, and Cueto has made three additional starts. 

--- Blach’s RBI single in the fourth was -- at the time -- the fourth hit of his career, and the first against a pitcher not named Clayton Kershaw. The ball had an exit velocity of 101 mph. Blach tried to score from first on Denard Span’s double, but Phil Nevin held him. Still, the way he was moving, it makes you wonder if Samardzija really is Bruce Bochy’s best pitcher-pinch-running option. In the seventh, Blach picked up a second single. 

--- Blach’s only bad start has been the one he made in Cincinnati, where the Giants played like a Double-A team. If you take that one out, Blach has a 2.21 ERA since taking over Bumgarner’s rotation spot. 

--- Even though he gave up just two earned in 7 2/3, Blach’s home ERA actually went up. It’s 1.75, which ranks seventh in the National League. The sellout crowd gave Blach a standing ovation when he was pulled in the eighth. 

--- Blach had a season-high five strikeouts. When he got Nick Markakis to end the first, Blach ended a streak of 37 left-handers faced without a strikeout. He later struck out another lefty, Matt Adams. The new Braves first baseman came up as the tying run in the eighth but Derek Law got him to ground out to first. 

--- Bonus sixth “thing to know” ... on Blach of course: His first name is Tyson, not Tyler. It’s Tyson Michael Blach.