Saturday night will see Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez fight for the third time in their careers. The first bout was a draw in 2004 and Pacquiao took a very close split decision in 2008. Since that time, Pacquiao has become the pound-for-pound king in the sport of boxing while Marquez cemented himself as boxing's top lightweight.
Let's break down the fighters and see how this fight shapes up:
Last 5 Fights:
Strengths: Manny Pacquiao is a rare combination of skills, abilities and hard-work that combine to create a near perfect fighter. Pacquiao is very physically strong, even at welterweight, for a guy who started his career out as a light flyweight. It is also very useful strength, completely functional in fights. A large portion of his weight is in his legs, the point at which a boxer's power punching starts and this has translated into his ability to melt bigger men as he has steadily moved up in weight.
Pacquiao also has very quick hands and the ability to throw combinations with speed and accuracy. Unlike rival Floyd Mayweather, Jr., Manny has kept busy and at age 32 he shouldn't be near any sort of sudden athletic decline.
Weaknesses: Manny doesn't have many weaknesses but there are moments where he almost seems to get bored and look for a real "fight" to develop. In those moments he gets a little careless. It's hard to see him getting so careless at welterweight against Marquez that he'd get hurt though. There have been times in Pacquiao's career where he falls in love with looking for the straight left, but as he matured as a fighter under the direction of Freddie Roach he has made the transition to a two handed fighter.
Juan Manuel Marquez
Last 5 Fights:
Strengths: Marquez is an expert counterfighter. When he is in his element he is working off his opponents' attacks with stinging counters. He has the ability to counter with both hands and has a very good sense of body positioning. Many fighters have balance issues in the counter game, that is not the case with Marquez. He also has the ability to drop his attack to the body very well, especially with lead hooks.
Marquez also has an intense competitive spirit. Most men would have been ready to look for a way out in the first Pacquiao fight after Manny scored three knockdowns in the first round. Marquez simply kept pushing and earned a draw in a fight many felt he came back to win. That is a certain kind of competitive spirit possessed by very few men. It should also be considered a strength that Juan has been in with Pacquiao twice already in his career, having a legitimate case for having won both fights.
Weaknesses: Juan Manuel Marquez is not a welterweight. He appears to be making the move up in weight this time with more success and strength than he had against Mayweather, but he still is not welterweight (the bout is at a catchweight of 144 instead of the 147 pound limit). If he looks anywhere near as sluggish as he did against Floyd, he will get knocked out by Manny.
Marquez is also 38 years old. He's not the prime age fighter that he was in the other Pacquiao bouts and the combination of age and size may just be too much.
There's really only two ways this fight goes. Maybe Manny really is too big and Marquez too old to be competitive or Marquez simply is "that guy" in Manny's career.
I sat down this week and rewatched both of their first two meetings and I scored both for Marquez by narrow margins. If you're looking at the fight purely in terms of the physical it makes sense for Pacquiao to be such a heavy favorite, it's when you get into the mental that you can see ways that Marquez can find an edge.
The fact that Juan has been in with Manny twice and arguably won both fights makes for a very interesting dynamic. As opposed to a fight where a fighter thinks that he can beat an elite guy, Marquez knows that he can. Just as important as his masterful boxing is this mental part of the game. He isn't going to come out afraid, he's going to come out to win.
The fact that Marquez will be fighting to win should make for one of the most entertaining "big fights" in some time, even if it is a resounding Pacquiao win. These two men are going to fight, and that should be fun to watch.
While I scored the first two bouts for Marquez, it's just too hard to pick him to win this fight. 38 years old and at welterweight is not the Juan Manuel Marquez that has proven himself one of the best boxers of the past 20 years. Pacquiao is in his prime, is comfortable at the weight and has developed into a two handed boxer of much higher skill than in the first two bouts.
While I do believe it will be an exciting fight and I do think Marquez will win a round or two, it should still be a fairly comfortable Pacquiao decision. I think Manny may score a knockdown or two but I think Marquez will get to the finishing line.
Manny Pacquiao by unanimous decision.