This Saturday night will see Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez step into a boxing ring and face each other for the fourth time. In a sport that thrives off legend, with media who seem to picture themselves sporting a fedora and chomping on a spit soaked cigar while they tell you about the greatest club fight they ever saw like the reincarnation of Bert Sugar, this should be a fight with as much hype as anything ever.
But the shadow of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and the fight-that-will-not-be has robbed something from this fight. ESPN tends to ignore boxing in their awful "debate model" shows when it isn't the near vomit inducing First Take debates over if it's Manny that's ducking Floyd or Floyd that's ducking Manny. And the hang-up over a fight that we might never see has turned what should be "Pacquiao is fighting Marquez again!" into "Pacquiao is fighting Marquez again?"
But the level-headed among us realize that Pacquiao vs. Marquez is something special. It's a rivalry that has seen the two men race up in weight 20+ pounds, Pacquiao emerge as one of the most popular fighters in the world, Marquez stake his claim as a true Mexican legend and both men lay legitimate claim to being among the best to ever lace up the gloves.
The first fight came at a time when Pacquiao had gone from a known talented commodity among boxing's most knowledgeable to a bona fide star by thrashing the great Marco Antonio Barrera, stopping him in the eleventh round. Marquez was 42-2 and, while no one debated his talent, hadn't really caught on with many Mexican fans the way a Barrera or Erik Morales had. Marquez was a counterpuncher, he liked to use the ring and wore his foes down. Basically, Marquez wasn't the warrior that Mexican fans embraced while also being too skilled to be a guy many managers would want their fighter anywhere near.
But HBO and the Pacquiao camp wanted to take advantage of Manny's new attention and his built in Filipino fanbase and Marquez had title belts and that counterpunching style they likely thought Pacquiao could overcome with pressure and power.
It all led to the most unlikely of starts to a historic boxing rivalry as Marquez would be badly hurt and knocked down three times in the opening round of their May 2004 bout. Truly, this was the nightmare scenario if you were a Marquez supporter. Manny had the style that clearly broke everything Marquez did and no one knew that Marquez was more than that.
Except that he was.
As Marquez recovered between rounds, survived the second round and could be seen clearing his head, everything changed. Not just for the next ten rounds (some spectators think Marquez won 9 of those final 10 rounds), but for Marquez's entire career. Juan Manuel Marquez roared back, mixing it up like never before, still retaining his counterpunching and movement but engaging in firefights at the same time. He suddenly became the kind of blood and guts fighter that Mexicans adore and his legend grew in a fight that he should have officially lost.
The scorecards were read and it was announced as a three way draw and then details emerged as judge Burt Clements stated that he wasn't aware that you could score a round 10-6, the correct score for the first round of the fight, and instead scored the round 10-7. His 113-113 card would have read 113-112 Pacquiao and would have given Manny the split decision victory.
But the draw, the controversy, the feelings on both sides that they felt they'd truly won the fight and the legend it built for both fighters has carried forward.
The first fight was at 125 pounds, they'd meet again in their long anticipated rematch in 2008, Manny now cemented as the "Mexicutioner" after winning two of three fights against Erik Morales and again roundly beating Barrera. Now the fighters were at 130 pounds and again fought a fierce, evenly matched war.
Pacquiao was given a split decision win in that second fight. Remarkably, of the 73 unofficial scorecards (media and fight personalities) listed on the BoxRec page for the fight they break down with 32 for Pacquiao, 32 for Marquez and 9 as a draw.
2011 came and, with Manny now arguably the biggest fighter on the planet and Marquez still a pound-for-pound great, the two men fought again, now at a 144 pound catchweight. This time, Manny was simply supposed to be too big and too strong. Marquez had come up in weight to fight Floyd Mayweather previously and just didn't look "right." But these two men fight the same fight every time they step into the ring.
This time felt like a Marquez win to many again, but again, it was Manny getting the nod on two of the three scorecards. Pacquiao would win a majority decision with one judge scoring the fight a draw. BoxRec's unofficial scorecard breakdown this time sees 57 scoring the fight for Marquez, 51 for Pacquiao and 36 a draw.
It is undeniable that these two men are made for each other in the boxing sense. They bring out the best not only in each other, but in the sport. Two of the best fighters in the world today, two of the best fighters in the world in their generation and two of the best fighters in the world in the history of the great sport of boxing.
Three fights so far, zero fights with a clear winner, thirty-six rounds since 2004 with an unbelievably close cumulative official score of Pacquiao 1024 - Marquez 1017.
So, yes...Pacquiao is fighting Marquez again.
And I'm damn thrilled about that.