When Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez stepped into the ring in the MGM Grand on May 8, 2004 there was no one who anticipated it being the start of one of boxing's greatest rivalries. 36 rounds later, in the same building where it began, it closed with Manny Pacquiao's hand being raised after winning a narrow majority decision.
Amazingly, after those 36 rounds, it still feels somehow unfinished.
After 108 minutes in the ring against each other over the span of seven and a half years only seven points separate these men on the official scorecards. The combined judges scores in the fights show Manny Pacquiao with 1024 points to Juan Manuel Marquez's 1017. It's absurd to even think about, for two men to have been so evenly matched at three different weights and at three different stages in their careers.
This is the beauty that should not be lost in the immediate moments after the fight. Watching a great boxing match is a visceral experience, one where we, the viewers, can lose ourselves in what we feel is unfolding. We develop an emotional connection to a man like Marquez as he does the unthinkable.
Juan Manuel Marquez. The warrior, the faded star, the over-the-hill over-his-weight legend who many felt was only put in this position out of necessity and a desire to end a still unfinished story in the career of cash cow Manny Pacquiao. He did not come into the ring to play opponent. Instead we watched and we reacted as he gave as good as he got; blasting boxing's now favorite son with right hands, digging in with body shots and not backing down as the trademark Pacquiao left hand landed flush.
Seeing the man written off by so many despite his previous successes put on yet another masterful performance and lose a tight decision can be tough. As we invest in the underdog seeing him doing what he has no business doing, watching him lose "only" because three judges say so can be an emotional shot to the gut. It just feels wrong and, even if the decision is justifiable, we feel cheated.
I am in the crowd who saw the fight for Marquez, giving him the fight 115-113. But it was a close fight with many rounds that could have been scored either way depending on if you favored Pacquiao's aggression and left hand or Marquez's counterpunching and solid right straights.
Pacquiao vs. Marquez III: Full Round-by-Round Results
No, it doesn't feel right that Marquez gave thirty-six rounds of the best he had across three brilliant fights and has two losses and a draw to show for it. But it still wasn't truly wrong. This fight, like the fist two, was simply too close to call a robbery.
Rather than dwell on the scorecards, I'm going to choose to remember that I was privileged to see these two men face each other on three separate occasions and remind me of what happens when two of the true elite agree to go to war. The memories of the Pacquiao vs. Marquez trilogy are to be cherished. The highs and lows for each fighter over thirty-six rounds something worthy of reverence.
The only true loser coming out of this fight is the man who fails to appreciate that a trilogy which will be talked about in boxing circles forever came to a close this night and the best of what happens between the bells was on display for all 36 rounds, all 108 minutes and the seven points over seven years that separated two legends.