Fight Prediction: Pacquiao-Marquez III

November 10, 2011 in Boxing, Sport by pacejmiller

Man, time flies.

Just three days from now on the 12th of November 2011, pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao will take on his nemesis (no, not Floyd Mayweather Jr), Mexican warrior Juan Manuel Marquez for the third time at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

As most boxing aficionados know, Pacquiao and Marquez had engaged in two previous wars back in 2004 and 2008, resulting in a controversial draw (115-110, 110-115, 113-113) and a narrow, but equally controversial split decision for Pacquiao (115-112, 112-115, 114-113).  Officially, the history books currently read 1-1-0 in favour of Pacquiao, but in those who have watched the fights know that it could very well have been the other way around.

This third contest will determine once and for all who is the superior boxer, and if Pacquiao wins, pave the way for a Mayweather superfight next year (Floyd has apparently circled 5 May 2012 on his calendar as the date, but no one is holding their breath given the number of false alarms over the years).

There are several reasons why Pacquiao is the overwhelming favourite this time despite how close the first two fights were.

1. Weight

The first fight was at featherweight (126 pounds) and the second fight was at super featherweight (130 pounds).  This third fight is at a catch weight of 144 pounds.  It is well documented that Pacquiao struggled with his weight management at those lighter weights, and as we know, Pacquiao has fought around welterweight for 5 out of his last 6 bouts (Hatton being the exception at junior welterweight), and not only is he undefeated at this weight, he has demolished all those before him.  Pacquiao has grown into a fully-fledged welterweight and it appears 144 might be his optimum weight (as he had to take extra protein to get above that in other fights).

On the other hand, Marquez has been a lightweight (135 pounds) since the second Pacquiao fight and has only ventured above that once — when he fought Floyd Mayweather Jr in 2009.  In that fight, the contract weight was also a catch weight of 144 pounds (later stretched to 146 as Mayweather failed to make weight), and Marquez struggled to boost his weight up to 142 pounds, looking a little flabby around the middle on fight night.  And as we saw on that night, Marquez was not very good at this unfamiliar weight, though it could be argued that it was Mayweather’s brilliance that made him look that way.

If the videos on HBO’s 24/7 shows can be trusted, Marquez has bulked up a lot more successfully this time and has allegedly managed to preserve his speed.  This makes things more interesting, but in any case, there is no question that at 144 pounds, the cards are stacked firmly on Pacquiao’s side.

2. Age:

Boxers are getting older and older these days, and Marquez turned 38 in August.  On the other hand, Pacquiao does not turn 33 until December.  Five years is significant, but what is more concerning for Marquez is that few fighters don’t start to see significant declines past the age of 35-36.  Marquez might be the exception to the rule, as he has looked very good in almost all his recent fights, including a recent first round KO in July against Likar Ramos (who probably took a dive, but nonetheless…).

Marquez has a style that ages well, but at 32 Pacquiao is clearly in his prime, whereas Marquez may have slowed by half a step since the last time the two touched gloves.

3: Improvement:

Some people don’t believe fighters at an elite level can improve significantly, but many agree that Pacquiao is a much better fighter now than when he last fought Marquez.  Better defense, more patient, less reckless, better at following Freddie Roach’s game plans, effective punching power in both hands (instead of just the left).  And at this higher weight, he appears to be more durable, has more stamina, more power, and is arguably faster than he was before.

As for Marquez, because of his age and perhaps because he has been in Pacquiao’s shadow the last few years, not many are suggesting that he has improved much, if at all.

If we assume Pacquiao and Marquez were dead even back in 2008, it’s not surprising that most are expecting Pacquiao to walk through Marquez this time given his supposed improvement and Marquez’s supposed lack of improvement.

Prediction

There are plenty of boxing fans and experts out there who genuinely believe that Marquez won both fights.  You can judge for yourself at ESPN, which is currently showing both fights in their entirety (I and II).  You may think that, despite the 3 knockdowns in the first fight and the single knockdown in fight two, Marquez has Pacquiao’s number stylistically and won both fights, but you cannot possibly say that the fights were not close.

Fact is, even if you watch the second fight immediately after the first, you should be able to see a noticeable improvement in Pacquiao’s abilities.  That was more than 3.5 years ago.  Then watch some of his more recent fights at welterweight, and the contrast in his style and physical appearance will be astounding.

Remember, the first fight was before Pacquiao lost to Erik Morales (whom he annihilated in two subsequent rematches) and the second fight was before Pacquiao delivered beatdowns to De La Hoya, Hatton, Cotto, Margarito and Mosley.  As good as Marquez is, do you see him beating any of those guys at 144 pounds?

Like most pundits, I find it difficult to believe that Marquez will have anything more than a puncher’s chance this third time.  Pacquiao proved that he is taking the fight seriously on 24/7, and his training camp is reportedly one of his best ever, with insiders saying that he has taken it to another level.  Unlike the crappy Mosley fight, Pacquiao has plenty of motivation and he has said as much.  On the other hand, Marquez remains confident because he honestly thinks he beat Pacquiao twice already — but will this confidence backfire when he realises that the person he faces on Saturday night is not the same guy he faced before (ie the guy that kept throwing right jab-left cross combos all night long)?

I see Marquez fighting valiantly and tagging Pacquiao with a few good shots, and maybe even steal few rounds here and there.  He is an extremely intelligent and crafty fighter who has shown he can figure out other fighters’ styles during a fight and historically has given Pacquiao fits.  But I also see the explosive Pacquiao hitting Marquez with a fair deal of big blows, and the added power at 144 pounds will likely lead to several knockdowns and perhaps even a cut or two.

Marquez has never been knocked out and I respect him too much to expect it to happen this time.  That is why I am predicting a wide and uncontroversial unanimous decision for Pacquiao.  It will be closer than some experts predicted and unlike the recent string of disappointing big name fights, this one will be action-packed from start to finish and a contender for fight of the year.  In the end, Pacquiao will win more rounds and coupled with the knockdowns, it will be a comfortable but hard fought victory and a fitting end to a marvellous trilogy.

Can’t wait!