By now many of you have seen or heard of Juan Manuel Marquez' crushing one-punch knockout of Manny Pacquiao last night in Las Vegas. The end came at the 2:59 mark of the sixth round as Pacquiao attempted to get in one final left hand before the bell. Instead, Marquez wisely pivoted to his left and uncorked a perfect straight right hand that landed flush on Manny's chin, leaving him cold on the canvas.
For many viewers, the ending was as shocking as it was thrilling. Up to that point, Pacquiao had seemed to get the better of Marquez, despite being sent to the canvas in the third round by an overhand right before returning the favor with a straight left hand in the fifth. Pacquiao seemed to be landing the harder punches, and Compubox showed him with a 94-52 edge at fight's end. In fact, one can argue that Marquez only landed two punches of any real significance the entire fight. Unfortunately for Pacquiao, both came at the wrong time and will no doubt rekindle the fierce debate begun by Kevin Iole's article this week concerning Marquez' sudden physical transformation and possible dabbling in banned substances. I would hope fight fans reserve their judgment on this, as nothing has been proven and that Marquez has up until now been one of the more honorable men in the sport.
Of more immediate interest, though, is that many fight fans now assume Marquez to be the victor in the pair's four-fight rivalry that has stretched eight years, five weight classes and hundreds of millions of dollars in ticket and PPV sales. This is in part because of the controversial nature of their earlier fights coupled with the emphatic ending of this one.
But such an assumption might be a little premature, and to prove it I will point to the four-fight series between Gene Fullmer and Sugar Ray Robinson between 1957 and 1961. In their series, Fullmer won the first fight via 15-round unanimous decision, maybe the most definitive of the three fights that went the distance. In the second fight, Fullmer was dominating much like he did in the first when, in the fifth round, Robinson uncorked the most perfect left hook in boxing history to knock Fullmer out cold. The third fight a couple of years later ended in a draw, though many thought Robinson clearly won the fight (sound familiar?), and the fourth fight in 1961 was another close affair that Fullmer won via unanimous decision.
So just like this rivalry, you had a controversial draw, two close decision wins by Fullmer and a definitive KO by Robinson. However, few who follow boxing would ever claim that Robinson got the better of Fullmer in this rivalry overall, despite the fact he could easily have been 3-1 instead of 1-2-1, as Marquez is with Pacquiao.
In their series, you have a controversial draw (that Pacquiao would have won if Burt Clements hadn't made a critical scoring error), two close decision wins by Pacquiao and a definitive KO by Marquez. Who can really make the claim that Marquez got the better of this rivalry, despite the fact he could easily be 3-1 (or even 4-0) instead of 1-2-1?
Many will make that very claim, but when the dust settles and forty or fifty years go by, boxing fans and historians will rightly judge that Pacquiao was still the overall victor in this truly exciting series between two of the great practitioners of the sweet science.
Unless, of course, there's a fifth fight.