The Sweet Science
Pacquiao is hoping Juan Manuel Marquez doesn't act like the savvy counterpuncher on Saturday, and instead tries to prove a point. (Chris Farina-Top Rank)
has spent every waking moment the past few days telling anyone who will listen that Juan Manuel Marquez needs to change his style. When great fighters begin to talk like that it always makes me wonder about them.
What they seem to be saying, really, is not that they are spoiling for a fight. What they’re really saying is they want their opponent to cooperate with them. They don‘t want to play a fistic version of golf on a tough course. They want to go to the driving range.
That is not unusual as a great fighter ages. In fact, it’s often the case. An opponent fights back in the way Marquez does, which is to say with technical proficiency and the ability to counter you and then disappear into the dark shadows before you can respond, and the great fighter grows not challenged, but annoyed.
They look upon such opponents as irksome problems they should no longer be burdened with. And so they say what they can to try and lure that person into a fight that is unwise.
Often a young fighter can find himself in such a place. Certainly it happened to a Sugar Ray Leonard in his first fight with Roberto Duran. Rather than focus on winning the fight he instead focused on proving a point.
He proved the point, lost the fight, learned a lesson and five months later boxed Duran into a psychological melt down, winning the rematch and proving his point in a more cerebral way. That time he fought his fight. Roberto Duran did not appreciate it.
Leonard never forgot that lesson. When he had to fight he did but many of his matches were won before he entered the ring. If you are among those who think he beat Marvelous Marvin Hagler, that’s how he did it. He so annoyed Hagler that he talked him into giving away his advantages – which were pressure, his southpaw style and making the match a street fight – and escaped with a decision.
Pacquiao now seems to be trying to do the same thing to Marquez. Earlier this week he insisted, “He needs to prove something.’’
Why any more so than Pacquiao?
He said, “If I was scared of him I would not choose to fight him four times. Even if every month we fight, no problem. He has a brave heart but if you claim you won the fights you need to show something.
“I want him to fight me toe-to-toe. Either me or him. We both have two hands to use in the fight.’’
Of course Pacquiao wants Marquez to go toe-to-toe. That’s what he did in the first round of their first fight and he ended up on his ass three times. After the third, Marquez weaved his way back to his corner, got a stern lecture from trainer Nacho Beristain about using his head and went back out and boxed Pacquiao into a fog.
By the end of a night that started off with him on the deck three times, Marquez was awarded a draw. Many people felt he won, believing he didn’t lose a round after the second.
“ That was one of the greatest comebacks I ever saw,’’ conceded Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach. “These have (all) been good matches. If we lost any of those fights I couldn’t complain.’’
Pacquiao knows the truth of that and at nearly 34 probably knows there is little he can do to change that this time either. Only Marquez can change it by forgetting who he is. It is why Manny Pacquiao keeps publicly urging him to fight toe-to-toe, insisting if he believes he won the other fights he must fight this one in a way that will make winning more difficult for him.
It is a wise man’s strategy, another example of how smart a prize fighter Manny Pacquiao is. His problem is that Juan Manuel Marquez is just as smart and at 39 old enough not to be lured into trying to prove he’s a winner by fighting in a way that would make it easier to be a loser.
When Roach was asked what he would be telling Marquez if he was preparing him to fight Pacquiao he conceded without debate that he’d tell him to do what he’d done before. He would not tell him to go toe-to-toe. He would tell him to counter punch because that is what Juan Manuel Marquez has always been.
“Yes, of course,’’ Roach admitted. “It’s the smart way to fight Manny. He is what he is. But you don’t win fights with defense. You win with offense. You have to take the title. You can’t just have it given to you.’’
Of course, there is no title on the line this time; none but the title of “I beat you.’’ Manny Pacquiao sounds like a guy who wants to win that title the easy way this time.
“If he wants to exchange more I think it’s in our favor,’’ Roach said. “But people don’t change much. That’s a very difficult thing to do.’’
In the case of Juan Manuel Marquez, one of the smartest and most technically proficient fighters in boxing even at age 39, it would also be a very stupid thing to do. Which is why Manny Pacquiao keeps suggesting it.