HE WAS a big lean copper spring, tightened and retightened through weeks of training until he was one pregnant package of coiled venom… And the spring, tormented with tension, suddenly burst with one brazen spang of activity.”
No. This is not about Juan Manuel Marquez. This was written seven decades ago by Bob Considine, who was shocked into writing one of boxing’s most memorable stories after watching Joe Louis destroy Max Schmeling. He might as well have been in Las Vegas on Saturday night writing about Marquez’s demolition of Manny Pacquiao.
Boxing is replete with great accounts of great fights. The fourth encounter of Pacquiao and Marquez will not be the last of these great fights, but if the boxing world stops turning tomorrow, the final word written of their rivalry will be followed by an exclamation point. There’s no punctuation mark more appropriate for that shocker in Las Vegas, when Marquez won vindication with the one blow that is in every prizefighter’s dream. Crisp, quick and devastating, this one sent the champion to dreamland.
The Mexican called it ‘‘the perfect punch.” Pacquiao called it a lucky punch, the one he never saw, the stuff of every champion’s nightmare. But Marquez had waited eight years and 41 savage rounds to unleash this haymaker. The official scorecards showed that he had outfought the Filipino in most of these rounds, but he needed a big win to convince the nonbelievers that he had won their previous three encounters, wherein the judges gave Pacquiao a draw and two close decisions.
For close to six rounds on Saturday, Pacquiao and Marquez gave the fight fans what they came for—a bruising bar room brawl punctuated by a couple of knockdowns. They followed the old script with Pacquiao connecting with wicked combinations and Marquez defending with the same counter-punching style that had tormented Pacquiao in previous fights. It was every bit the war that Marquez had promised.
Pacquiao had Marquez on the verge of a knockout going into the final seconds of the sixth round. But in an incredible display of hubris, he pressed his aggression too far and walked straight into the Mexican’s trap—the ringside timer about to hit the bell ending the round when Marquez found his moment. The taut spring uncoiled, like a cobra attacking without warning, and a ponderous right landed in Pacquiao’s mouth like a sledgehammer—Pacquiao didn’t even know Marquez had weapons in his arsenal other than a rapier. He paid a big price for such insolence.
It was Philippine boxing’s darkest hour since the beloved Gabriel ‘‘Flash” Elorde was knocked out by Carlos Ortiz in 1964. So where does that leave Pacquiao and the rest of the boxing world? Where did he go wrong?
His trainer said he got careless. His mother blamed the loss on the pastors who made the once-devout Catholic turn his back on his religion. The pundits—there are millions of them in this day and age—said he didn’t train as hard as Marquez. Many said he had fought one fight too many. Some said boxing, preaching and legislating are too much on Pacquiao’s plate, and he should therefore stick to boxing, his core competence, or go full time with his religion and his politics. Whatever the reason, it’s not the end of the world for Pacquiao or for the proud nation that had been riding on his shoulders for so long.
Pacquiao is not likely to hang up his gloves, as he had declared after the fight. There’s big money still to be earned and some unfinished business still to settle. Bob Arum and the wheeler-dealers of Las Vegas are lusting for Pacquiao to stay in the picture.
But boxing has a long list of personalities who lingered too long in the picture. The lure of one last big paycheck was just too much to resist. Muhammad Ali fought way past his prime and the video of Larry Holmes virtually begging the referee to stop his one-sided fight against the slow and inept former champ is still a painful memory for his fans. Ali and Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, still suffer from absorbing too many blows to the head. Elorde continued fighting long after he lost twice to Ortiz, both by knockout in the 14th round, and boxing authorities had to refuse him a fight license just so he would drop the idea of fighting into his 40s. He was 36 when he fought his last and 48 when he lost his bout with cancer.
As Greg Bishop wrote for the New York Times on the eve of Saturday’s fateful fight, ‘‘rare is the fighter who ages gracefully, who retires with brain, soul and body parts intact.”
With everything but his ego still intact, Pacquiao should know that there’s nothing more to prove nor any unfinished business to settle. Greatness is knowing when your time is up.