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Manny Pacquiao vs Juan Manuel Marquez III

So much for the expected Manny Pacquiao rout over his great rival Juan Manuel Marquez. A huge betting favorite, Pacquiao, who has been on an incredible roll in recent years, was expected to handle Marquez decisively, mainly because he was moving up to welterweight (well, actually to the 144-pound catch weight maximum) for the second time in his career, and we all know what happened the first time: Floyd Mayweather Jr. bulldozed him over 12 uncompetitive rounds. Marquez is also 38 now and, besides a farcical first-round knockout of a tomato can in July, he had not fought since struggling to a ninth-round knockout of Michael Katsidis in a lightweight title defense last November. But the three-division champion showed once again that he is the consummate Mexican warrior and still one of the very best fighters in the world. He gave Pacquiao, the 32-year-old Filipino icon, everything he could possibly handle. As usual. They have now waged 36 incredibly close rounds over three terrific fights in one of boxing’s greatest trilogies. It was fitting that Pacquiao-Marquez III took place in the midst of tributes to the great Joe Frazier, who died earlier in the week and was part of boxing’s all-time greatest trilogy with Muhammad Ali.

After three fights between Pacquiao and Marquez there is still no clear-cut winner of any of the bouts, even though Pacquiao is officially ahead 2-0-1 in their rivalry. But he could easily be 0-3 or 1-1-1 or 1-2, whatever. Although Pacquiao got the decision this time, there were numerous writers who scored the fight a draw or for Marquez.

Pacquiao, boxing’s only eight-division titleholder, made the fourth defense of his welterweight belt, but it was not easy. Pacquiao lacked snap on his punches, seemed confused at times and once again had a lot of issues dealing with Marquez’s supreme counterpunching ability, not to mention his nice right hand and even a jab that is underrated. With a pro-Marquez crowd of 16,368 filling the MGM Grand Garden Arena for another huge night, Marquez controlled many of the early rounds and there seemed to be a sense of an upset in the air. But Pacquiao was aggressive and there were so many close rounds. Shocking right? They both had their moments, although neither man was able to visibly hurt the other, though Pacquiao suffered a cut over his right eye (which required 28 stitches) from an accidental head-butt in the ninth round.

While Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer, was telling his man to pick the pace and that it was a close fight, Nacho Beristain, Marquez’s Hall of Fame trainer, committed a terrible error in judgment that may have cost his man the fight. He told Marquez in the late going that he was winning, including before the 12th round. Now when you have fought two controversial fights with Pacquiao already and are entering the final round of another obviously close fight, shouldn’t Beristain have told Marquez he had to win the round? Better safe than sorry, right? Instead, Beristain made it seem like they had it in the bag. Marquez seemed to play it slightly safe in the championship rounds. Had he really stepped on the gas and cleanly won the 12th round when the fight looked like it was still on the table — he won the round on one card, but lost on the other two — he would have at least gotten another draw.

The crowd, which was heavily Mexican, hated the decision, booing lustily for many minutes after it was read. Marquez feels as though he has been robbed three times against Pacquiao by the Las Vegas judges. But, as the counterpuncher, he faces a tough situation because as great as he is, judges often will score in favor of the aggressor and the busier man, which was Pacquiao. According to CompuBox statistics — which are not gospel, but at least provide some idea of how the fight went — Pacquiao landed 176 of 578 punches (30 percent) while Marquez connected on 138 of 436 blows (32 percent). So perhaps the edge Pacquiao received from the judges had something do with the fact he threw more and landed more.

Even with his 15th consecutive victory, Pacquiao looked as vulnerable as he has since winning a split decision in the 2008 rematch with Marquez. There was talk of a fourth fight, but it remains to be seen if Pacquiao wants to tangle with him again and Marquez, so frustrated, talked of possible retirement. There is also the specter of Mayweather, who says he will fight May 5 and his representative said he wants to make the long-awaited, massive money fight with Pacquiao. That is the way they should go. That is the fight boxing has needed for a long time. Enough is enough. It’s time to make that fight before one of them loses, which Pacquiao almost did. And if you are Mayweather, you have to be licking your chops after seeing how bad Pacquiao looked compared to the way he usually looks.

If you missed the fight — and if you’re a boxing fan you shouldn’t have — HBO will replay it on Saturday’s edition of “Boxing After Dark” (10:30 p.m. ET/PT) along with coverage of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. making the first defense of his paper middleweight belt against Peter Manfredo Jr. in Houston.

By Dan Rafealárquez

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