The rivalry began in a squared circle in Las Vegas with a fighter from the Philippines trying to make a name for himself in the United States and a Mexican tactician attempting to escape from the shadow of his two more famous countrymen.
Ten years ago on December 08, 2012, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao (54-4-2, 38 KOs) and Juan Manuel “Dinamita” Marquez (54-6-1, 39 KOs) faced off in the ring for an unprecedented fourth time.
Initially, when a fourth fight was announced, it wasn't met with excitement but indifference. The previous Pacquiao-Marquez bouts featured high-level skill and were action-packed with momentum shifts, but the general public had grown tired of the matchup that had yet to provide a clear-cut victor. Despite Pacquiao technically holding a 2-1 advantage in fights with Marquez, neither man had definitively proven himself the superior fighter against the other.
“There are people who say, ‘Who needs a fourth fight?' They've seen three fights, three very good, very exciting fights,” said longtime boxing promoter Bob Arum to ESPN in 2012. “But I know these two guys. I know that Juan Manuel Marquez thinks he won all three previous fights and the last thing he wants to do is leave it in the hands of the judges.
And I know Manny Pacquiao, having experienced the fine judging in Las Vegas earlier in the year (against Timothy Bradley in June 2012), is not going to want to leave it in the hands of the judges. So we're going to see a great, great fight.”
After three fights, the judges awarded Pacquiao 52 and Marquez 56 scored rounds. Only nine rounds were unanimously scored for the Filipino and twelve unanimously for the Mexican. The most significant difference in the scoring was the four knockdowns scored by Pacquiao in the first and second bouts.
The competitive nature and overall quality of the first three fights warranted another bout. However, the primary reason a fourth match was made was due to the third Pacquiao-Marquez fight being the eight-division champion's highest-selling PPV at the time. Pacquiao-Marquez 3 took place in November 2011 and sold 1.4 million PPV buys. Besides his fight with Oscar De La Hoya in 2008, the third fight with Marquez was Pacquiao's highest-grossing gate in Nevada, generating 11.6 million at the box office.
2011 and 2012 weren't the best years inside the ring for Pacquiao. In 2011, he had a subpar and yet dominating performance over a well past his prime, Shane Mosley. Readers voted the third bout with Marquez at Ring Magazine as the “Worst Robbery of the Year.”
While the fighting congressman was still financially strong as a ticket and PPV seller, all of Pacquiao's activities outside the ring had spread him too thin. In June 2012, Pacquiao was on the end of a controversial decision loss to Timothy Bradley that sent shockwaves in and out of the boxing world. However, instead of going after an immediate rematch with Bradley to regain his WBO welterweight title, the eight-division champion decided to step back in the ring with his Mexican rival.
Marquez was a heavy underdog when he faced off against Pacquiao in their third match and when he put forth another effort that didn't result in him walking away with a win on his record, it bothered him more than the previous two results. For the fourth fight, a victory handed down by the judges wasn't going to be enough.
“After three fights where I've worked so hard, a job worthy of the victory,” Marquez stated to HBO in the lead-up to the fourth fight. “And the judges haven't seen it that way. I think it's important to knock him out.”
Pacquiao's motivation was less personal and more based on stopping any further talk from Marquez that he won their previous bouts. The southpaw Filipino could have underestimated Marquez before their third fight. After the second bout in 2009, he ascended to greater heights as one of the top two pound-for-pound fighters along with Floyd Mayweather Jr.
“Our previous fights against each other brought out the best in us,” expressed Pacquiao when the fourth fight was first announced. “Of all the opponents I have fought, Juan Manuel Marquez is the only one who was able to anticipate many of my moves and effectively counter a lot of them. I underestimated him in our last fight, but I will not make that mistake this time. Freddie Roach and I will make the most of every training day to prepare for Juan Manuel, which is why all my training will take place at Wild Card in Hollywood.”
While both fighters indicated that their fourth bout would have a conclusive ending, many were skeptical as the first three fights left little separation between them. Before the fight, Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach indicated that this would be the last time they face each other despite what happens. “It's the last time,” stated Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach to ESPN. “We're going to knock him out, end of story.”
Marquez, who had pushed for a rematch following the second bout following Pacquiao up the weight scale, agreed with Roach's sentiments about this being their final fight.
“This is the last fight with Manny,” said Marquez to ESPN. “I don't know what will happen in the ring, but this is the last time.”
To have a differing result, both veteran pugilists needed to adjust their training or strategy. However, the hyperbole from both men wasn't anything fans hadn't heard before. The proof that something different would happen would only occur in the ring.
Pacquiao isn't a fighter that trash talks or takes personally the comments made by his opponents. But standing in the middle of the ring with referee Kenny Bayless between him and Marquez, he gave his now four-time adversary what could be described as a deadly stare that tonight he was going to end things.
The first two rounds were some of Pacquiao's best work in the entire series of fights with Marquez. The Filipino was using head movement and feints to offset Marquez's counterpunching. He was being aggressive without putting himself in vulnerable positions, but fighting in that manner could be exhaustive. These were still competitive rounds, but Pacquiao's adjustment in movement was the change he needed. It was more of the same with a slight difference.
“I always train hard, but this time is a little harder,” said Pacquaio before the fight. “Harder and more punches, and some changes. We have been throwing more combinations and changing our strategy – in movement. So it will be a little different than the last one.”
The third round started with Pacquiao again with the advantage of utilizing his movement and punching in combinations. Marquez, however, began throwing more blows to the body. The left hooks were effective and thrown from the mid-range as a decoy for what was coming next.
Marquez feinted a left hook to the body with a minute left in the round. Instead, a looping overhand right came knocking Pacquiao down for the first time in the series. Marquez had done his fair share of damage to his Filipino rival in their previous bouts. In the first fight in 2004, he landed a similar overhand right that sent Pacquiao to the ropes. In the second round of their first rematch in 2008, the four-division champion landed a beautiful counter left hook in a sequence that is still a mainstay in Marquez's career highlight reel.
But this was different. He had never floored, Pacquiao. If the stare-down and first two rounds weren't enough evidence that this would be distinct from their previous matches, Marquez putting Pacquiao down for the first time should have been. Without pause, Pacquiao immediately rose from the canvas. The look on Pacquiao's face was one of surprise. The eight-division champion wasn't severely hurt but was cautious while remaining determined to get back at Marquez.
“After three fights, we knew each other, so even the smallest change was important,” Marquez said to HBO regarding the fourth fight with Pacquiao. “Intelligence wins fights. In the third round, I feinted. Then I threw a right hook and connected well.”
With a new component of Marquez having the ability to hurt Pacquiao, the fourth round resembled more of the template from the third bout. There were pockets of success for the Pac-Man, who seemed somewhat anxious to score a knockdown, but didn't want to leave himself open for another big right hand. Marquez remained composed under the Filipino's pressure and won the round on all three judges' scorecards.
The fifth round saw the fight go to another level. Pacquiao landed his patented split entry left hand a minute into the round at the same time Marquez threw a jab. The Mexican's glove touched the canvas, counting as a knockdown. Following the knockdown, a brawl ensued, with both men landing brutal blows.
In the final sequences of the round, Pacquiao landed a superbly timed right hand after throwing his left that stunned Marquez. The punch landed on the bridge of Marquez's nose, and blood began to spur from his nostrils. Pacquiao backed Marquez up against the ropes attempting to land another barrage of punches, but the Mexican warrior responded as always until the bell rang.
All of the momentum was in Pacquiao's favor throughout the sixth round. With a bloody-nosed Marquez in front of him, Pacquiao continually tagged Marquez, even landing counterpunches in combination. The Pac-Man looked in complete control and appeared to be on the verge of finally putting an end to his nemesis.
The timekeeper signaled 10 seconds left in the sixth round, with Pacquiao landing another stellar combination. He pushed Marquez back to the ropes near his corner, and then it happened. Boom. A perfectly timed right hand from Marquez landed. “The timekeepers signaled ten seconds left,” said Marquez. “I didn't hear anything. I was just waiting for Pacquiao to feint. When Pacquiao feints, he leans forward. I kept waiting for that feint so I could land my counterpunch. And that's how I ended it.”
The Filipino was overzealous and double-feinted right into a right hand for the ages. It was shocking, brutal, and breathtaking all at once. Pacquiao had been laid out face first, and a bloodied Marquez celebrated the most significant moment of his career.
“Pacquiao's step forward took two or three seconds,” stated Marquez to HBO. “My punch took half a second but cost me so much sacrifice. So much work. So much dedication. So much anger for what had happened in the first three fights. That punch carried the strength of my family. The strength of my entire training. The strength of all my Mexican fans.”
The aftermath shook up the boxing world. The prevailing thought was that this was the end of Manny Pacquiao. “Will Manny Pacquiao ever be seen in the ring again?” Larry Merchant stated from ringside. After such a knockout, it only speaks to Pacquiao's greatness that he continued fighting for almost a decade at a high level.
Pacquiao-Marquez IV turned out to be a financial and critical success. The event sold 1.15 million in PPV and won numerous awards for Knockout of the Year, and Fight of the Year, with the 5th round winning Round of the Year. Off the strength of the win, Ring Magazine named Marquez their Fighter of the Year for 2012.
The knockout didn't come without a level of cynicism as Marquez's hiring of the controversial Angel “Memo” Heredia, his new bulked-up physique, and emphatic knockout all combined for many to believe that there was some foul play at hand. Neither fighter opted for 24/7/365 drug testing, and both did not fail any preceding or proceeding tests. The PED skepticism hasn't diminished the fight or Marquez's victory.
A fifth fight never came to fruition. Despite numerous offers thrown at Marquez, including one reported at $150 million. It is rare for fights on the biggest stages to live up to the hype. In today's era, it will be less and less common for fighters to put everything on the line when they've reached the pinnacle of the sport. As we look back on Pacquiao-Marquez IV, there was no title on the line, except for the one between the two legends. It was truly a historic fight that showcased what boxing can be at its best; an amalgamation of art and violence.
For one night in December, Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez stepped back into the ring to settle their rivalry. And ten years later, we are all grateful that they did.