A year is a long time in any combat sports career but for Manny Pacquiao the difference between how he was perceived at the end of 2011 and the end of 2012 are two wildly different things. Going into his third fight with Juan Manuel Marquez he was one of two men considered the best boxer in the world alongside Floyd Mayweather Junior, many ranking him ahead of the undefeated American. Pacquiao vs. Marquez 3 was supposed to be a tough but winnable fight for Pacquiao, a fight to finish off one of the greatest rivalries in modern boxing history. This was supposed to be the big win that propelled him into the biggest showdown in boxing and combat sports against Mayweather, the fight that’s been bandied about for years.
Unfortunately Marquez had other things in mind than losing and lost a disputed decision to the Philippines-born fighter. Coupled with another controversial decision, this time in defeat to Timothy Bradley, and Pacquiao in 2012 is in a much different spot than he was a year ago. And that’s why another matchup against Marquez makes sense.
It’s about capturing back momentum.
Forget about whether or not Marquez was the matchup to make, if a fourth fight between them was really necessary or whether or not Mayweather should be the next fight for Pacquiao. All of these storylines people are going to discuss are ancillary to why Pacquiao is fighting Marquez and why it ultimately matters. We can discuss all we want the ramifications of the fight, and the trilogy, and we’ve seen these two fighters in the ring enough to know exactly how they’re going to fight one another as well.
Pacquiao needs this win to get back to where he was the vicious killer whose power was something to be feared. He’s not that far removed from being the guy who violently stopped Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto right before punishing Joshua Clottey and Shane Mosley for 12 rounds apiece. Going into the Marquez fight it was almost inconceivable he could lose again; Marquez was a decided underdog despite strong showings against Pacquiao in the past. In a similar way Bradley was a decided underdog to Pacquiao as well.
The Congressman from the Philippines was a demonstrable favorite and thoughts of Mayweather vs. Pacquiao rang in people’s heads as opposed to the current fight. Pacquiao’s momentum was slowed by the disputed win over Marquez and halted by the loss to Bradley. The narrative was that Pacquiao had been robbed of a dominant decision but one storyline managed to persist despite being dwarfed by sentiment about the decision itself.
Had Manny lost a step?
That’s why this fight matters and why Pacquiao took it over a Bradley rematch, one imagines. Pacquiao knows Marquez well enough to know that one of the greatest Mexican fighters of his era brings out the absolute best in him. So far it’s been one of boxing’s greatest in ring rivalries over the span of three fights, destined for perhaps another classic come Saturday night. To take on someone else who won’t be Floyd Mayweather, from a rematch with Bradley to any number of lucrative fights in the near future, would be the choice of a fighter looking for a winnable but tough fight. But there’s a reason why Pacquiao chose Marquez for a rematch.
A big win here and the narrative shifts from people whispering that Pacquiao is on the decline closer to the late 2011 narrative that Pacquiao was still the killer pugilist that could knock Mayweather off the throne. A big win here garners him acclaim and might be enough for him to walk away from the sport on, a rumor long since spoken of loudly. Most importantly a big win here gives him the sort of career momentum that has halted after two highly controversial fights.