LAS VEGAS—They stared at each other during the face-off without smiling and without blinking. They did not shake hands.
The animosity, if not genuine hatred, between the two combatants was obvious during the final press conference on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) for the Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez IV at Hollywood Theater of MGM Grand.
Pacquiao, as always, was jovial while Marquez was stoic and dead serious about their brewing war.
Venerable promoter Bob Arum said the pay-per-view (PPV) showdown on Saturday (Sunday morning in Manila) promised to be in the mold of the Marvelous “Marvin” Hagler and Thomas Hearns battle, which he dubbed the “best fight I’ve ever seen.”
Though Pacquiao and Marquez have fought each other three times, Arum vowed a completely different version, noting that the protagonists had prepared extremely hard to decisively settle their long rivalry.
To accentuate the ring feud between the Philippines and Mexico, Arum brought in the two countries’ Miss Universe candidates—Filipino Janine Tugonon and Mexican Karina Gonzalez—and made them pose with Pacquiao and Marquez.
The beauty pageant will also be held here on Dec. 19.
Lawyer Jeng Gacal, Pacquiao’s legal counsel, fanned the flames when he boldly announced that the Pacquiao-Marquez rivalry wouldn’t extend to 48 rounds, insinuating that the four-division Mexican world champion would finally be knocked out or stopped by the Filipino Fighter of the Decade.
Although no title is at stake in the fight, the World Boxing Organization (WBO), through its president Francisco “Paco” Valcarcel, has dangled the finely crafted WBO Champion of the Decade belt for the winner.
Mark Taffet of HBO PPV predicted that Pacquiao-Marquez IV would be a sellout (at the gates) and could surpass the 1.3 million PPV hits the third fight had generated.
Copromoter Fernando Beltran said the fight was a guaranteed sellout and would break their gate receipts’ record.
30 TV stations
Reminiscing, the 81-year-old Arum said that before HBO’s 24/7 series, Pacquiao-Marquez II only generated 400,000 PPV buys.
Now, with live streaming, episodes of the Pacquiao-Marquez IV can be seen in a seven-story electronic screen, encompassing a little over 1,000 square meters of space in New York’s Times Square.
Also present during the press conference covered by over 30 television stations worldwide were—for Team Marquez—Hall of Fame trainer Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain, strength and conditioning expert Angel Hernandez and Beltran.
As usual, Team Pacquiao was a bigger group, with chief trainer Freddie Roach, assistant trainer Buboy Fernandez, adviser Michael Koncz, strength and conditioning trainer Alex Ariza, Ilocos Sur Gov. Chavit Singson and Gacal joining Pacquiao at the stage.
The winners of the national rodeo championships being held here also came.
A note to the fight: Pacquiao has mobilized his staff to help victims of Typhoon “Pablo” that ravaged parts of Mindanao. Pacquiao said he would raise money but if he failed to do so, he would dig from his own pocket.
Roach sees knockout
If the three previous Pacquiao-Marquez fights were any indication, the result of this weekend’s clash would be close. If styles make fights, their styles make for fights that can confound the ringside judges just as much as they do the people who pay to watch.
So what’s the intrigue of Fight No. 4? What reason do fight fans have other than the possibility of Marquez finally winning to spend money for a fight that could be as predictable as the other three?
Maybe just because there’s a good chance you’ll never see the two ring generals battle each other again.
“I think this is the last fight with him,” Pacquiao said.
“Last time,” agreed trainer Roach. “We’re going to knock him out. End of story.”
That might prove difficult because it didn’t happen in the first three fights and the general perception is that Pacquiao is beginning to slip, if just a bit. While no one is suggesting Pacquiao is still not a very good fighter, his last two fights were a disputed win over Marquez and an even more disputed loss against Timothy Bradley.
‘Manny’s hungrier now’
The line in the Pacquiao camp is that the fighter wasn’t focused against Marquez last time because of domestic problems and that he was robbed against Bradley. The camp claims Pacquiao has something to prove, especially if he is ever to get Floyd Mayweather Jr. in the ring, and has been ferocious in training camp.
“The fourth fight could be the same as the last three, but Manny’s hungrier now,” Roach said. “I don’t think Marquez has seen the best Manny yet.”
The rivalry goes back eight years, when the two fighters first met for the featherweight title and Pacquiao came out and floored Marquez in the first round. Marquez went down two more times in the round, yet somehow managed to end the round on his feet.
Marquez would not only survive but come back to dominate the later part of the fight. He salvaged a draw on the judge’s scorecards, the first of three decisions he felt unjustly favored Pacquiao.
They met again at 130 pounds in 2008 and the fight was almost as close. Pacquiao won one scorecard, Marquez the other, while the third judge favored Pacquiao by one point, giving him a split-decision win.
Then they fought last year at 144 pounds and Pacquiao won a majority decision that angered both Marquez and the crowd at the MGM Grand arena, which booed heavily when it was announced.
“I want to be more aggressive this time, but with intelligence, because Manny is a very dangerous fighter,” Marquez said.
Marquez brings with him the Hispanic audience, and he also brings a well-earned reputation as the one fighter who can solve Pacquaio’s somewhat unorthodox style. He might be an aging fighter at 39, but Pacquiao also has been showing the signs of his 17-year career in professional boxing.
And while Pacquiao is widely acclaimed as one of the great offensive fighters of his era, Marquez might be one of the best counterpunchers. All three of their fights have had tremendous action, and there’s no reason to believe the fourth fight will be any different.
That’s especially true if Pacquiao—who renounced his drinking and partying ways after having marital problems last year—trained as hard for this fight as he and Roach say.
The fight will be at
147 pounds, a full 22 pounds heavier than the boxers were in 2004. Marquez appears to have bulked up, leading Roach to question how natural his weight gain really was.
Marquez wore a bulky coat while meeting with reporters as if he were trying to conceal his physique.
Marquez’s sole motivation for the nontitle welterweight clash is the prospect of finally being able to celebrate victory over the Filipino in the ring. “I want them (Pacquiao’s corner) to raise my hand [in triumph],” Marquez said.
Pacquiao appears to be growing increasingly frustrated by the Mexican’s insistence that he was the deserved winner of their previous three contests, particularly because of the counterpunching style favored by Marquez.
“He always claims he won the fights,” said Pacquiao (54-4, 38 KOs) who has won world titles in eight weight divisions. “So he needs to prove something.”
Pacquiao added: “When you say ‘Muhammad Ali,’ you think ‘Joe Frazier.’ I think when you say ‘Manny Pacquiao,’ you think ‘Juan Manuel Marquez.’ And when you say ‘Marquez,’ you think ‘Manny Pacquiao.’”
Neither man is expecting a fifth fight, whatever happens in the ring on Saturday. The fourth bout, they insist, will be the last. With reports from AP