MANILA, Philippines—It was a punch felt across the boxing world.
The outcome bordered on the impossible and the outrageous. Manny Pacquiao knocked out cold with a single punch? And from the “smaller” Juan Manuel Marquez? But that’s exactly what happened, and the image of our national hero lying senseless on the canvas was unbearable.
Now we know how Ricky Hatton’s fans felt when Pacquiao knocked him out silly three years ago. But Pacquiao is no Hatton. Not even close.
Part of us was defeated with Pacquiao Saturday night in Las Vegas. It’s the belief—the conviction—that our boxer was invincible. Yes, he could be hurt, but never toppled; bloodied, but never conquered. To us, he was always the conqueror.
We were all suspended in disbelief when Marquez connected with a perfect right counter, just as Pacquiao came in and missed with a punch.
Was Pacquiao reckless? Probably. But that had always been part of his style—highly skilled, utterly ferocious, but occasionally reckless. A risk-taker. Always going in for the kill. That’s why he was always fun to watch, always bringing action and drama.
As promised, he brought back the Pacquiao of old in Fight 4 with Marquez. But the Mexican technician was ready and waiting. It was a textbook counter against a southpaw, in-and-out fighter like Pacquiao. It’s called “salubong” in local boxing parlance, a punch that catches an attacker coming in. The oncoming aggression doubles the impact.
You can’t fault Pacquiao if he decides to retire, say, after a relatively easy farewell fight. He’s got nothing left to prove in 17 years as a professional. His legacy is well in place. But a fighter of Pacquiao’s caliber and heart would not want to go out the way he did against Marquez. Remember how brutally beautiful he boxed for five-plus rounds before walking into a killer counter? That was vintage Pacquiao, a rare combination of fluid punching, graceful footwork, and brute force.
No, Pacquiao’s place among boxing’s all-time greats would not be compromised by his KO loss to his Mexican nemesis. The punch was more about cementing Marquez’s own hall-of-fame career, his place among Mexican champions like the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.
That people are now talking about Marquez in this breadth is a testament to Pacquiao’s own greatness. You beat someone like Pacquiao, you become great.
Pacquiao’s legacy had been secured long ago as he gradually moved up in weight and dismantled one bigger foe after another. A champion in eight different divisions—one punch, however brutal, can never topple that. The man that fell against Marquez was just a boxer; boxers can lose on any given night, their skill and durability diminish over time.
Pacquiao has evolved into a legend and like heroes, legends never die.