The 29-year-old Pacquiao (45-3-2, 35 KO) is nearly a 2-to-1 favorite to dethrone the 34-year-old Marquez (48-3-1, 35 KO) and become the ninth man to win titles in four weight classes. Should he do so, he will join Thomas Hearns, Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Pernell Whitaker, Oscar de la Hoya, Roy Jones, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Leo Gamez and extend his championship arc to a full decade. Should Marquez win, it will be the culmination of an incredible comeback from the lowest point of his professional career - an ignominious and disputed loss to Chris John in Indonesia for a $50,000 purse on March 4, 2006.
Marquez-Pacquiao II features a pleasing blend of styles - Pacquiao the swarming, quick-fisted aggressor versus Marquez the beautifully coordinated counter puncher. The first fight saw both men carry out the best elements of their styles. The dramatic first round saw Pacquiao score three resounding knockdowns with booming left crosses only to see Marquez bravely survive the assault, but the numbers behind that legitimately scored 10-6 round told a revealing story. First, Marquez actually out-landed Pacquiao 13-11. Second, all of Pacquiao's 11 connects were power punches as he went an incredible 0 for 42 in jabs. Finally, Marquez held his own in the power-punching department as he landed 10 of 24 (42 percent) to Pacquiao's 11 of 31 (35 percent). In fact, Pacquiao was far more dominant in the second round as he went 18 of 77 to Marquez's 8 of 45 and doubled up Marquez in terms of landed power punches (14 to 7).
The fight began to turn when Marquez adjusted to Pacquiao's speed and somewhat one-dimensional style, and for the next four rounds he was statistically and strategically superior. In rounds three through six, Marquez out-landed Pacquiao 56-35, including a 47-23 bulge in terms of power punches. By the sixth round, Marquez had slowed Pacquiao to a near standstill as he amassed a 16-5 connect edge overall and an extraordinary 13-1 edge in power punches. In that round, Pacquiao threw just nine power punches, the only time he was in single digits in that category.
Pacquiao rebounded nicely in the seventh as he led 19-16 in total connects, but Marquez still led 14-13 in power shots.
Over the final five rounds, the two fought on extraordinarily even terms as Marquez went 65 of 248 (26 percent) overall and Pacquiao was 65 of 250 (26 percent). In power punches over the same span, Marquez was 44 of 142 (31 percent) and Pacquiao 39 of 93 (42 percent).
The jab was never a factor for either man, which marked a tactical victory for Pacquiao. In terms of raw numbers, Pacquiao actually outjabbed Marquez 48-36, but in doing so he threw 200 more (408-208). But Pacquiao's ability to neutralize Marquez's jab was nullified by Marquez's superiority in power punches as he went 122 of 339 (36 percent) to Pacquiao's 100 of 231 (43 percent). Overall, Marquez held the slight edge with his 158 of 547 (29 percent) output as opposed to Pacquiao's 148 of 639 (23 percent).
In the nearly four years since their classic fight, both men have undergone a style metamorphosis. In 2004, Pacquiao was a one-trick pony as he fired left cross after left cross while Marquez was a safety-first stylist who sometimes produced boring fights. Marquez had a golden opportunity to raise his profile when he fought Orlando Salido on the Bernard Hopkins-Oscar de la Hoya undercard, and though he won a lopsided decision the action was tepid at best. In that fight, Marquez averaged 47 punches per round, 10 below the featherweight average, and 27 power punches, eight below the divisional average.
That trend continued against Chris John as he averaged 46 punches overall and threw 32 power shots, 11 and three below the featherweight standards. John also neutralized Marquez's jab, which landed at an anemic 13 percent rate. Still Marquez out-landed John 129-95 overall and 108-73 in power punches, statistics that back up the contention that the 116-110, 116-110, 117-111 verdict against the Mexican was not reflective of the action inside the ring.
Marquez's transformation in terms of offense began in his next fight against Terdsak Jandaeng, whom he stopped in seven rounds in August 2006. His 59 punches per round and 37 power shots per round was 13 and five better than his output against John and was two above the featherweight average in both categories. The offensive success also extended to his jab, which landed at a 42 percent rate (20 percentage points above the divisional norm) and his nine connects per round were far above the average of five. The Jandaeng fight was a wipeout both in the ring and on the stat sheet as Marquez was a scintillating 211 of 410 (51 percent) to Jandaeng's 77 of 223 (35 percent) and Marquez out-jabbed the Thai 64-7. Though Marquez was hit with more power shots than usual (70 of 168, 42 percent), Marquez more than made up for it by connecting on 57 percent of his own (147 of 259).
This trend continued in his next three fights against Jimrex Jaca, Marco Antonio Barrera and Rocky Juarez as he averaged 58 punches per round overall (with a 37 percent connect rate) and 34 power punches per round (with excellent 44 percent accuracy).
The three opponents combined for 29 percent accuracy overall and 34 percent marksmanship on power punches, meaning Marquez remains the more effective fighter despite taking more risks.
While Pacquiao has retained his typhoon-like approach, he has added more tools to his toolbox. With the considerable help of trainer Freddie Roach, Pacquiao has developed a versatile right hand. After losing to Erik Morales, Pacquiao has reshaped his approach and it has paid dividends. In his five fights against Erik Morales (II and III), Hector Velazquez, Jorge Solis and Marco Antonio Barrera, Pacquiao has retained his whirlwind pace of 74 punches per round but has increased his overall effectiveness across the board. In those fights he averages 24 connects per round (33 percent) and is 20.2 of 50.9 in power punches (39.6 percent). Even his right jab, which was largely absent against Marquez, had improved somewhat, though it landed at a 3.8 of 22.7 rate (17 percent).
After his explosive third-round KO of Morales in November 2006, more than a few experts agreed that Pacquiao should be placed above Floyd Mayweather Jr. as boxing's best pound-for-pound fighter. But 2007 saw Pacquiao put forth more tepid performances against Solis and Barrera, at least when compared to the blowouts of Morales. But statistically Pacquiao was a more effective fighter as he averaged 23.6 of 71.3 punches overall (33 percent), 4.4 of 23.3 jabs (18.8 percent) and 19.3 of 48 power punches (40 percent). Plus, Pacquiao kept his opponents' offenses below his as they averaged 12.4 of 47.3 punches overall (26.2 percent), 4.8 of 25.6 jabs (18.7 percent) and 7.6 of 21.6 power punches (35 percent).
Prediction: For a fight that means so much in terms of each man's legacy, they will be highly motivated and impeccably conditioned. At age 34, Marquez is fighting as well as ever while Pacquiao is still near his physical peak yet is as complete as he can be as a fighter. Because of that, this will be a fight that is better late than never.
Marquez is a man who thrives in a controlled environment; his precision punching and savvy movement are designed to keep his opponents constantly guessing and on the defensive.
Conversely, Pacquiao exerts his control through the chaos he creates with his speed and ferocious approach. Marquez was able to keep Pacquiao at bay for many rounds following his nightmarish first round, which suggests he, more than any other fighter he has faced, possesses the keys to unlocking the Filipino's style.
The flaw in that argument, however, is that neither Pacquiao nor Marquez are exactly the same fighter they were in 2004. Pacquiao has added more wrinkles to his game, both offensively and defensively, while Marquez's aggression has left him more vulnerable to counters. Look for Pacquiao, the younger, fresher man, to take advantage of those opportunities often enough to score a competitive but unanimous decision.