After a draw in their first fight and a split decision for Pacquiao in their second, the third battle produced a majority decision for Pacquiao that left Marquez as bitter as ever.
Back and forth action? Check. Rounds that could go either way? Check. A controversial decision at the end of 12 rounds? Check. Sounds like a Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez fight to us.
At the end of 12 intensely competitive rounds at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in the third Pacquiao-Marquez clash, judge Robert Hoyle had the fight even at 114-114, Dave Moretti had Pacquiao winning 115-113, and Glenn Trowbridge had it 116-112 for the Filipino, giving him a majority decision-a majority decision that many in the building vehemently disagreed with. Those who disagreed included Marquez, who stormed out of the ring after the scores were read, and Marquez's fans, who completely drowned out Pacquiao's postfight interview with their booing.
"The fans of Marquez, of course, aren't happy, but my fans are happy," Pacquiao said as the boos rained down. "I clearly won the fight."
"Honestly, I don't know what I needed to do to change the mind of the judges," Marquez said at the postfight press conference. "I won. Only three people, the judges, didn't see the same thing. I think I won this fight more clearly [than the first two]."
Sitting ringside, I scored the fight 116-112 for Marquez and felt he outmaneuvered and outboxed Pacquiao and deserved to even the series at 1-1-1. However, numerous rounds were a challenge to score, and InsideHBOBoxing.com editor Steve Marzolf, seated next to me, saw it 115-114 for Pacquiao. So to call it an all-out robbery is perhaps a stretch. But to these eyes, Trowbridge's wide scorecard for Pacquiao was beyond the bounds of reason.
"All of those scores are acceptable because you're dealing with rounds that are so close," insisted promoter Bob Arum, who was not exactly upset that his top draw Pacquiao extended his winning streak to 15 fights.
Whether you can live with the decision or not, it's a shame that the controversy has obscured another outstanding action fight. The first four rounds were closely contested and cautiously fought at times, but in the fifth, 8½-1 underdog Marquez shocked those who predicted an easy Pacquiao victory by landing flush uppercuts and straight right hands and generally dominating the proceedings.
The drama elevated from there, as Pacquiao was the aggressor, fighting like a man who thought he was trailing on points. That allowed Marquez to use the counterpunching tactics he prefers. Marquez was poised and accurate, and at no point in the fight did Pacquiao look as comfortable as he did against the bigger, slower opponents he's faced in his other welterweight fights.
Round nine was a Round of the Year candidate, with Marquez landing big shots early, Pacquiao responding with bombs of his own, and one tit-for-tat exchange after another bringing the crowd to its feet. The next three rounds were full of tension and all difficult to score (surprise, surprise), but when the final bell rang, Marquez thrust his arms in the air, certain he'd done enough. The majority of crowd of 16,368 appeared to agree with him.
But the official judges did not, rewarding the man who moved perpetually forward rather than the man who landed the more striking blows to both the body and head.
In conjunction with an undercard that mostly exceeded expectations (see below), it was very nearly a perfect night for the sport of boxing. But the controversy left fight fans feeling unfulfilled and served to muddy up the pound-for-pound picture and spark uncertainty about what should come next.
Had Pacquiao won decisively, the talk would surely have turned to the richest prize fight in boxing history, a meeting between PacMan and fellow superstar Floyd Mayweather. Instead, the focus is on a fourth Pacquiao-Marquez fight. It's been an extraordinary series so far. Has there ever before been demand in boxing for a fourth chapter even though one of the boxers was winless through the first three?
Both warriors expressed interest in a fourth go-round, but Marquez was exceedingly frustrated by the official decision and said retirement isn't out of the question. If he does choose to go that route, this would be a spectacular "loss" to go out on. If he chooses to fight Pacquiao a fourth time, entertainment is all but assured.
And so is controversy.
On the undercard:
Timothy Bradley did as well as could be expected against extremely defensive former champion Joel Casamayor, becoming only the second fighter to knock the Cuban out (Marquez was the first). Entering the ring for the first time in 10 months, junior welterweight titlist Bradley scored three knockdowns and forced a stoppage from Casamayor's corner at the end of round eight.
You won't see many better comebacks than the one Mike Alvarado staged to hold onto his undefeated record, rallying to stop Breidis Prescott with one minute and seven seconds remaining in the 10th and final round. Prescott controlled the first half of the fight, opening bad cuts above Alvarado's eye and inside his mouth, but the dogged Denver fighter persevered, crept back into it on the scorecards, and then took it out of the judges' hands in the 10th. A sizzling right-uppercut-left-uppercut combination dropped Prescott, then a series of follow-up attacks-built largely around the uppercut-led Jay Nady to stop the bout with Prescott essentially out on his feet. Alvarado trailed by three points on two cards and by one point on the third entering the final round.
In the opening bout, 23-year-old Mexican Juan Carlos Burgos scored a minor upset, outboxing Luis Cruz in a close affair to hand the Puerto Rican prospect his first loss, via 10-round majority decision. One judge had the fight even, 95-95, while the other two judges were on the mark, scoring 97-93 and 98-92 for Burgos.