For Juan Manuel Marquez, Manny Pacquiao has been his great white whale. He puts forth his best effort only to have Moby Dick swim just out of his reach. Following a draw, a split decision and a majority decision, Marquez has a fourth -- and presumably last -- chance to finally corral his quarry. The question is whether he can do it at age 39 and put to rest, once and for all, all of his frustrations.
To look at what might happen in the future, a look into their CompuBox pasts is in order:
Living on the Razor's Edge: The cumulative numbers for their rivalry are exceedingly close. Consider.
* When adding up the nine scorecards from all three fights, Pacquiao leads the points race by just 1,024-1,017 -- a 0.34% difference.
* Pacquiao leads 481-468 in total connects, but in a surprising strategic turn the slugging Pacquiao leads 150-126 in landed jabs while the scientific Marquez holds a 352-331 edge in connected power shots.
* Also, while Pacquiao leads big in attempted punches (1,836-1,494), the "Pac Man" has thrown far more jabs (1,026-596) while Marquez has attempted more power punches (903-810). Will this role reversal continue in fight four?
Pacquiao's Change in Behavior: When Pacquiao faces other fighters he tends to throw more punches and assume far more risks but against Marquez he becomes a far different fighter.
In 15 CompuBox-tracked fights against opponents other than Marquez since their first meeting in 2004, Pacquiao averaged 72.8 punches per round, of which 45.3 -- or 62.2% -- were either hook, crosses or uppercuts. In his three fights against Marquez however, Pacquiao's output plummeted to 51 per round -- a 30% drop -- and of those 28.5 (or 55.9%) were jabs. In other words, Pacquiao completely changes his identity when he fights Marquez and the more cautious nature of his attack may be Pacquiao's way of showing respect for Marquez's boxing skills and pinpoint power punching.
On defense, Pacquiao faced less fire against Marquez (53 per round vs. other opponents, 41.5 against Marquez) but tastes a higher percentage of it (24.6% overall vs. others, 31.3% overall vs. Marquez in their three fights combined; 32.4% power connects vs. others, 39% vs. Marquez in their three fights).
Staying the Same: While Pacquiao shifts his style while fighting Marquez, Marquez's mode remains constant. In 13 CompuBox-tracked fights against opponents other than Pacquiao since 2004, Marquez averaged 56.4 punches per round, lands 34.7% of his overall punches and connects on 41.5% of his power shots. Against Pacquiao he averaged 41.5 punches per round, lands 31.3% of his overall punches and 39% his power punches.
More importantly however, the distribution of punches is similar. Against all others since 2004, 57.8% of his total punches were power punches while in his three fights against Pacquiao 60.5% of his total punches were power shots. His effectiveness in landing his hardest punches is also similar, for he landed a combined 39% of his power punches against Pacquiao while he connected on 41.5% against all others since 2004.
Round by Round Comparisons: Through the first two fights, if one breaks down the 36 categories in a CompuBox profile (total punches, jabs and power punches), Pacquiao and Marquez were tied 31-31-10. But in fight three Pacquiao enjoyed a 25-8-3 bulge -- 9-1-2 overall, 8-3-1 jabs and 8-4 power. The result was a 176-138 gulf in overall connects, a 59-38 gap in jab connects and, for the first time in the series, a Pacquiao lead in landed power shots (117-100). Has Pacquiao finally figured out his nemesis or does this represent a statistical anomaly? We'll find that out on Saturday.
A Critical Trend?: In past years Pacquiao was a bell-to-bell aggressor that fought three minutes of every round. But in his last fight against Timothy Bradley -- a loss most believe should have been a win for "The Pac Man" -- Pacquiao did nearly as much fighting in the final minute than he did in the first two minutes combined.
In the first two minutes Pacquiao was 131 of 386 overall but was 122 of 365 in the final minute alone, meaning that Pacquiao achieved 48.2% of his total connects in the final 60 seconds. Also, had Pacquiao maintained the pace set over the first two minutes over an entire round, he would have averaged 48.2 punches per round. Conversely, had he kept up the pace he set in the final 60 seconds, it would have projected out to 91.3 punches per round -- comparable to the mercurial pace he established in his greatest efforts (89.5 vs. David Diaz, 102.6 vs. Joshua Clottey, 89.1 vs. Antonio Margarito).
Have the ravages of age and 60 fights over nearly 18 years finally gotten to Pacquiao? Is he at the point where he no longer has the energy to put out full effort every minute of every round? Given his tendency to slow his pace anyway against Marquez, we likely won't get any answers on Saturday.
Prediction: There are a couple of undeniable facts going into this fourth act. First, the gifts that propelled Pacquiao to his record-setting run through the weight classes have eroded over the last several fights. His technique is more ragged now, and that's bad news since even during his prime Pacquiao struggled to deal with Marquez's intelligence and technique.
Second, though the 39-year-old Marquez is five years older he seems to have retained more of his skills. The timing and counter-punching still appear solid and he proved against Pacquiao last year that he could carry 142 pounds very well.
That said, there are horses for courses and fighters for other fighters, and both men are too far into their careers to make major changes. Unless Pacquiao's slippage is even more profound than we realize, the mix of styles and approaches will enable Pacquiao to steal just enough rounds to win yet another razor-thin -- and hotly disputed -- decision. Here's why: As long as the possibility of a Mayweather-Pacquiao superfight exists, that specter will enable Pacquiao to win enough of the very close rounds to prevail. When the prospect of that moneymaker goes away, so does Pacquiao's unspoken hold on the judges.