Seven points. That's what separates Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez through three fights. Seven points. Nine different judges scoring on the 10-point must system for a total of 36 rounds have given Pacquiao 1,024 points and Marquez 1,017. That means the average scorecard for any given bout of this rivalry has read 113.77-113 in Pacquiao's favor.
And most observers would tell you it's actually been closer than that.
In fact, a lot of observers would tell you that the minuscule difference in the scorecards favors the wrong fighter.
That's the nature of the Pacquiao-Marquez rivalry, at least through three fights: No matter how hard both guys work to establish clear superiority, neither is able to achieve it. Each is the other's Kryptonite. Pacquiao's power, explosiveness, and all-around athleticism will always present danger to Marquez. Six times in the 2000s, Marquez has been on the canvas; four of those knockdowns came courtesy of Pacquiao. Meanwhile, Marquez's ring intellect, counterpunching, and resilience will always leave Pacquiao somewhat handcuffed. After Pacquiao's second bout with Marquez, for his next seven fights -- against superstars including Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, and Shane Mosley -- the Filipino legend looked untouchable. Then he fought Marquez again, and Pacquiao reverted back to being human.
After providing boxing fans with three gripping, ultra-competitive, thrilling fights (Pacquiao-Marquez I and II were both legit Fight of the Year contenders), these two future Hall of Famers have signed up to do it one more time, on December 8 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. You'd think they'd be sick of seeing each other by now -- or at least sick of getting smacked around by each other. But there's something about this rivalry, and the fact that nobody can take the upper hand, that appears to have both Marquez and Pacquiao motivated.
"People say, ‘Why again Pacquiao?'" Marquez said at the kick-off press conference. "And I said, ‘Because I want to prove who's better and I want the referee to raise my hand.'"
For the Mexican veteran, the motivation is obvious. He believes he won all three fights. But he has yet to be awarded an official victory. The first fight was scored a draw, the second fight was a split decision for Pacquiao, and the third fight was a majority decision for Pacquiao even though the great majority of those on press row that evening scored for Marquez.
Whether there was to be a fourth fight or not, Marquez was bound to go down in history as Pacquiao's toughest opponent. But that's not enough for him. Generations from now, the details will have faded, and all that will remain is what's in the record books. Through three tremendous battles, those record books show zero victories for Marquez.
Pacquiao's motivation is harder to pinpoint. Officially, he's the guy who already got two wins out of this trilogy. He also never lacks for a big-money dance partner; it's not like Marquez was his only option for a major HBO Pay-Per-View event to wrap up 2012.
But maybe we just need to give Pacquiao credit for being a true fighter at heart, a guy who ducks no one and, 17 years into his professional career, is still striving to prove his greatness. "I want to erase the doubt of the fans," he said when the fight was announced. Perhaps it's as simple as that. Pacquiao doesn't get wrapped up in what the official scorecards say. If he did, he would have pushed for a rematch with Timothy Bradley, to "avenge" his loss from June in a fight hardly anyone thought Pacquiao actually lost. Instead, knowing the public perceived his two wins over Marquez as controversial, he is taking aim at a win with no asterisk next to it.
And to that end, much of the prefight rhetoric in the Pacquiao camp centers around the Filipino doing something he hasn't done since 2009: score a knockout. His trainer, Freddie Roach, went so far as to say, "I don't think we'll win this fight unless we knock him out." That may be a stretch, but it is fair to wonder: Will the judges be predisposed toward giving Marquez the decision in a close fight, given that their judging brethren leaned the other way the last two times around?
There are countless other questions to ask going into Chapter Four. Did Pacquiao indeed have an off-night last time because of "distractions" (such as marital issues) leading up the fight? Is Pacquiao, at age 33, slowing down either physically or emotionally? When is Marquez, now 39, going to begin to fade appreciably himself? Will either guy fight in a more aggressive style to win over the judges, having both been burned recently in bouts they thought they deserved to win?
And what difference does it make that this fight is happening only 13 months after their last meeting? The first and second fights were separated by 46 months. The second and third came 44 months apart. Much changed in the careers of both fighters in those interim periods. Between the third and fourth fights, however, not a whole lot has changed, other than Pacquiao suffering a loss that hardly anyone perceives as a loss. They're more or less picking up where they left off last time.
And where they left off was on virtually even terms, with controversial scorecards determining the outcome. Both fighters, and most fans, are looking for something more conclusive this time around. But nobody should count on that. We have 36 rounds of evidence telling us there simply isn't much to separate these two great rivals.