It is certain that the name destined to be most linked to Manny Pacquiao in boxing history is Floyd Mayweather Jr. It makes sense, of course. They have been the two biggest boxing stars of this century. Their “will-they/won’t-they” soap opera lasted the better part of President Obama’s administration. When they finally fought, the event set records for generating revenue.
But the hardcore fans will know different. Pacquiao’s rivalry with Mayweather grabbed endless headlines, but the ultimate bout was relatively uninteresting, as prizefights go. The man who was truly Pacquiao’s greatest rival was the Mexican legend Juan Manuel Marquez.
It was a rivalry that almost ended before it even began. In their initial meeting on May 8, 2004, Pacquiao jumped all over Marquez in Round 1, dropping him three times and all-but ending the bout. Somehow, Marquez managed to rally. He carried the fight down the stretch and forced a split-decision draw.
The first rematch took four years to develop. When they finally met again on March 15, 2008, it was another all-action war. Marquez rattled Pacquiao in Round 2. Pacquiao dropped Marquez in the third and hurt him again at the bell. One judge scored eight rounds to four for Marquez. A second scored it seven to five for Pacquiao. The third judge had it dead-even, six rounds each, with Pacquiao getting the verdict, thanks to his knockdown.
By the time the two faced off for a third time on November 12, 2011, Pacquiao was at the height of his fame. A large number of observers predicted a Pacquiao KO. I am the only writer I am aware of who was on record picking Marquez.
Again, it was a back-and-forth battle. Pacquiao walked away with a hotly contested majority decision–a win that I, among many, do not believe he deserved.
Their fourth and final fight took place in December 2012. It was the most decisive fight of their series and maybe the most exciting. Marquez dropped Pacquiao in Round 3. Pacquiao made a strong comeback in Round 4 and sent Marquez to the canvas in the fifth.
In Round 6, Marquez was fighting on wobbly legs, with a busted nose. But with just a second left in the round, he lured Pacquiao forward and drilled him with a brutal counter right hand, knocking Pacquiao cold, to record the only decisive victory of their rivalry.