Manny Pacquiao wanted a war and he got it last night. The concussive end of it. For the past week, Pacquiao kept urging Juan Manuel Marquez to prove his claim he'd won their first three meetings, none of which having actually gone to him in the opinion of various ringside judges. Pacquiao insisted the only way was for the counter puncher to forego his more technical style and go toe-to-toe with him.
Marquez did, dropping him in the third round, being dropped himself in the fifth and then knocking Pacquiao cold at 2:59 of Round 6 with the same blistering straight right-hand counter with which he had so often confounded him in the past.
The two had abandoned all reason by then, slugging it out from the fourth round on, the heat turned up to the point it seemed a surety the pot was soon going to boil over on somebody. At the moment everything changed, that did not appear to be Marquez, who was bloodied along the bridge of his nose and his eye, and getting blitzed more and more as Pacquiao closed ground on him.
But with Pacquiao pressing in like a vise, squeezing the life out of Marquez, the bloodied Mexican made a sudden stand and sent a perfectly straight counter to the point of Pacquiao's chin that he neither expected nor saw coming.
It jolted Pacquiao (54-5-2, 38 KO) to his core, his hair flying wildly, his body shuddering and then collapsing forward face down. His eyes were unseeing, and his mind so disconnected from his body, Pacquiao did not even put his hands out to brace his fall.
"I threw the perfect punch," Marquez said. "I knew the last three rounds Manny was going for the knockout. I could have been knocked out at any time. I also knew I could knock him out."
There Pacquiao lay unmoving, like a toppled statue as referee Kenny Bayless counted him out. Even when Bayless was done, Pacquiao lay still for several minutes. When he was finally roused, according to one of his cornermen, he had no idea where he was or what had happened.
So thunderous was the knockout it erased any memory of what had gone on before, either last night or in their first three fights. This, too, was a prediction made during the week by Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, who said if someone won by knockout it would give them not only that fight but the other three as well because all had been decided by such razor-thin margins.
Whatever the truth of that, this night ended emphatically, with Marquez (55-6-1, 40 KO) finally getting the glory long absent from his previous encounters with boxing's most popular icon.
The packed house at the MGM Grand Garden Arena serenaded Marquez during his ring walk and the noise was deafening. He certainly knew he was safe on the outside of the ropes. Pacquiao followed behind a bass so loud, it was literally shaking the hall. As a highlight reel of his greatest hits played above him, Pacquiao sauntered in at nearly 12:30 a.m. Eastern time -- with more fans booing him than cheering -- and immediately went to his corner to pray, as is his habit. As things turned out, he needed to.
The fight opened cautiously, Marquez waiting, waiting, waiting to counter and Pacquiao bouncing up-and-down, in-and-out, but not launching much of an attack. Pacquiao did land one blistering left hand late in Round 2, and Marquez several of the trademark right-hand leads he tormented Pacquiao with in the first three fights, but for the most part this began as a tactical exercise between two fighters who had long ago learned to respect the other's armaments.
Marquez showed why with 57 seconds left in Round 3 when he crushed Pacquiao with the same overhand right that would later finish him, sending it in over his glove as he backed straight up. It sent Pacquiao tumbling backward to the floor, Marquez's first knockdown in their four encounters.
Although the blow stunned Pacquiao, he recovered quickly, and Marquez was cautious trying to press his advantage, the two ending up in a furious exchange near the end of the round where neither did more damage.
Marquez continued to do what he has always done, waiting to counter. While he was waiting, Pacquiao delivered a devastating left hand that sent Marquez to the floor in Round 5, although only for an instant. But unlike Marquez, Pacquiao attacked wildly, nailing him repeatedly with solid punches that reddened his face.
Marquez did not retreat, however. Instead he gave Pacquiao the toe-to-toe confrontation he'd asked for.
After Pacquiao got the better of it initially, suddenly his night -- and maybe his career -- was over.
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