In boxing's pantheon of fistic rivalries, Saturday night's dust-up in the desert is a beauty -- a fourth ring confrontation between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez, one that includes the requisite elements of prefight drama, simmering animosity and controversy. Hype is not necessary here this week because the story line is legit.
No title is at stake in the clash of welterweights Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena (HBO pay-per-view, 9 ET). None is needed in order to approach the anticipation level of great ring battles of yesteryear, including Dempsey-Tunney, Saddler-Pep and Robinson-LaMotta. And, of course, the ultimate heavyweight grudge match: Ali-Frazier.
"When you say Muhammad Ali, you think Joe Frazier," Pacquiao said. "And when you say Manny Pacquiao, you think Juan Manuel Marquez (and vice versa)."
Yes, they are linked like a chain. In this case, legacies are on the line; purse money is not. Promoter Bob Arum predicts that Pacquiao's total gross will exceed $25 million -- about $20 million more than Marquez expects to lug back to Mexico.
Regardless of the financial disparity, ring parity has dominated the series, which began in 2004 when they rumbled at 125 pounds. Since then, a grudging respect has developed between the two fighters, one born of 36 previous rounds so closely contested that a round or two scored either way would have changed the hotly debated outcomes. Pacquiao has scored two razor-thin decisions and eked out a draw. Marquez has always believed he won all three.
"Inside the ring is a respect that will always be there," Marquez said. "Outside the ring? Who knows?"
For Pacquiao (54-4-2, 38 KOs), it is the memory of the crowd's reaction after their last fight 13 months ago that haunts the popular fighter. Boos rained down on the Filipino after he prevailed with a majority decision. For the last eight years, Pacquiao also had to listen to Marquez (54-6-1, 39 KOs) complain about the judges' scoring.
"He claims he won. He needs to prove something," said Pacquiao, who turns 34 a week after the fight.
Marquez, 39, said a prime motivation for extending the rivalry is so referee Kenny Bayless can "raise my hand in the ring."
"I don't want people to just say, 'You really beat him.' I want them to know that I beat him," Marquez said.
Pacquiao was deemed robbed of his welterweight title by the World Boxing Organization in Las Vegas in June against Timothy Bradley. So the Nevada State Athletic Commission went outside its jurisdiction to hire two of the three judges for this fight: Steve Weisfeld of New Jersey and John Keane of England. They will be joined by Adalaide Byrd of Nevada.
From a technical perspective, the fight offers contrasting styles that make for interesting strategic decisions in both corners devised by trainers Freddie Roach (Pacquiao) and Nacho Beristain (Marquez).
Whether their fighters can execute those blueprints is another matter.
Pacquiao vows a return to his more aggressive form; he wants to press the action and fire more combinations. Marquez is a pure tactical counterpuncher who prefers to patiently wait out his opponent.
But he is much bigger and stronger these days. That could lead to an explosive fight.
"He put a lot of muscle on, so hopefully that means that he wants to fight," Roach said of Marquez. "He says that he wants to go for the knockout. If (he does), then I love that."
Depending upon the outcome, might fight fans be treated to Pacquiao-Marquez V?
"This will be the last time," Roach said. "We're going to knock him out.
"End of story."
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