Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Sports

Marquez's Pacquiao smackdown defining moment

LAS VEGAS — The idea of Manny Pacquiao being knocked out cold was shocking enough. The sight of him facedown on the canvas — unresponsive as bedlam broke out around him and his wife sobbed as she tried to get in the ring — was frightening.

Juan Manuel Marquez didn't bother to look. He was celebrating the knockout of a lifetime.

This was boxing at its brutal best, a toe-to-toe slugfest late Saturday that was destined from the opening bell to be decided by fists instead of judges. Both fighters had been down, and both were hurting when Marquez threw a right hand off the ropes with a second left in the sixth round at the MGM Grand arena.

It will go down among the great fights of their era. And it was barely over when the cry arose to do it again. "If you give us a chance, we'll fight again," Pacquiao said. "I was just starting to feel confident, and then I got careless."

The case could be made Pacquiao was on the verge of a big welterweight win when Marquez (55-6-1, 40 knockouts) landed the punch that sent him falling. He had come back from a third-round knockdown to drop Marquez in the fifth. Pacquiao was leading on all three cards after the round and was landing big lefts that broke and bloodied the Mexican's nose.

After three fights that went the distance, both fighters had vowed to be more aggressive in their fourth meeting. Pacquiao ended up paying the price for it when he tried to close the sixth round with a flurry, a big mistake against a counterpuncher who drew him into his sights.

"I knew Manny could knock me out at any time," Marquez said. "I threw the perfect punch."

Pacquiao (54-5-2) hadn't been stopped in a fight since 1999 when he was a 112-pounder. He took several minutes to come around before being led to his stool. He stared vacantly ahead as the pro-Marquez crowd of 16,348 screamed. He was taken to a hospital for a brain scan, then went to his hotel, where he ate with wife Jinkee and his entourage, and watched a replay of the fight.

As it usually does when Pacquiao fights, his native Philippines came to a standstill. In the south, where the boxer-congressman lives, survivors of a typhoon that killed more than 600 last week watched on a big TV screen in a gym that serves as an emergency shelter in New Bataan.

"People were really dismayed," town spokesman Marlon Esperanza said. "It was like they were hit by another typhoon."

Marquez had never put down Pacquiao, 33, before he landed a big right hand in Round 3. The power was sure to raise questions about his new bulked-up physique at 39. He said it has come from hard work under a strength conditioner who once provided steroids to Marion Jones and other track stars.

Still, it was a career-defining moment for Marquez, who believes the judges robbed him in his first three fights with Pacquiao. The first, eight years ago at 125 pounds, was a draw, then Pacquiao won two close decisions.

The result scuttles, perhaps forever, what would have been boxing's richest fight. With Pacquiao damaged goods after two straight losses, any fight against Floyd Mayweather would be for a lot less money and a lot less interest.

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