It looked like the end, but this being boxing it could just be the start of something new: for Manny Pacquiao.
Even though devastatingly knocked out, and for Juan Manuel Márquez, who destroyed him in front of a disbelieving audience at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
In the six rounds it lasted (to within a second, anyway), the fourth meeting between Pacquiao and Márquez on December 8 – for no title but with worldwide fascination – proved to be the most dramatic and the hardest to fathom. It was the Filipino who wanted a war and it was the counter-punching Mexican who delivered the concluding howitzer, a short right to his opponent’s oncoming jaw that dumped him in a sad bundle, face down, near his own corner.
Having never threatened to do that in their previous three fights, Marquez had also dropped Pacquiao in the third with a long-range haymaker and survived his own embarrassment when Pacquiao put him down in the fifth with a crisp, short right. The 39-year-old Mexican admitted later he feared he might be knocked out himself, so ferociously did Pacquiao come back at him after the first knockdown.
Few could remember such intense swapping and sharing of pain, a furious blur of leather drowning out reason and caution. When he walked into the last punch, Pacquiao floated to the floor as if anaesthetised, much as Ricky Hatton had done here at his feet three-and-a-half years ago.
And then, even as Pacquiao’s wife, Jinkee, sobbed over his stricken form, promoter Bob Arum shifted his thoughts a few clicks into the future, declaring within minutes: “A fifth fight? Why not? Have you seen a more exciting fight in years?”
For a moment, the principals ignored the rumbling insinuations from Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, that Márquez might have been “juiced” (he was not alone in his suspicions). This was not the time to quibble – and Márquez had been vehement in his denial of the rumours, although in nearly two decades in the business he had rarely hit with such stunning power. Nor had Pacquiao been so convincingly cut down with a single shocking blow.
Did Pacquiao want to do it all over again? “Yes, why not?” he said. “It’s a good fight. If you give us a chance, we’ll fight again.”
Whatever he has done to revive his career, Márquez not only wiped away the memory of two close defeats and a draw against Pacquiao, he could also fairly claim overall dominance because of the manner of his win. Previously the judges had been the villains. Last Saturday night, they were in agreement – with each other and most observers – and called it 47-46 for Pacquiao after five rounds. The sixth took the decision out of their hands, which was maybe just as well. – © Guardian News & Media 2012