LAS VEGAS, May 10, 2004
By Lito A. Tacujan  —  "One point - the thinnest of margins" was all the difference between a great triumph and a shocking draw for an injured Manny Pacquiao.

The Filipino consensus featherweight champion blasted Mexican champ Juan Manuel Marquez for three knockdowns in the first round and then endured a sprained hand, a blistered toe and cramps for the next 11 rounds to settle for a split decision Saturday (Sunday in Manila).

That enabled the 30-year-old Mexican to retain his International Boxing Federation (IBF) and World Boxing Association (WBA) featherweight titles after the tremendous encounter before 10,000 cheering fans at the MGM Grand Arena.

Both showed heart, courage and superb form in the grueling 12-round title clash, with Pacquiao unloading vicious lefts to send Marquez down three times to the canvass in the first round and the Mexican, bloodied and battered, methodically coming back to turn the tide in the middle rounds.

In the end, both claimed victory and a rematch may be in the works.

When the explosive match was over, a split decision was announced with judge John Stewart ruling it 115-110 for the Filipino fighter and Canadian Guy Jutras, WBA head of officials, favoring Marquez with 115-110, giving 10 of the last 11 rounds to the right-handed Mexican.

And then Burt Clemments of Reno had it 113-113, scoring a 10-7 for Pacquiao’s devastating first round while the other two made it 10-6 for the one point that made the difference between a win and a draw for the Filipino.

" I know in my heart I won, ginawa ko na ang lahat, ipinakita ang tapang, di na nga ako makagalaw sa sakit," he said. He was later brought to a hospital to examine the wrist.

The southpaw from General Santos City floored Marquez three times in the first round with a vicious left hand and the fight looked headed for an early end as thousands of flag-waving Filipinos went crazy in the stands. Pacquiao caught Marquez with a torrid right straight to the face 1:38 into the round and the Mexican toppled to the seat of his pants in the middle of the ring.

The Filipino slugger unloaded another hard left to deck Marquez in 1:03 of the round. The Mexican looked at the corner as he sat on the center of the blue-colored canvass- reminiscent of the third round knockdown of Marco Antonio Barrera in Texas last November.

Sensing a swift kill, Pacquiao chased Marquez to the ropes and brought him down with another lightning combination but the Mexican survived the crisis and was saved by the bell.

But the Filipino ring idol paid dearly for the onslaught as he sprained his left hand which began to hurt and swell in the second round. He later compounded his woes when a blister began to appear on his left toe and cramps seized his right leg.

A battered Marquez, his face covered with blood, however, showed a capacity to endure punishment as he wheeled back into the fight and began to dominate with body shots and hard rights.

Four times he was warned for low blows but the Mexican kept up the pressure and established his counter-punching rhythm to even gain the initiative in the middle rounds as Pacquiao lost momentum trying to land another big left.

" I never expected to be knocked down three times, but I showed heart. I knew I had it in me, I was in good condition. He had a good first round but I dominated the rest of the fight and I know I won," said Marquez.

Frustrated and slowed down by injuries, the Filipino fighter, peering through a swollen left eye, began to reassert himself with his lefts and rights in the ninth and 10th rounds and the two gallant fighters ended the last two rounds fighting in flurries and fierce exchanges.

"We got excited and careless but still he did enough to win this fight," said Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach.

Murad Muhammad, the Filipino’s American promoter, maintained they won the fight, saying if one judge had made "the right decision in the first round there wouldn’t be any split decision."

"The Filipino people should be proud of Manny Pacquiao, we should be proud of what he did tonight," he said.

In the Compubox punchstats, Pacquiao threw a total of 639 punches and landed 148 for 23 percent while Marquez had 547 punches thrown, landing 158 for 29 percent. In power punches, Marquez unloaded 339 and connected with 122 for 36 percent while Pacquiao connected with 100 from 231 thrown for 43 percent.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved