SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin Henson - Interim WBO lightwelterweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez will try to turn back the hands of time when at 39, he battles Manny Pacquiao for pride and prestige in their fourth encounter to determine who’s the master of the game once and for all at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Dec. 8.

Marquez never beat Pacquiao in three previous meetings. Their first bout in 2004 was a split draw but it should’ve been a win by Pacquiao on a split decision as judge Burt Clements erred in scoring the first round 10-7 instead of 10-6 on account of Marquez taking three mandatory eight-counts. The rematch in 2008 was close, too, with Pacquiao ekeing out a split verdict on the strength of a third round knockdown. Duane Ford saw it 115-112 and Tom Miller 114-113 for Pacquiao but Jerry Roth had it 115-112 for the Mexican.

The third battle was the most decisive win for Pacquiao although controversial in the eyes of several watchers. No judge scored it for Marquez unlike in the first and second bouts where there were Pacquiao dissenters in Guy Jutras and Roth. Robert Hoyle scored it 114-114 even while Dave Moretti saw it 115-113 and Glenn Trowbridge 116-112, both for Pacquiao who clinched it on a majority decision.

Marquez said he was robbed thrice of victory over Pacquiao but the record books are unassailable. He went down a total of four times against Pacquiao and has never decked the Filipino ring icon. In terms of total points accumulated from their three fights, Pacquiao has scored 1,024 for an average of 114 and Marquez, 1,017 for an average of 113. To be sure, the trilogy has been closely contested although Marquez has not won even once.

There will be no title at stake in the coming fight. Marquez is the interim WBO lightwelterweight champion but the bout will be staged at the welterweight limit of 147. The Mexican scaled 142 pounds – his highest ever – twice in his career and lost both fights to Floyd Mayweather and Pacquiao last year. It’s expected that Marquez will weigh close to 142, plus or minus two pounds, in the fourth fight.

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Last April, Marquez looked puffy in pounding out a unanimous 12-round decision over Ukraine’s Serhiy Fedchenko in Mexico City. It was his first outing since the loss to Pacquiao five months before. The Mexican scaled 140 for the fight but looked bigger than he was in the third bout against Pacquiao, probably a result of trainer Angel Hernandez’ magical conditioning program. Hernandez, formerly known as Memo Heredia, is a former Mexican athlete who gained notoriety as a chemist producing fashionable “boutique” hard-to-detect drugs that enhance performance through steroids and growth hormones.

Marquez wasn’t impressive against Fedchenko who tasted a lot of leather but was never in serious danger of falling. The scoring was lopsided but Fedchenko isn’t anywhere near Pacquiao’s class. Marquez has now logged 60 fights since turning pro in 1993. The former accountant is no doubt keeping track of his mileage and realizes he can’t fight forever. Sooner or later, the wear and tear will kick in to slow him down, make him easier to hit and dull his reflexes. His record is 54-6-1, with 39 KOs. Marquez went the distance in his last two outings and may be losing his knockout touch. Worse, he was floored by Mayweather and Michael Katsidis, showing the vulnerability that was evident in the first Pacquiao fight. In 1999, Marquez was decked by Freddie Norwood en route to losing on points.

There is a claim that Filipino Jimrex Jaca floored Marquez in their 2006 duel but that’s not true. Marquez was bloodied by Jaca because of two headbutts and swept all the rounds before knocking out the Filipino in the eighth. Two other Filipinos whom Marquez disposed of were Baby Lorona who was stopped in two rounds in 2001 and Reynante Jamili who was halted in three the previous year.

Pacquiao will be less than two weeks shy of turning 34 when he battles Marquez. Like the Mexican, he has logged 60 fights with a record of 54-4-2, including 38 KOs, since turning pro in 1995, two years after Marquez’ debut. The numbers indicate that Pacquiao fought more often than Marquez over the last 17 years but he’s about 5 1/2 years younger.

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Conditioning will be key in determining the outcome of the coming fight. Pacquiao reported three weeks late for his camp at the Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles but his staff insists he worked hard to get in shape in General Santos City. Marquez has been working double-time in Mexico City and Toluca, building his stamina in high-altitude training. Curiously, both fighters reportedly mauled their sparmates, both nicknamed Rocky, in recent sessions. Pacquiao battered Anthony (Rocky) Marcial while Marquez floored Daniel (Rocky) Santillo.

Because of the familiarity factor, both fighters are expected to come in with new tricks. Neither intends to be predictable. Pacquiao will use movement and may not be as aggressive as before, preferring to dart in and out. Marquez is known as a tactical counterpuncher but could surprise Pacquiao by chasing him down. Mid-fight adjustments will be critical as both fighters are handled by Hall of Fame trainers – Pacquiao by Freddie Roach and Marquez by Nacho Beristain. The fight won’t be only between Pacquiao and Marquez but also between Roach and Beristain.

Pacquiao needs a resounding victory to stay marketable in negotiating the much-awaited showdown with Floyd Mayweather next year. Marquez is out to prove a point and detests Pacquiao with a passion. If the Mexican fails to win in his fourth attempt, he won’t get another chance so this is make or break for him. That’s why he’s gunning for a knockout – Marquez will go for broke because he knows there will be no tomorrow.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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