Pacquiao-Marquez III - A Night at The Montalbán

By Jonathan H. Koh: Isn’t this supposed to be No Fun November? That’s certainly what I thought this morning. The forecast of rain had preemptively dampened my mood, and I had already accepted the fact that I’d have to work most of the weekend, in a grit-your-teeth, get-stuck-in kind of way. I was also already pretty tired, having gotten up at 7:30 to help man our fundraising event for USC Boxing. And so I trudged into the all-too-familiar confines of the law library on this, a bleak Saturday morning, resigned to putting in a solid six hours or so into reading and outlining before watching what was likely to be a one-sided beating in the form of a boxing mismatch.

To borrow one of Larry Merchant’s quotes, though: we live in the “theatre of the unexpected.” The dreaded rain never materialized, so after an hour of studying I decided to head down to the tailgate to grab a quick bite. Of course, they were pretty much out of food but had plenty of beer (on a somewhat related note, I’ve had way too much free beer these past two days). After a few more drinks, some conversation, and a little peer pressure, I decided to make the only rational and responsible choice I had as a USC student – my half-hour study break turned into attending my first USC football game. Oops.

It was a lot of fun and definitely a good time, and I got to hang out with the 2Ls while Nima walked me through the rules and rituals of a USC football game. I’m not the biggest fan of American football, but it was fun to experience the event, and I was impressed by the passion and fervor of the crowd. It’s probably the closest thing to an American equivalent of soccer matches in most parts of the world. The game itself was entertaining – especially the trick plays that USC ran – but the huge lead meant that by later in the second half, both the drama and the crowd had started to evaporate.

We left in the fourth quarter with the score at 40-10 and I silently hoped that it wouldn’t be a foreshadowing of the Pacquiao fight at night. After picking up some of the guys on the USC Boxing team and briefly waging war on my mortal enemy (aka LA traffic), we finally got to Hollywood. The Montalbán is a theatre with an old and decorated history in Los Angeles, but still a relatively small building; it didn’t catch my eye when we got there and were trying to figure out where to go. It turned out to be pretty simple though: just follow everyone else. A huge line of people of all shapes, sizes, and colors clad in their assortment of red and blue Manny Pacquiao gear allowed me to make the Holmesian deduction that we had arrived at the right place. Apparently they had been lining up for hours before the doors even opened at 7pm. I overheard one of the Nike staff say that over 1600 people had “RSVP’d” on Facebook to try to get in.

Luckily, as members of the USC Boxing Team we had been specially invited by a Nike rep (Nike Boxing sponsors only one fighter – Pacquiao) and got to stand in the thankfully far shorter VIP line. As we were waiting for the doors to open, a huge Nike Sportswear customization truck was parked in front, stocked with customizable MP product. Some of the things they were selling were the Pacquiao Air Trainer 1.3 Max Breathe ($175) and an rumored and exclusive Nike MP hoodie, of which only 111 were made and one of which Manny wore to the weigh-in yesterday. To purchase it, you had to be present at one of the four locations across the country selling it on fight night and be willing to part with a cool $250 to get it. Of course, they were sold out long before we got there, but I did end up getting a Pacquiao t-shirt, dropping $30 like a high roller.

We got in right away through the VIP line and wandered throughout the place, which was decked out in Pacquiao memorabilia: shoes, gloves, hoodies, robes, championship belts, bags, framed pictures, and much more. There was an unlimited amount of free vitamin water, smart water, and other bottled beverages, but when we went up to the VIP lounge area, we found out they had a bar serving free beer! There was food, of course, along with a DJ, and other forms of entertainment/promotion. There was a photobooth where you could take a picture with the same background as Manny’s photo in the promotion poster, and computers set up where you could play around with NikeID and customize different Nike gear.

We finally made our way to the second floor at the VIP seating area and sat down facing a huge HD screen flanked by two smaller ones. We caught the end of the Breidis “the Khanqueror” Prescott vs. Mike Alvarado, which was a great fight. Alvarado came from behind to rally and knock Prescott out with a series of vicious uppercuts, and the action fight pumped up everyone watching. The atrocious Bradley-Casamayor bout slightly deflated the atmosphere until it was mercifully stopped by the ref in the 7th. It’s sickening to think that Bradley earned $1.1 million for this “fight” as a contractual HBO comeback date (and making it from the pay-per-views) when he turned down a much better offer to fight Khan in July.

But even Tim Bradley’s big bald head and boxing’s ugly promotional practices wasn’t going to ruin this night. The Montalbán put together some snazzy Pacman highlights and clips, and the crowd started to get going once again. The prefight potpourri was perfunctory as usual, although Pacquiao’s ring entrance, accompanied by Jimi Jamison singing “Eye of the Tiger” was pretty sick and sent chills down my spine. There was also a touching moment when fighters and fans all over the world, including at the theatre, paid tribute to the late, great “Smokin’” Joe Frazier, who passed away on Monday. But at long last, the fighters touched gloves and so began Pacquiao-Marquez III.

Not many experts or fans really gave Marquez a chance of hearing the final bell (round 6 seemed to be a popular prediction), much less for it to be a close fight; this was reflected in the 9-1 odds Vegas bookmakers had set. I myself had Marquez going the distance, due to his incredibly tough Mexican warrior mentality and heart, but thought he would take a pounding and lose by a wide and clear unanimous decision. My reasoning was that he’d been dragged into knockdown drawn out wars with the likes of Juan Diaz and Michael Katsidis in the past few years and at age 38, has been increasingly hittable. Add to the mix that Marquez looked fat and slow in his only prior venture past 135 into welterweight against Mayweather two years ago, and it was hard to see any meaningful advantage that Marquez held against Pacquiao. He was older, smaller, slower, and weaker. Or so everyone declared confidently as they wrote off Marquez. I personally was hoping that Marquez would make a good scrap of it while he could, but I worried that there was a real possibility that this rubber match would only tarnish the legacy of their two epic earlier clashes. That was the outcome we feared would happen. It was what they all said it would happen.

But as Smokin’ Joe famously said to his nemesis Muhammad Ali, “they told you all wrong, pretty boy.” Now, as a disclaimer, the private screening at the Montalbán didn’t show the postfight interviews and I haven’t watched or read anything about the fight, since I want to get my thoughts down before they become polluted with the opinions of the media and bloggers all over the world. It was a very good fight. It’s by no means a classic, or even the best fight between these two warriors, but it was an unbelievably high-level fight. The skill, power, craft, and ring generalship Marquez and Pacquiao displayed tonight is what separates fights like these from those fun, classic Gatti-Ward type brawls. I had actually forgotten what it felt like for a Pacquiao fight to be suspenseful, and there were times when the drama and the tension of the fight were so palpable that no one dared to breathe. They fought intelligently and periodically engaged in good, high-level exchanges. Pacquiao picked up most of the early rounds before Marquez gained a foothold in the fight and started getting comfortable and asserting control in the middle rounds. I think the last few rounds were up for grabs, but Marquez had lost some of his earlier momentum. Round 9 (I think) was the most eventful and action packed – we all stood up and applauded when the bell rang to end that round.

Marquez looked strong at this weight. I really disagreed with Emmanuel Steward (hall of fame boxing trainer and HBO commentator) with a lot of the things he said, and this was one of them. He repeatedly mentioned how surprised he was by Manny looking so physically big and strong. I’m sure Alex Ariza and Freddie Roach did a great job preparing Manny for the fight, but he always looks this good, and this time he weighed in less than he did in his past four fights. The surprising thing was how strong Marquez looked at this weight. It was incredible that they didn’t mention, after everyone talking about how he was too small to hang in there with Manny, that Marquez looked solid at that weight and was knocking Pacquiao around with some of his power shots, even when blocked. His power translated in a way that no one could have imagined, which was made possible by his great timing negating Pacquiao’s blinding speed. Steward also talking about Pacquiao controlling the ring didn’t seem right to me. Pacquiao uses angles arguably better than any fight in the history of the sport, but the way he was doing that in the mid to late rounds was to get out of the way of punches and seemed a reflection of the way Marquez was asserting his dominance. Finally, I know much has been made about Marquez’ combination punching ability, but it was still unbelievable that he threw more effective combos than Pacquiao by a country mile. Marquez was less active and more patient compared to Pacquiao, and although he landed fewer punches, they were clearly the harder, more effective blows – snapping back Pacquiao’s head and sending him flying back from the impact of his gloves on Pacquiao’s body. The variety of his punches were impressive, too: uppercuts, hooks, jabs, feints, straight rights, everything was on point.

Pacquiao, on the other hand, started tentatively and never really got going in this fight. I thought that was his biggest mistake. He knocked Marquez down early in both previous fights, and Mayweather had him on the canvas off a lead hook in round 2 of his fight a few years back, so it’s clear that Marquez is a slow starter who comes on stronger as the fight progresses, showing an uncanny ability to figure his opponent out and make subtle adjustments. Pacquiao should have jumped on him early and established a clear mental advantage, but instead it was Manny who looked nervous and distracted as the fight went on. His footwork was a beauty to behold, but he landed too few effective punches and the few big right hand counters he landed seemed to have no real effect on Marquez. He seemed speedy and powerful but never landed the continuous flush shots he needed to break him down. I hate to bring this in here, but if Pacquiao has this much trouble with Marquez, it’s hard to see how he won’t get completely dominated by Mayweather.

At the conclusion of that excellent fight, we all stood and cheered for the two men who inspired us with their bravery and resilience tonight. I think that overshadows any insignificant uneasiness some fight fans had about the decision. I know that many fans were upset and crowing about how Marquez got robbed, but the most likely possibility is that a lot of those fans were biased before the fight (probably claiming the same thing about the first two bouts) and this goes both ways. Another possibility is that the expectations were just so high for Manny and so low for Marquez that it distorted the crowd and the judging. Despite what I said above, I don’t think Pacquiao fought a horrible fight, nor am I saying that Marquez should have won. In fact, right as the fight ended, I turned to Max (who was sitting next to me) and said, “I like the way Marquez fought, but I think the decision is going to go to Pacquiao by a difference of about 2 rounds.” Although that ended up happening, I don’t have a big problem with the fight because I think either fighter could have won it, and I could see it going either way by a fairly narrow margin. So, my point is, claims of “robbery” would only have applied if the scorecards had shown a huge gap between the two – which it didn’t. It was an arguably unfair outcome, but it wasn’t a “robbery” by any means.

To be sure, the judges’ scorecards have been a source of outrage in the past, and rightly so (Paul Williams – Erislandy Lara, anyone?) but we should recall that there are three things to take into account when judges score fights:

1) Judges have different viewpoints. Seeing a fight live is different than on TV, and the angles of where judges sit have a lot to do with that they see as punches landed and expressions and so forth. Some people can watch the same fight but have different results, literally because of their different perspectives.

2) The round by round nature of the judging system. It’s easy as a fan to come away with the feeling that a fighter dominated or did well or landed more punches over the course of the fight, but that’s not how fights are scored. After each round, the judges give a score. Thus fighter A could barely beat out fighter B for five rounds, and then fighter B could thoroughly beat fight A for the next five rounds, and in theory they would be even (assuming no knockdowns or egregiously unequal rounds). It’s the same thing when a fighter flurries in the last 10-20 seconds – what if the other fighter had been controlling things for the first 2 and a half minutes? It’s the boxing version of the Electoral College system.

3) Judges make value judgments. Do you give the round to a busier fighter if he’s more active and throwing more punches, even though the other guy is a counterpuncher? What if one person lands a lot more shots but they aren’t as clean or effective as the ones he’s taking? Different judges will decide differently.

In sum, it’s easy to make too much of a few points here and there because from the judge’s point of view (not the fans’) there are a number of legitimate reasons why judges can score the same fight differently. It’s only when there’s a significant disparity between different judges’ scorecards, or a scorecard that truly didn’t reflect the nature of the fight, that the judging becomes a big problem.

Another reason why I didn’t care about the actual result of the decision, as long as it was a close one, is that the performances of the boxers vindicated themselves. Who cares what three guys sitting at a table think? The boxing fans squabbling over who got the decision are entirely missing the point. They put on an amazing performance and left most boxing fans satisfied. For me, it was the perfect ending to an unexpectedly good day. After all the controversies and bulls*** that boxing has suffered this past year, from the bad refereeing and low blows in Agbeko-Mares I to the unsatisfactory and possibly fraudulent endings in Hopkins-Dawson and Mayweather-Ortiz, tonight we enjoyed a good complete fight that was exciting, clean, and dramatic. It shouldn’t be tainted by controversy because there’s no real existence of one here. When it came down to it, for a big fight, it was a night of good boxing, and because of that, it was a good night for boxing. It’s times like this that make me realize, this is why I love boxing. And even the prospect of studying all day tomorrow can’t take that away.

Article posted on 14.11.2011

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