Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pacquiao-Marquez: Keys to the Fight

1. How much mileage is left on Juan Manuel Marquez's odometer?

When Marquez was a younger fighter, he was a mover. He controlled the ring expertly and engaged selectively. However, like many veteran boxers, as he aged, he transformed into a pocket fighter. Over the last few years, he prevailed in numerous ring wars, including battles with Joel Casamayor, Juan Diaz and Michael Katsidis. Even though Marquez won all of these fights, he absorbed significant punishment. Katsidis knocked him down and Diaz battered him during the opening rounds of their first fight. In addition, Floyd Mayweather pasted Marquez throughout their match.

Any true boxing observer noticed signs slippage from Marquez. His warrior heart remained but the master boxer-puncher could no longer avoid the slow hands of Katsidis or the one-dimensional pressure of Diaz. It was shocking to see Marquez stuck along the ropes against Diaz in their first fight. Marquez seemed unable to circumvent Diaz's pressure, resigning himself to fighting off of the ropes.

At 38, can Marquez avoid the incoming fire, or is he just too immobile at this stage of his career? Pacquiao already dropped him four times during their first two fights, and that was against a version of Marquez that had more spring in his step.

2. Will Pacquiao remember to use angles?

The Manny Pacquiao who last fought Juan Manuel Marquez has changed in significant ways. Most notably, (as many have observed) he has improved his right hand, making it a weapon in its own right.  His jab snaps back his opponents.  His right hook produces knockdowns. 

However, one change in Pacquiao's ring style has received little attention: he has turned into a straight-line fighter. When Pacquiao fought Morales and Marquez, he would come in with a herky-jerky style and throw punches from odd angles. That Pacquiao has become more refined; he now controls the pocket with technical precision, power and a varied offensive attack.

In many respects, this transformation to a more conventional fighter has elevated Pacquiao from a very good fighter to the elite one that he is today. Instead of looking for unique angles to land his one devastating punch – the left hand – Pacquiao can eliminate opponents with an array of weapons. By coming straight in, he is in a better position to connect with his lead right hook and start exchanges with his improved jab.

However, Marquez wants Pacquiao to come straight towards him. Marquez, perhaps the best counterpuncher in the sport, can land far more frequently if Pacquiao moves in straight lines. A cagey infighter, Marquez can score with his left or right uppercut, left hook or straight right hand if Pacquiao stands right in front of him. The more lateral movement and angles that Pacquiao uses to initiate action, the easier the fight will be for him.

3. Can Marquez hurt Pacquiao?

The first two times they met, they fought at featherweight and junior lightweight, respectively. In 2011, they will fight three divisions north at welterweight.  Over the last three years, Pacquiao has grown into a true welterweight.  He has clearly demonstrated that he can take punches from some of the best bangers at 147 lbs., including Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto. 

In their two meetings, Marquez had success in stopping Pacquiao's aggressive attack with his straight right hand.  However, will his right hand still have the same effectiveness against a fighter who has taken shots from much bigger punchers at higher weights? Marquez has never scored a victory above lightweight.  If his punching power doesn't translate to welterweight, he will have no effective way of thwarting Pacquiao aggression and pressure.

4. Will Pacquiao stay strong for 12 rounds?

Pacquiao is one of the best frontrunners in boxing. He establishes early leads with his combination of power and speed. If he can't knock a fighter out, he can sometimes lose his edge over the second half of the fight. Pacquiao built significant early leads in both Marquez fights only to see Marquez storm back during the second halves of the bouts.

Even in fights where he had resounding leads, Pacquiao absorbed real punishment from his opponents in the later rounds. Margarito landed some damaging body shots and Joshua Clottey connected with right uppercuts. Pacquiao needs to put together a complete 12-round fight against Marquez to avoid the controversial decisions of their first two fights.

5. Will Nacho Beristain protect his fighter?

Marquez's trainer, the legendary Nacho Beristain, has seen his fighter come back from extreme duress to secure victories, or, in the case of the Pacquiao matches, make fights competitive. Marquez was down four points after the first round in the initial Pacquiao fight (or at least he should have been) and he was in danger of being knocked out by Juan Diaz in their first meeting. In both matches, Beristain, who has a father-son relationship with Marquez, stuck by his fighter and watched him rally.

Boxing has had a long history of father-trainers who allow their progeny to take unnecessary abuse in the ring. If Marquez takes a severe beating, will Beristain act as a responsible trainer and stop the fight, or will he freeze, like many father-trainers, and let his attachment to his fighter cloud his objective judgment? Will he get caught up in notions of "honor" or "deserving to finish," even if his fighter is taking too much punishment?

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