So continues our marathon coverage of one of the biggest fights of 2012, Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez 4 on Dec. 8 on HBO pay-per-view. Previously: the undercard, previewed. Next: a preview and prediction of the main event.
Greg Dulli of The Afghan Whigs, The Twilight Singers and The Gutter Twins once sang for the first of those three bands: "I stayed in too long/But she was the perfect fit/And we dragged it out so long this time started to make each other sick."
That just about sums up Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez IV for many hardcore boxing fans. "Too much of a good thing" is real, as any adolescent who gets unlimited alone time with a birthday cake will tell you.
The audience for boxing, though, isn't limited to the hardcore fans. Some of those hardcore fans -- the cult of Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez fans who clamor for a long overdue victory -- are excited, and most of them are going to watch it anyway because there's no way they'd miss an "event" fight like this, where one of the world's two biggest fighters (he's in a Wonderful Pistachios commercials now!) takes the stage. And for the casual fan, Pacquiao-Marquez IV might as well be Pacquiao-Marquez II, since I and II transpired before Pacquiao was a household name.
That's the answer to the question in the headline, then, about who cares. And there are good reasons to care. It is a great rivalry, just like the omnipresent commercials declare. These are two of the best fighters in the world still. There is a case against Pacquiao-Marquez IV, but there's a better case for it.
The Case Against
It's not as if I'm totally thrilled about Pacquiao-Marquez IV. I'm interested, for reasons I'll get into later, but I understand the exhaustion some have with this match-up.
They've fought three times, and no one on any of those three occasions established clear superiority. Is there any reason to think this one will settle the matter, the way we were promised for the previous two rematches? Isn't the likeliest outcome another controversial, close decision that answers nothing? And isn't one of the points of sports to find out who's best in the competition?
Trilogies tend to make for classics; you don't hear often about legendary four-fight rivalries, although four or more fights between boxers were once more common. The last important match-up to get a fourth fight, featuring Juan Manuel's brother Rafael Marquez against Israel Vazquez, turned out to be one too many, although the circumstances for those two men were very, very different than between Pacquiao and his Marquez, since Pacquiao and Marquez are still among the best active boxers and Vazquez and Marquez were considered well past their best days.
Not even the participants sound all that enthused. Just look at the body language in the photo above of Pacquiao and Marquez holding up their respective four fingers, like it's rote at this point. Pacquiao seems like he's going through the motions of making it look like he's really interested in this fourth fight, such as scribbling on a piece of paper during a news conference how much he needs a knockout this time, only to go back to his usual habits of not doing what trainer Freddie Roach wants or preoccupying himself with his political career in the Philippines. Roach is more blunt about how disinterested in he is in this fight, but everyone knows it's the bout that gets the whole gang the most money, so what are you gonna do? Pacquiao himself doesn't fight with the fire he once did at his peak, and that has made him less appealing overall.
There are a few other causes for a bad taste in the mouth, too, left over from what has come before. Some will tell you Marquez won all three fights, only for the judges to score two for Pacquiao and another a draw. (I had Pacquiao winning one and losing two.) The most recent meeting was the most egregious, with very few scoring the bout for Pacquiao in what was a close fight but one about which there was a clear consensus that Marquez deserved to take. Pacquiao is coming off his own unsavory loss, a bunk decision to Timothy Bradley. Roach has been making some ugly allegations about Marquez using performance enhancing drugs, which for all we know are true but are all the uglier for the fact that Roach was so gawdawful offended when Floyd Mayweather was lobbing similar allegations at his fighter with a similar lack of evidence. And the third fight, while good, wasn't great.
There are fans and writers who have said they're sick and tired of the whole Pacquiao-Marquez thing, and that they want "fresh match-ups."
The Case For
Problem is, I can't think of a single "fresh match-up" that truly entices me for Pacquiao at welterweight, other than a bout that apparently will never happen against Mayweather, since Mayweather keeps insisting on increasingly absurd contract terms no matter how many of them Pacquiao accepts. Who else is out there for Pacquiao, exactly? Just scan the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board's welterweight top 10. First, you have to give up hope for any opponents from Golden Boy Promotions, because Pacquiao's promoter Top Rank refuses to work with them. That means no Devon Alexander, no Victor Ortiz, no Josesito Lopez, no Paulie Malignaggi and no Robert Guerrero. That leaves a rematch with Timothy Bradley (not a "fresh match-up," and a bout that would come with its own bad tastes) Jan Zaveck (there isn't a soul alive clamoring for that one) and Kell Brook (not so bad a notion, but I haven't heard anyone clamoring for this one, either). Pacquiao doesn't want to fight any junior middleweights, and you could pull someone up from junior welterweight, maybe -- Brandon Rios is an option for Pacquiao if he wins this weekend -- but there's no way Pacquiao against any of that small handful of possibilities does as well financially as Pacquiao against Marquez.
And look, there's no accounting for taste. We live in a world where Katy Perry is a wealthy person. But Pacquiao-Marquez IV is the fight that would make the most money because it's the fight that the most people want. Count me among them, setting aside the impossibility of Pacquiao-Mayweather.
Pacquiao-Marquez is indeed boxing's greatest rivalry, even if it has become a dog-eared, weathered one. Pacquiao and Marquez were made for one another -- Pacquiao the physical marvel who is ultra-aggressive at his best, Marquez the ring intellectual who thrives on counterpunching those who attack recklessly. They are going to give each other a close fight every time out, and close fights equal drama. Parity in rivalries makes for prolonged rivalries, and rivalries have an inherent appeal for sports fans who enjoy the unscripted drama of athletic competition and the myriad storylines that emerge and enrich with new chapters.
Plus, all three of the fights were, at minimum, very good. Pacquiao-Marquez III didn't come close to the first two, which are as exciting as boxing matches get. But it was still pretty good, and better than any Pacquiao fight since 2009.
Pacquiao might no longer be at his peak as a boxer, having fallen from atop almost every pound-for-pound list, but he's still in the top three, at worst. Marquez is in the top 10, at worst, and maybe in the top five. Boxing all too rarely pits boxers on that level against one another.
In fact, Pacquiao's slide makes the fight more attractive in some ways. Pacquiao has been a huge favorite in all of his fights for some time, and while he comes in at somewhere between a 2 to 1 or 3 to 1 favorite, more people I know are picking Marquez to win than any previous Pacquiao opponent in a long time -- including last year, when Marquez was moving up in weight and a great many expected him to lose because of it. For Marquez fans such as myself, the idea of him finally beating Pacquiao (a fighter I also like, mind you) is alluring.
Pacquiao, too, remains one of the few universally-recognized attractions in boxing. How much of one he remains is in question, as his last fight against Bradley sold poorly, although that might have had more to do with Bradley's low profile. But Pacquiao's story and the kinds of things he does in the ring when he's on point still resonate. Even hardcore fans who have grown tired of him are unlikely to skip this fight, because, hey, it's a Pacquiao fight. (Marquez, although less recognizable to the average casual fan, is hugely popular with the Mexican fan base.)
Oh, and hey, the undercard has a couple celebrity promoters, with 50 Cent shuffling Yuriorkis Gamboa on to the card and Snooki shuffling Patrick Hyland on to it... OK, that's not a very good reason. But if you're a boxing fan, 50 Cent and Snooki are just two more things that your friends might soon be asking you about in regards to the card this weekend. Pacquiao-Marquez IV itself will get more mainstream play for a couple days than boxing usually does. You wouldn't want to be left out of the discussion, would you?
Pacquiao-Marquez IV isn't everything we might want, but there isn't a world that exists right now where we can get that out of a Pacquiao fight. For better or worse, Pacquiao-Marquez IV is as good as it gets.