“Pacquiao. Is going. To get. A good. Ass. Whoopin’.”

-Roger Mayweather, the world’s most accidentally hilarious   trainer in the history of the sport.

 

Here we are. The fight is happening next Saturday, and I believe anyone putting their money on Pacquiao is either:

 

  1. Watching his old fights (we will be covering the nature of his success…)
  2. Filipino or a die hard fan. That’s not racist, it is a fact, and it’s the same reason black fighters always pick black fighters, Mexican fighters always pick Mexican fighters, and white fighters don’t get asked their opinion very often.

 

However, given the hype about Mayweather being cut and beat up in sparring which are almost certainly erroneous, and Pacquiao being on a mission from God, the promotion machine has done almost as fabulous a job of convincing people that Pacquiao has a chance of winning as they did by just managing to get people to pay money for the Mayweather/Baldomir fight. When you combine that with the fact that 99% of people are either “Pactard” or “Gayweather” fans depending on who you’re talking to, I don’t think most people have even the slightest clue about the ins and outs of the sport in the first place. For that matter, I don’t think they even care.

 

So what’s the real scoop on the fight, and how do we cut through the crap and get down to the title of this series, which almost certainly is an accurate statement about what’s going to happen? I will handle it in five parts.

 

 

Pt. 1 of 5: Ordinary to Ordained – 2001-2008

 

Anyone who knows anything about boxing can see a stratospheric rise in Pacquiao’s performance, speed, and power between mid-2008 and mid-2011. During that time, his career followed the typical weight increases that boxers with excellent skills typically do, and over a similar timeframe.

 

Now up to 130 lbs, Pacquiao had proven himself to be a very good fighter. I would say excellent, and this was largely due to his partnership with his now virtually synonymous coach Freddie Roach in 2001. Their first fight was a TKO of Lelohonono Ledwada at Super Bantamweight (122 lbs). For the record, Pacquiao was a late replacement for another fighter, and Ledwada hadn’t trained for him. This was followed by a draw in the next fight, but in late 2003 he stepped up to Featherweight (126 lbs) to challenge the legendary Marco Antonio Barrera. Barrera had clearly underestimated the rising Filipino star, and was battered into a 10th round TKO. This is the first high profile fight in which we see the beginnings of Pacquiao’s increase in hand speed, accuracy, and explosiveness of combinations for which he has become legendary. Although it is important to note that Pacquiao was only able to sustain these types of attacks for limited and predictable amounts of time, one thing was clear: Freddie Roach had cleaned up a lot of technical failings in his protégé’s skill set, and it had allowed Pacquiao to get to the next level.

 

That being said, there are levels and there are levels. Pacquiao, although exciting, was hardly an intelligent fighter or boxer. He showed then, as he has shown ever since, that he doesn’t really make any adjustments in fights, and relies of his punch volume and speed to wear fighters down. If even a single adjustment is made, it comes from Roach in the corner, and is quickly abandoned once he gets hit.

 

Against slick and well-trained boxers, this proved disastrous. In 2004 and 2005, he ran into two future hall-of-famers by the names of Juan Manuel Marquez and Erik Morales respectively. He was thoroughly exposed. He drew Marquez, but only because he got three knockdowns in the first round. However, after a terrible start, Marquez took over.

The pattern quickly became set. Pacquiao would jab or double jab, occasionally add the left hand (he’s a southpaw) behind it, and occasionally lead with the left. However, these punches were virtually all thrown straight down the middle. Marquez quickly adapted, and at first began turning Pacquiao to the right (Pacquiao’s right,) by stepping outside his foot, and countering over his jab.

 

This particular process went on for about a round and a half until Marquez began adding such punches as a straight right to the face, body, hooks to the body and upstairs, and a diverse and hilarious assortment of combinations thereof. Things got even worse when Marquez began timing Pacquiao’s rather predictable straight left and started delivering power combinations up the middle as well. Pacquiao made a single adjustment after about three rounds of this at the behest of Freddie Roach, which consisted of countering Marquez’s left side shots with a right hook off his jab to try to stop Marquez from stepping outside.

As Marquez is way, way too smart to let that go on for more than a shot or two, he quickly nullified it by ducking or slipping the hook and delivering an impressive array of shots to the body and straight down the middle. This is what good boxers who have an understanding of the sport do. Pacquiao’s adjustment from that point on was to abandon the counter and return to doing what was already failing in the first place: diving in with predictable shots and eating Marquez’s punches like they were Skittles. This is what bad boxers who have no understanding of the sport do.

 

The net result of all this was what Roger Mayweather would refer to as:

“ A good. Ass. Whoopin’.”

The fight was scored a draw, but realistically Pacquiao only achieved this because Marquez had a horrible first round. While some made the case that one of the judges cost Pacquiao the decision because he only scored the first round 10-7 instead of 10-6, many judges won’t ever score a round less than 10-7 because A) the fighter is clearly hurt and trying to make it out of the round, and B) it puts the fight way too far out of reach based on a single bad round. I don’t really have a problem with it.

Other than that, Marquez made up the three point difference by convincingly winning the next 11 rounds at a minimum of 7-4, and many writers and observers actually had Marquez winning something more akin to 8-3 or 9-2, as well as winning the fight.

Now one would think, after being exposed on that level and on tape where the nature of the ass kicking is pathetically obvious, Pacquiao and Roach would have spent a good deal of time in the gym determining some kind of strategy to stop the right side of Pacquiao’s face getting caved in. However, when he fought Erik Morales two fights later, Morales not only did the same thing to him, but, being a hall of fame-caliber Mexican boxer from a culture that prides itself on fighters who fight as if they are comparing the size of their reproductive organs, he flatly beat Pacquiao’s ass in the wild exchanges that are the bread and butter of Pacquiao’s fight plan. As a matter of fact, Morales later said he not only learned everything he needed to know after watching the Marquez tape about three times, but any competent observer could see that he also displayed his good –but by no means excellent – boxing and counterpunching skills that had often been the difference in all-out wars.

It was so lopsided that, in the 12th round, Morales decided to ignore his trainer’s pleading not to do anything stupid, fought the final two minutes of the fight at great disadvantage turning southpaw – openly mocking Pacquiao’s manhood by challenging him at his own game – and in the process delivering quite a few impressive shots up the middle that sent Pacquiao’s head snapping back like Usain Bolt tethered to a dog run chain. Besides, telling a Mexican not to fight is like telling a stone to ignore gravity; it’s not listening to you, and even if it were it’s absolutely incapable of doing it anyway.

After the Morales fight, Pacquiao actually had quite a bit of success. Following an interim bout against a tomato can, he fought Erik Morales two more times, both ending in a KO loss for Morales. However, in retrospect, the fight against Pacquiao turned out to be the last great fight he had left in him. Morales was an all-action fighter who approached every single fight as a collision of chin and willpower. The fight preceding Pacquiao was the last of the Morales/Barrera fights – one of the greatest slugfest trilogies in the history of the lower weight divisions. Barrera eked out a majority decision, but the fights were so brutal that neither one of them was ever going to be the same.

Eleven years and 49 fights into his career, Morales was breaking down; of his 9 losses, seven came after the Pacquiao win – four directly following it – and several were KO’s for the formerly iron-chinned champion.

The second fight Pacquiao had with Barrera caught Barrera at a similar place in his career, and at 69 fights at 33 years old, it was a remarkably competitive decision loss – enough so that one could easily believe that, had he taken Pacquiao seriously in the first fight, it would have been a relatively straightforward affair. In fact, this fight was the beginning of what was considered a decline in Pacquiao’s career, as Pacquiao was supposed to blow Barrera out of the water.

Then…came the unexpected.

Having essentially taxed out the Super Featherweight (130) division of quality fighters, the only remaining question was the draw with Marquez. This was a fight that demanded serious reconciliation, and it was by far the most lucrative. Additionally, the risk appeared to be relatively small considering the former champion was 35 years old and 52 fights into his career. Plus, since the draw, Marquez had lost to Chris John, beaten an even more shot Barrera, and out-smarted a young Rocky Juarez who was, as was already suspected after losses in several title fights with older champions, never really up to the challenge in the first place.

The Pacquiao crowd would like us to believe that the reason the second Marquez fight was a majority decision win is that Pacquiao was at the worst point in his personal life and marriage. As the story goes, Pacquiao had been cheating on his wife like crazy, and they were arguing in the dressing room up to 15 minutes before the fight. The reality is far, far different, and the subsequent fights against Marquez would hammer this point home – literally.

The only real change that Roach instituted in Pacquiao’s game for Marquez 2 was the exchange of the straight left upstairs for a somewhat looping left to the body. The goal wasn’t necessarily to attack the midsection his older adversary, but rather to stop Marquez from ducking under the left hand to the head and countering like he did in the first fight.

This brings up a very important point that typifies the coaching style of Freddie Roach. Roach is without a doubt a hall of fame trainer, and he is highly responsible for Pacquiao even competing with Marquez in the first place. He is also lauded as an extraordinary pre-fight strategist, although I haven’t seen much evidence that he can adjust on the fly. At the very least, even if it goes in Pacquiao’s earhole he doesn’t really listen anyway, so he may as well be saying nothing.

In other words, he’s a great planner as long as the guy on the other side of the ring does what he expects them to do, and in most cases a fighter will do exactly that. However, there exist in this world a small collection of fighters who are not only gifted athletes, but gifted students of the game, and every time Pacquiao and Roach have run into a fighter who can make real adjustments, it becomes a serious problem. This is highly exacerbated when the opponent is not only able to adapt to his shots, but is schooled enough in the art to start countering them. Effectively. And consistently. And with combinations.

At that point, and in every instance, Pacquiao has had nothing to fall back on but his speed, reckless combinations, athletic ability, and an occasional prayer in the corner that the pressure is going to be a bit too much for guys who are five or six years older than him and decently into their thirties. Second of all, it demonstrates categorically that Freddie Roach is going to be no help in that department either, regardless of it being him, Pacquiao, or both of them that don’t know what to do.

Despite the win, I have been unable to find a single person outside the Philippines who actually had Pacquiao beating Marquez the second time around. Nobody – and I do mean nobody – at ringside had it closer than a draw, and almost all of them gave it to Marquez by a clear round or two. The reason was patently obvious; the fight picked up almost where it left off, except that once Marquez had the new shot figured out he was able to do exactly what he did in the first fight. Pacquiao had zero answers, and it was pretty obvious that the only thing that made it close was the fact that Pacquiao threw a tremendous number of punches. Unfortunately – and it is a well- known maxim in the sport – judges tend to score for the fighter who is ineffective but prolific, rather than effective but measured.

It is now 2008, and this would be Pacquiao’s last fight at Super Featherweight (130). From then until the third fight with Marquez in 2011, he would go on a historically unprecedented, meteoric and apocalyptic rampage through the best fighters in four weight classes spanning 20 lbs. However, once again, Marquez would be the mile marker that, for reasons to be addressed, would bring an end to any doubts that Pacquiao had the same vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and lack of ring intelligence as he always had.

 

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Ben Tomkins
Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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