The end was dissatisfying, a deflating finish to a highly anticipated event. A Manny Pacquiao victory over Juan Manuel Marquez was supposed to provide closure for one of boxing's most closely contested trilogies. Yet Pacquiao's majority decision win (two judges gave him the nod; one called it a draw) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas last Saturday night raised more questions than it answered. "People asked me, 'Why aren't you celebrating?' said Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach. "Celebrate what? We won, but this guy still has our number."
Counterpunchers are Pacquiao's kryptonite, and the 38-year-old Marquez is one of the best. When Pacquiao jabbed, Marquez jabbed back. When Pacquiao loaded up for a big shot, Marquez frequently beat him to it. When Pacquiao rushed in with a trademark flurry, Marquez often answered with one of his own. If there is a playbook on Pacquiao, Marquez has mastered it. "He dictates where he wants Manny to go," says Roach. "No other fighter can do that."
Not even, say, Floyd Mayweather? Mayweather is a bigger, faster, stronger version of Marquez. For all the talk of the purse split, drug testing and venue holding up a Pacquiao-Mayweather megafight, there's one other issue to consider: Is Pacquiao ready for Mayweather? Roach admits there are concerns. For years he has tinkered with Pacquiao's footwork, trying to break him of a habit of walking into straight shots. But there was Pacquiao on Saturday, repeatedly stepping into the path of Marquez's right. "I kept saying, 'Manny, what the f--- are you doing?'" says Roach. "It just wasn't the Manny Pacquiao that I know."
Roach floated the idea of a tune-up fight, though fighters who make north of $20 million a night and have a clock on their careers (Pacquiao, 32, plans on running for governor of Sarangani province in 2013) don't usually get the luxury of a soft touch. More likely, Pacquiao will be back in the ring with Marquez next May, tabling (yet again) a Mayweather superfight to try to finish one that never seems to end.
Pacquiao-Marquez III flipped the familiar one-two punch atop boxing's pound-for-pound list—with an impressive combo following right behind
1 Floyd Mayweather
A one-sided whipping of Victor Ortiz in September, coupled with Pacquiao's uneven effort against Marquez, moves the inimitable Mayweather back to the top spot.
2 Manny Pacquiao
The wins go on, but against Marquez, Pac Man wasn't the all-devouring champ he has been. Still, the Filipino southpaw remains the world's hardest-punching congressman.
3 Sergio Martinez
A powerful, athletic southpaw, the 160-pound king has offered to come down to 150 and fight for (relative) peanuts for a shot at Pacquiao or Mayweather, with no success.
4 Nonito Donaire
The dynamic switch-hitting 28-year-old bantamweight champ, who's riding a 26-bout winning streak, will seek bigger challenges in higher weight classes next year.
5 Wladimir Klitschko
Heavy-handed 245-pound heavyweights rarely rank this high on pound-for-pound lists, but the disciplined Klitschko blends polished skills with his superior power.
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The first UFC card on network TV, Junior dos Santos's KO of Cain Velasquez on Fox last Saturday, which drew 5.7 million viewers, resonated in the boxing world. Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, an advocate of bringing boxing back to basic cable, says, "Putting an HBO-level fight on an ESPN or Spike would be huge." Sponsorship is the key. Second-tier HBO cards offer mid-six-figure licensing fees. Top Rank VP Lucia McKelvey, who believes the right fight on cable could generate up to $800,000 from sponsors, says Top Rank hopes to approach a network with a multifight proposal sometime in 2012.
POINT, MANNY Pacquiao (right) never dropped Marquez, but he did enough to take the win on two of the judges' cards.
GREG CHOAT (DOS SANTOS)