COMMENTARY | There will be a lot of talk about keys to victory for both fighters in this Saturday's Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez clash at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada. But, for fighters who have already shared thirty-six rounds together, there's not much either can do to surprise the other. The key, then, will be in each warrior's ring philosophy and in tweaking their strategies just enough to get the edge.
Recently, strength and conditioning coaches have been in the news and there has been some debate as to what they do to help a fighter become a better, more efficient athlete. But at this level of the sport, with two elite hall of famers battling one another for the fourth time, old school boxing technique is much more valuable than new age physical supplements.
A Star is Built & A War Machine is Crafted
Marquez is very much a traditionalist. Raised and sculpted in the hardcore boxing gym of Hall of Fame trainer, Ignacio "Nacho" Beristain in Mexico City, Marquez has learned the fine art of prizefighting. At thirty-nine years of age and after nearly twenty years in the sport, the four-division world champ is not just a world class fighter with a keen grasp on the finer points of ring technique, he is a living, breathing boxing machine.
For "Dinamita," footwork is the ground army for any all-out war and is used to carefully place his opponent at the exact, perfect spot for the heavy artillery. As any old-time trainer will tell you, footwork can be seven-tenths of the battle and Marquez has definitely perfected this craft.
Against Pacquiao, Marquez has found success precisely because he has been able to nullify the Filipino's hard-charging offense by keeping his lead foot outside of Pacquiao's. When this happens, he is effectively cutting off half of Pacquiao's range and positioning him for sharp counters-- especially the traditional weapon of choice against southpaws, the straight right hand.
For Marquez to be effective, he'll need to keep doing this and keep focused on containing Pacquiao. He'll also need to remember to up his punch output because, as we have seen, the frenetically busier fighter often gets the benefit of the doubt in close rounds.
A Star is Born & Supreme Gifts Are Unleashed
Manny Pacquiao, on the other hand, has defied most boxing common knowledge and has succeeded in spite of relatively poor technique, although he has certainly improved his skill level under trainer Freddie Roach.
Pacquiao is a ball of frenetic energy, bouncing in and out, left and right, and catching opponents at odd angles with volumes of punches. The 8-division world champ is at his best against conservative, technically-bound boxers who lack the creativity and flexibility to deal with someone who is breaking all the rules, but making it all work.
Against Marquez, Pacquiao has had his best moments when he was able to draw the Mexican out of his single-minded, tactical focus and force a firefight. In a one on one fevered battle, few (if any) fighters can deal with Pacquiao. Unfortunately for the Filipino icon, though, Marquez has always had the presence of mind to go back to old school technique after a brief taste of trench warfare.
The key for Pacquiao will be to make Marquez fight the full three minutes of each round and not allow himself to be corralled by Marquez's footwork and counter-punching. For this, Pacquiao would be well-advised to work on a good, solid head feint to draw Marquez off stride and keep the Mexican off balance as often as possible. If Marquez is kept guessing, he'll have an infinitely harder time working any sort of strategy and will have to, eventually, toss caution to the wind and engage in the type of firefight that benefits Pacquiao.
The Final Verdict
Fans tuning in to Pacquiao-Marquez IV will have to look no further than the fighters' own feet to see who's winning the war of wills and strategies. If Pacquiao's lead foot is outside of Marquez's, that means he will be free to be the buzzsaw all fans recognize-- Edge, Pacquiao. If Marquez's lead foot is outside of Pacquiao's, it means that Marquez has, once again, been able to corral his high octane rival and keep him contained-- Edge, Marquez.
Then, of course, we cross our fingers and hope that we get a decisive, accurate, and definitive ending to this well-fought, but well-worn series.
Paul Magno was a licensed official in the state of Michoacan, Mexico and has worked as a trainer/consultant in several Mexican boxing gyms. His work can also be found on Fox Sports and The Boxing Tribune. In the past, Paul has done work for Inside Fights, The Queensberry Rules and Eastside Boxing.