LAS VEGAS – They could fight every few months for the next five years and the outcome between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez would be the same as it was Saturday. And in 2008. And in 2004.
Pacquiao and Marquez fought a bitterly contested bout for the third time in the last seven years, with Pacquiao pulling out a highly controversial split-decision victory before a sellout crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Pacquiao retained his World Boxing Organization welterweight title, but he wasn't particularly a winner. The draw prompted cries for a fourth bout, and Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum said he'd try to comply if Marquez opts to continue fight after hinting he might retire.
A fourth Pacquiao-Marquez match would put off a mega-fight between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. – the only other man in the sport with a claim to the mythical title as boxing's pound-for-pound best – for at least a year.
That, though, may be good for Pacquiao. Mayweather is a master counter puncher and is far quicker than Marquez. Given the way Pacquiao struggles with Marquez's counter punching, it's hard to imagine he'd be able to do much with Mayweather without making some sort of significant adjustment.
"Counter punchers give us problems," Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach said, shrugging his shoulders. "We need to get to work on how to deal with counter punchers better."
Pacquiao was an offensive machine in running off 14 consecutive wins since his 2004 draw with Marquez. He had become the most intimidating fighter since Mike Tyson in his prime, destroying much bigger men such as Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito, and knocking Ricky Hatton stiff with a single shot.
He went off as a massive 8-1 favorite Saturday and few gave Marquez much of a chance to even compete.
But Marquez fought on more than even terms. When the scores were announced – judges Glenn Trowbridge and Dave Moretti had it 116-112 and 115-113 for Pacquiao, while Robert Hoyle had it a draw, 114-114 – the fans booed lustily and showered the ringside area with cups of beer.
It was Marquez, not Pacquiao, who landed the more telling blows, though Pacquiao was more active. According to CompuBox, Pacquiao landed 176 of 578 punches, compared to 138 of 436 for Marquez.
"He's always backing off and he's waiting for me to create action," said Pacquiao, who received 28 stitches above his right eye. "It's not easy to create action when he's waiting to set me up for a good shot. I was very careful because he's a good counter puncher. I have to say, it's not that easy to fight Marquez."
Mayweather, though, made it look ridiculously easy, and not that long ago. In 2009, Mayweather returned from a lengthy layoff to shut out Marquez. Mayweather knocked down Marquez in the second round, won every round and made it look like a man against a boy.
The Mayweather-Pacquiao fight is what the world wants to see. Expectations are that it could sell upwards of three million pay-per-view units at $75 or more a pop. It would, without question, be the highest grossing fight in history.
The bigger question, though, is whether it would be competitive.
"Commercially speaking, it will be a huge fight, a very big fight," Marquez said of a potential Pacquiao-Mayweather bout. "Boxing is about styles. The style of Mayweather would get very complicated for Pacquiao."
It hearkens to the days of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman. Frazier gave Ali fits, Foreman would destroy Frazier, but Ali was able to handle Foreman.
Those, though, were three distinct styles. In this case, Marquez and Mayweather are both superior counterpunchers. The difference is, Mayweather is bigger and much faster.
[Slideshow: Check out photos from Pacquiao-Marquez III]
"Joe Frazier would, God rest his soul, be neck and neck with Ali and give him some tough, tough fights, but if you put him in with George Foreman, he didn't stand a chance," Arum said. "Foreman KO'd him twice. But with Foreman and Ali, Ali ended up knocking him out. Styles make fights, and a lot of you writers don't understand that.
"The trainers do. The matchmakers do. But just because A beats B and B beats C, it doesn't mean necessarily that A will beat C."
Perhaps not. But at this stage, looking at the evidence objectively, Mayweather would be a significant favorite if the improbable were to happen and all the malarkey keeping the fight from getting made is resolved.
Roach realizes that as well as anyone.
"[Marquez] understands how to fight Manny," he said. "He's strictly a counterpuncher, but he's very good at it. And that's what Mayweather does, of course. That is something we need to work on."
Pacquiao has improved significantly in the 10 years that he's worked with Roach. But a glum Pacquiao, who was only allowed to answer two brief questions at the post-fight news conference, knows he has some work to do, even though he said, "I very clearly won that fight."
"He has a hard style," Pacquiao said of Marquez. "That's very difficult."
And if he doesn't do something about it, Mayweather will be more than difficult. He may be impossible to beat.
More Pacquiao-Marquez III coverage:
• Dan Wetzel: Manny Pacquiao's invincibility pierced in divisive win
• Promoter Bob Arum ready to set up Pacquiao-Marquez IV
• Y! Sports Radio: Chaotic scene after Manny Pacquiao's controversial win