LAS VEGAS – Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao may have one-upped what seemed two weeks ago to be a cinch for Fight of the Year when they tore each other apart in a brutal brawl Saturday at Mandalay Bay for the WBC super featherweight title.
Pacquiao won a split decision, lifting the belt from Marquez in a stirring battle that cries for a rematch.
Nearly four years after a brutal draw between them at the MGM Grand, Marquez and Pacquiao did it again in a pitched battle that frequently had the sellout crowd of 11,061 on its feet.
Two weeks earlier, Marquez's younger brother, Rafael, lost a decision to Israel Vazquez in a jaw-droppingly brutal bout. On Saturday, the elder Marquez and Pacquiao may have topped it with an equally savage bout. An hour after the fight, neither Marquez nor Pacquiao had made it to the postfight news conference, because each needed medical attention.
When they're healthy, have no doubt that another rematch will come, despite heated postfight rancor.
But it will also be a while before it does. Bob Arum, who promotes Pacquiao, categorically ruled out an immediate rematch. He's planning to pit Pacquiao against David Diaz for the WBC lightweight title in the same building June 28, assuming Pacquiao is healed in time for that bout to occur.
"I'm not saying they'll never fight again, but you have to let it bake for a while," Arum said during an exchange with Marquez promoter Richard Schaefer.
Nearly everyone who was in the arena Saturday wanted to see a rematch except Arum, Pacquiao and Diaz, who would get a career-high payday for meeting Pacquiao.
"Hey, I have a vested interest in this thing," Diaz said, beaming, after winning a majority decision in a non-title fight over Ramon Montano earlier in the evening. "But that was a great fight. I have to give it to them."
Judge Jerry Roth had it 115-112 for Marquez, the same score as Yahoo! Sports. Duane Ford had it 115-112 for Pacquiao, while Tom Miller had it 114-113 for the Filipino.
Marquez would have retained his belt were it not for a third-round knockdown. Had that not occurred, Miller's score would have been 114-114 and it would have produced a second consecutive draw.
Arum, who has frequently railed at decisions that have gone against him, pointed out that it was obviously a close fight that could have gone either way.
"I realize how stupid I've sounded when I questioned decisions in the past," Arum said. "I've been one of the most vocal, but we have to learn to accept close decisions."
Marquez controlled much of the fight with his right hand and his boxing ability, but Pacquiao's power turned the tide several times.
Marquez went down from a straight left late in the third round, a much harder knockdown than any of the three that Pacquiao scored in the first round of their 2004 bout. After Marquez got up, Pacquiao moved in for the kill and nearly knocked the Mexican down again.
Marquez grabbed the rope to keep himself upright seconds before the bell sounded. But the tide turned again in the fourth, when Marquez cut Pacquiao with a hard right.
"I thought at that point I was in control of the fight, but when he cut my eye in the fourth round, it made it more difficult for me and he got back into the fight," Pacquiao said.
But Pacquiao flatly ruled out another rematch, noting he wants to chase the lightweight belt.
Pacquiao and trainer Freddie Roach were convinced he deserved to win the 2004 bout and was of no mind to see Marquez across from him in a ring any time soon.
"I don't think so," Pacquiao said of a rematch. "This business is over."
If it was over, it was 24 of the finest rounds between two men in recent memory. And the controversy over the rematch obscured what was a sensational pair of fights.
"They're both terrors," said former welterweight champion Shane Mosley, who has a piece of Golden Boy, which promotes Marquez. "I think whenever these two guys fight, they can't help but do that."
Schaefer offered Arum $6 million to bring Pacquiao back for a third fight. Arum wouldn't hear of it, though he wouldn't rule out that a third fight would occur in the future.
Schaefer went on a tirade against the judges, prompting a crack from Arum over Golden Boy's ownership in The Ring magazine. The Ring awards championship belts, which has long disgusted Arum.
"I'm not satisfied with a magazine determining who the champions are, particularly when I don't have ownership in the magazine," Arum said.
The bottom line is that everyone who saw the bout wants to see it again. And even Arum conceded it would occur.
And if it does, it's going to be another scintillating battle.
"These guys are both very good, complete and smart fighters," Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach said. "And these fights are always going to be ones that have you on the edge of their seats. It's the way they fight. But it wasn't bad, was it?"