Manny Pacquaio and Juan Manuel Márquez will meet for the fourth and (as of now) final time on Saturday night.
If we accept each fighter’s statement that this iteration of Pacquiao-Márquez will be “the last time,” Pacquiao-Márquez IV marks the end of one of boxing’s greatest rivalries.
Pacquaio holds a 2-0-1 record over Márquez, with the draw coming in their first meeting. Of course, the simple win-loss record does not do justice to the incredibly exciting, engaging and controversial showdowns the two boxers have put forth in their previous three fights. Many fans and experts contend that the record easily could have been – and/or should be – 3-0 in Márquez's favor.
A scoring error by a judge in the initial Pacquiao-Márquez bout in 2004 resulted in a draw when the fight should have been declared a Márquez win. The two met again four years later for a rematch. Pacquiao edged Márquez out for a legitimate, albeit no-less-controversial split decision. The rubber match last November was touted as the bout that finally would prove who was the greater of the two welterweights. Ending in yet another close and controversial decision, Pacquaio-Márquez III did absolutely nothing to quell that debate.
Which brings us to this weekend. There’s no doubt this rivalry has earned its place amongst boxing’s best – alongside the Micky Ward-Arturo Gatti trilogy; the Erik Morales-Marco Antonio Barrera threepeat; the six meetings between Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta; and, yes, even mentioned in the same breath as boxing’s most epic rivalry featuring Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.
Still, one thing separates the Pacquiao-Márquez rivalry from all the notable others: Only one side has won. Each fighter contends he needs a definitive win to be declared the victor, not only of Saturday’s match up, but of the series. Yet, the reality is Márquez needs the win more.
The Mexican boxer needs one meeting he can point to as an indicator that he is capable of being Pacquiao’s superior in the ring. As controversial and disputed as the previous outcomes have been, Pacquiao has a pair of wins he can cite to silence critics. Márquez only has a trifecta of should have, could have won those bouts.
Considering the eight-and-a-half years this rivalry has spanned, a win by Márquez – even if it’s by a dramatic knockout – won’t suddenly solidify Márquez as the better of the two fighters. Pacquiao has accomplished too much in his 60-bout, 17-year professional career to be superseded by a single loss.
However, a win by Márquez would provide some measure of redemption. Though he’ll never be able to erase the other three disappointing results against Pacquiao, boxing is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. What people remember most is the last – and in the case of this rivalry, final -- fight.