WAS it really a draw?
Sixteen years ago yet the riveting outcome of the first-ever Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez world featherweight title bout remains one of the most contentious, highly-debated decisions in boxing history, an endless discussion that has now become even more timely and relevant with the advent of social media.
Truly, it was one heck of a fight featuring two brave warriors of contrasting style – a Filipino wrecking machine against an excellent Mexican counter puncher.
The two fighters engaged in a hard-fought, 12-round world featherweight title match that wasn’t lacking in drama, highlighted by three lightning knockdowns Pacquiao administered on Marquez in a blazing opening round that set the stage for an epic night of boxing amid an electric atmosphere at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
It was a 36 minutes of back-and-forth action, with both fighters, bloodied and battered, refusing to give an inch or take one.
When the final bell rang, both Pacquiao and Marquez claimed victory as the two brave souls had their arms raised in triumph.
Or so they thought.
The fight instead was declared a split draw to the utter disappointment of the capacity crowd. One judge (John Stewart) had it 115-110 for Pacquiao, the other (Guy Jutras) saw it 115-110 for Marquez, while the third one (Burt Clements) spelled the difference by scoring it even at 113-113.
The controversial ending left a lot to be desired especially after Clemens later admitted that he ‘screwed up’ the scoring of the fight.
In an attempt to reprise and reflect the event on that momentous night of May 8, 2004, SPIN.ph sought and gathered the thoughts of three top-tier Filipino boxing writers and analysts in Manila Bulletin’s Nick Giongco, Quinito Henson of the Philippine Star, and SPIN.ph’s very own Atty. Ed Tolentino about their recollection of the fight that gave birth to one of boxing’s most bitter rivalries of all time.
A familiar fixture in all of Pacquiao fights, Giongco had his customary seat at ringside on fight night and saw the bout in all its glory. He thought the match being declared a draw was fair for both young warriors, though he did recognize the mistake in scoring committed by Clemens.
“The decision, a three-way split draw, was just right,” said Giongco. “Burt Clements had it 113-113, but later admitted he made a blunder and should have scored it 114-113 for Pacquiao because of the three knockdowns in the first round. If that counted, Pacquiao would have won by split decision.”
Henson, who writes the popular Sporting Chance column in the Star, agreed the ‘Pacman’ should have walked away with the victory.
“Dapat panalo si Manny ng split decision. Nagkamali yung judge,” he said. “In the first round, Marquez was floored three times, so that should’ve been a 10-6 round for Manny, but Clements scored it 10-7.”
Clements acknowledged the error, saying he did not realize he could have given the opening round a 10-6 score as what the two other judges did, given the dominating nature Pacquiao had handled Marquez in the first three minutes of the bout.
Tolentino said Clements will forever be remembered for having robbed Pacquiao of a razor-thin victory in his Hall of Fame career. But at the same time, he noted how things could have abruptly ended had an old boxing rule been applied.
“People will also wonder how the fight would have turned out if the three-knockdown rule was still in effect in world title fights as it would have given Pacquiao an automatic first-round knockout victory after he scored three knockdowns in the opening canto,” said the lawyer-boxing analyst.
The scoring blunder as it turned out, was just half the story.
Henson recalled the infamous case of Pacquiao wearing low-quality socks brought from a nearby dollar store on the day of the fight.
“They (socks) were so thin so as the fight went on, he (Pacquiao) developed blisters and his feet were bloody after the fight,” said ‘The Dean.’
The socks, according to Henson, were discovered by someone from Pacquiao’s team, sold at a bargain price in a store across the Wild Card gym, where the Filipino trains with Freddie Roach.
“The whole team bought the socks, pinakyaw nila,” added Henson, who also serves as broadcaster for the PBA. “Even (the late Pacquiao) manager Rod Nazario bought the socks, I was told.”
If anything positive that came out of the issue, Pacquiao, now a senator in the country, would later on sign a multi-million deal with a leading local brand that served as his official socks for every fight.
Controversies aside, the fight lived up to its billing.
“They say nothing beats the original, and the first serving was really a rumble to remember,” Tolentino noted.
“For one, both boxers were in their prime; fighting in the weight class where they were at their best – the featherweight or 126 pounds division. Marquez was only 30 years old and on a 13-fight winning streak. Pacquiao was only 25 and was coming off a sensational victory over Mexican superstar Marco Antonio Barrera. Both men were at their very best going into the fight.”
From ringside, Giongco thought it was going to be a short night.
“The crowd erupted as soon as Pacquiao landed his pet left that sent Marquez down for the first time,” recalled the veteran boxing scribe. “Then came the second knockdown and I admit I felt the end was near for Marquez.
“When Marquez went down a third time, I though referee Joe Cortez would put to a halt the scheduled 12-rounder as Marquez covered his face, perhaps knowing the referee was about to stop the fight.”
Giongco added he was priming up to celebrate with Pacquiao’s team at that point in time as even promoter Murad Muhammad was also getting ready to walk towards the ring, anticipating a wild celebration as the crowd was already up on its feet.
Marquez, one of boxing’s best counterpunchers ever, proved to be a huge spoiler, though. He survived the ‘Pacman’ onslaught and refused to wave the white flag. It was Mexican pride at its best.
“The moment Marquez started to settle down and figure out Pacquiao’s left-handed bombs with clever counterpunching, the fans knew they were in for a classic,” said Tolentino, who also writes a weekly column for the Manila Times.
Added Henson, “Marquez turned it into a tactical fight and began to counter effectively as Manny charged in trying to end it.”
A war that appeared to be over in the opening round dragged on, with both fighters throwing caution into the wind in a full display of courage and pure fighting heart.
“The fight offered unadulterated exchanges and the momentum swung like a pendulum,” said Tolentino, perfectly putting into words the bloody action inside the ring. “Pacquiao and Marquez were like a plug and a socket, producing nothing but electrifying exchanges.”
When the battle was over, Giongco knew the outcome suddenly hang in the balance.
“I was nervous,” he admitted. “I knew that Marquez had staged a mighty comeback and didn’t only stand his ground but showed everyone the blueprint to beat a jungle cat like Pacquiao.”
To this day, Henson believed the fight was a close one which Pacquiao should have won if not for that scoring blunder and yes, the notorious fight socks.
“Manny had difficulty with his footwork because of his blistered feet, but fought courageously in the homestretch to seal it in the championship rounds,” he said. “Manny deserved the decision and it would’ve been a win, not a split draw, if only Clements didn’t screw up.”
If Pacquiao has an Achilles heel, it was certainly Marquez, according to Giongco.
“When I look back at the first fight, I always remember what Pacquiao’s old managers (that include Nazario, the late Moy Lainez, and Lito Mondejar) said to him after. 'Huwag na huwag mo nang lalabanan yan,'” they said.
Given the circumstances with the way their initial encounter ended, there was no doubt in Tolentino’s mind the fight deserved an encore.
“One good serving definitely deserves another,” he said.
It certainly did.
Once he signed with Bob Arum and Top Rank, Pacquiao faced Marquez three more times, each one as fiercely fought as the first match.
“We ended up getting three more servings,” added Tolentino. “Viciously palatable."
Pacquiao, the only fighter to win world titles in eight different divisions, won their rematch by split decision (2008 Mandalay Bay), scoring yet another knockdown in the third round, and then escaped with a majority decision (2011 MGM Grand) in their third meeting, which, many believed, Marquez, a nine-time world champion, should have won.
But ‘Dinamita’ would finally have his revenge a year later when he dealt the Filipino boxing legend the worst loss of his celebrated career, delivering a vicious right counterpunch in the waning seconds of the sixth round of their non-title fight at the MGM Grand.
Marquez scored his first knockdown against Pacquiao in the third round following a looping right, before the Filipino pride from General Santos City returned the compliment by putting the Mexican on the seat of his pants two rounds later.
Pacquiao, who remains active to this day at age 41, was ahead in the judges’ scorecards and had Marquez ripe for the picking when he unfortunately ran through that ‘perfect overhand right’ by his longtime rival, knocking him down cold, faced-first in the canvas.
It was a moment that was long in coming for Marquez that he ran amuck around the ring when everything was over, finally exorcising the bitter ghosts of the past.
For the Mexican, it was but the fitting reward to end a long year of frustration.
Two fights later, Marquez retired at the age of 40 and compiled a record of 56-7-1, with 40 KO victims, the last of which turned out to be Pacquiao.
The loss, according to Giongco, was a perfect reminder of what the Pacman’s erstwhile handlers had told him before.
“Indeed, there was wisdom behind those words by Pacquiao’s former handlers,” he said.
Then again, everything goes back to that memorable night of May 8, 2004 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Giongco said, “Had that fight ended in the first round, there would have been no need for a rematch, munch more of a third and fourth meeting.”