LAS VEGAS - If it had been a sword upon which Manny Pacquiao fell Saturday night, he would not have felt it.
His pound-for-pound reign, and perhaps his career, ended face down, as the bells adjourned the sixth round and the crowd inside the MGM Grand Arena bellowed in delight, over the reversal of perceived wrongs.
Pacquiao, who had been knocked down in the third by Juan Manuel Marquez but had sent Marquez down in the fifth was having a good sixth round as he backed Marquez into the ropes, between corners. As Pacquiao lunged for a power shot, Marquez regrouped and delivered a perfect right hand on the side of Pacquiao’s head. The eight-weight-class champion sank like a stone, and referee Kenny Bayless wasted little time in waving him off. Thus, Marquez won the fourth encounter with Pacquiao, after a draw in 2008, a split decision loss in 2008 and a majority decision loss in 2012.
“Manny was in charge after the first knockdown,” said his trainer, Freddie Roach. “He was in charge.”
“I didn’t see the last one,” Pacquiao said, superfluously.
Roach had said he felt Pacquiao would have to win by knockout because of the built-up questions about the judging in the first three bouts. “Judges are human, too,” he would say. That approach might have led Pacquiao to the canvas.
“I knew he was trying to knock me out,” Marquez said. “And really, he could have knocked me out at any time tonight. But after that first knockdown, I knew I would have a chance to knock him out. It turned out to be the perfect shot.”
A Pandora’s Box of questions pops wide open with this loss, more shocking in method than outcome. One possible answer to that question was on the T-shirt Pacquiao wore when he finally walked out of the ring: Finished Business. But then Pacquiao said, “I’m coming back and I want to fight,” and promoter Bob Arum was already discussing No. 5, although it might be injurious to his client’s health.
For months, Roach had accused Marquez of bulking himself up in questionable ways, and Roach was not alone.
The 39-year-old Mexican was finely sculpted for this one, weighing in at 143 and coming into the ring at 148, and his newfound power was obvious.
The second-round knockdown was a right hook from left field, as Pacquiao was backing up. It was resounding and unprecedented, and yet Pacquiao recovered to win the next round, in most eyes.
Marquez busted Pacquiao in the mouth just as forcefully in the fourth. But as the sixth devolved into the glorious rat-a-tat-tat that had distinguished the first three, it appeared Pacquiao would find a way to stay on top of Marquez.
That notion ended like a thunderclap, a truly thunderous collision as his mouth onrushed into Marquez’s right.
Alex Ariza, Pacquiao’s physical trainer, came over and laid a cold compress on his man’s head. Pacquiao opened his eyes, but even though the lights were on, there was nobody home for a while. A couple of rows back, Pacquiao’s wife, Jinkee, sobbed mightily while she was being hugged by Arum.
All three judges had Pacquiao leading Marquez, 47-46, when it ended.
The fact Pacquiao had won two of the first three fights dimmed absolutely none of the enthusiasm here. The paid gate was $1.6 million, the sellout crowd numbered 16,348, and the tumult matched anything that has ever been heard in this arena. The usual celebrities were there and some unusual ones, too. This was probably the first time Mike Tyson, Metta World Peace and Mitt Romney have ever been in the same building. As always they and everyone else faded into black when the boxers came in. Roach has also said, repeatedly, that he will tell Pacquiao when he feels it’s time for this ride to end, for Pacquiao to return to the Philippines and fulfill his political plans. Initially there would seem to be much less point in having Pacquiao fight Floyd Mayweather Jr. now, considering that Pacquiao has technically lost his past two fights (in June, Timothy Bradley won a famously disputed decision).
But boxing is the natural enemy of logic.
“A fifth fight (with Marquez)? Why not?” Arum said. “Have you seen a more exciting fight in years?”
Of course, Marquez-Mayweather II might be the best business fight. The two met before when Marquez was still basically a lightweight. Mayweather won that one laughing, but we saw a brand new man Saturday.
The question becomes which version of Pacquiao we will see whenever the time comes. When a boxer’s face hits the floor, his career path rarely rises with him.