Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez have shared the ring in three championship fights, fought to a gruesome standstill in most of the 36 completed rounds and will do it again on Saturday in one of boxing's best rivalries.
So far the score is two wins for Pacquiao, after the first fight ended in a draw, but there are many in the fight game that believe the true score should be 3-0 in Marquez's favour. The three judges in the three fights have sat and scored 108 rounds and their final tally is remarkable: 54 rounds to 54 rounds. None of the same officials will take a seat on Saturday at the MGM in Las Vegas.
"I never wanted the second fight, the third fight and I certainly never wanted this fourth fight," said Freddie Roach, who has shaped Pacquiao into arguably the best boxer of the last decade. "Manny wanted this fight and he wants to end the controversial series with a knockout."
The pair last fought in November 2011 in the same MGM ring and the fight lacked some of the intensity of the previous two encounters. However, when it was over it looked like Marquez had finally gained some degree of revenge, but the judges returned a majority decision with two going for Pacquiao and one returning a drawn verdict. It seemed to me at the time that the last result had more to do with keeping alive the fight between Pacquiao and the reclusive Floyd Mayweather, a fight that is thought would generate half a billion dollars for the ailing Vegas economy; Mayweather has beaten Marquez easily but has spent five years agreeing and dismissing terms for a Pacquiao showdown.
"Everybody knows that the last fight was not even close," claimed Marquez during a conference in LA three weeks ago when nobody in the Pacquiao business said a word in disagreement. "It was easy for me on the night and this time I will have to knock him out." Pacquaio, according to Roach, slipped him a piece of paper and written on it was : "I need a knockout."
Eight years ago in the first fight Marquez was over three times in the opening round, but cleared his head, survived and according to one judge won 10 of the 12 rounds. At the end of the fight it was declared a draw – with the judges splitting their vote one for Marquez, one for Pacquiao and one a draw – and a natural and immediate rematch was delayed as Pacquiao met and beat quality fighters and Roach stuck firm to his belief that "Marquez is all wrong for Manny."
In the 2008 second fight at the Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, it was a split decision in Pacquiao's favour 2-1. "If my hand had been raised in the first two fights then I believe that I would be the big star," said Marquez, whose anger last year after losing once more led him to vow never to fight Pacquiao again. "I changed my mind, I want to retire with a victory over him."
They have each been in some of modern boxing's greatest fights, winning titles from flyweight to light-middle and sharing multimillion-dollar nights in the ring. However, they are each insisting that this time it is personal and perhaps in this cynical age, where calculated risks in all sports are rare, they just might be telling the truth.