Juan Manuel Marquez has beaten Manny Pacquiao three times - just not officially.
The history books will always read that Marquez, a former three-weight world champion and sure-fire Hall of Famer has lost twice and drawn once with the Filipino idol. But there was only one clear winner, unfortunately he just never managed to convince the judges of it.
So now this Saturday night on HBO Pay-per-view from Las Vegas, the two legends will square off again for a fourth time. More importantly, each man will hope to put a period on a series of gladiatorial contests that have been sandwiched between blood stained, punishing and wholly controversial commas.
Why does this fight matter? Well, in any other sport a record of 0-2-1 does not usually get fans clamoring for more. Fans don’t like losers. But unlike most sports, where the result is obvious, often shaped in bright lights on a scoreboard, a fighter’s fate is sealed by three men positioned ringside. They tally what they see and alas it’s often a picture wholly different to that of a lowly spectator only a few feet further back. Controversy reigns, rematches are ordered.
But here is one truth. Juan Manuel Marquez has won not one, not two, but every bout against his greatest foe and this writer is not the only one who believes this. Juan Manuel Marquez believes it too.
So when Marquez speaks of Saturday’s showdown at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas as being the most important fight of his career he probably means it. Most fighters certainly think they mean it. After all, a defeat in boxing is a permanent stain on what always promises to have been an unblemished record. Not a statistical blemish, but rather an irksome mark on a fighter’s pride - the knowledge that another man was better than you.
The problem for Marquez though, a veteran of some 61 ring battles, most of his blemishes came at the hands of a man he thinks he has always beaten, a man barring judges he has in fact beaten.
He thinks he vanquished Pacquiao in their first encounter in 2004. He did. Floored three times in the opening round, Marquez could have battled to survive. Most fighters would have. He didn’t - he fought to win. Adjusting styles, Marquez counter-punched the Pinoy idol to a draw. Most would have been happy with a draw. Not Marquez. It was the first of three times victories snatched away from his grasp.
In 2008, the two fought again. Marquez fought to a split decision loss and again had at least one judge on his side. Countless more amongst boxing’s cognoscenti joined the choir in favoring him against the Pinoy pugilist. What more did Marquez have to do?
Finally last year was their most controversial fight yet and let’s be honest here - it statistically a fight Marquez won - a bout he did not merely eke out but dominated. Pacquiao came forward only to be met with thudding Marquez counters.
How can the only fighter to have successfully and so consistently timed Pacquiao’s punches - an erratic ring dervish, not be given at least one victory?
In the end not a single judged saw things that way. Two ruled Pacquiao while the other a draw. Another travesty.
If Marquez has staked his pride three times over eight blood filled years against Pacquiao, then it’s been an emotional investment with ever diminishing returns. This weekend is the last roll of the dice, the chance for Marquez to right three wrongs with one right - or so the theory goes.
Fans should care about Saturday’s fight because Juan Manuel Marquez cares. It’s not the money this time. He has a fortune. Even legacy is not an issue. He’ll be a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee. Instead it’s validation. It’s the chance for Juan Manuel Marquez to deliver justice. And it will be in the roped-off courthouse at the MGM Grand Arena in front of 15,000 jurors that those intangible ingredients will be a recipe for a fighting feast of very tangible quality - one Juan Manuel Marquez will win.
Saturday promises to put to bed a debate over who is truly superior in one of boxing’s greatest rivalries. Or it could wedge open the can of worms even further.
Igor Guryashkin is a freelance journalist whose extensive work on combat sports has been featured in ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. He splits his time between New York and Louisville. Follow him on Twitter @IGuryashkinESPN.