MANILA, Philippines — Manny Pacquiao had undeniably done better in past fights.
He had forced a boxing champ to throw in the towel in eight rounds. He had finished off an opponent within two rounds through three arresting knockdowns. He had turned the faces of much bigger men into pulp.
In his last fight against Juan Manuel Marquez however, there were no knockouts, no quitting from the opponent, no knees on the canvas.
Pacquiao was supposed to knock out Marquez — wasn’t this his best camp ever? Hadn’t he improved in the three years that had gone by since he last met Marquez? Wasn’t Pacquiao a 10-1 favorite? Didn’t trainer Freddie Roach predict a beating in early rounds?
Instead, Pacquiao edged out Marquez via majority decision in a performance that was close and contested.
Filipinos, and Pacquiao fans the world over, are used to seeing the People’s Champ win easily and decisively. In his most recent fight on November 12 however, this wasn’t the case.
But it doesn’t mean he lost.
Breaking it down
In the end, quite simply, wins are not always crystal clear absent of knockouts, and not all debatable losses are robberies. A technical breakdown of the majority decision shows that it did not warrant the boos or bottles thrown by a crowd that was carried away by how the fight appeared, rather than what actually transpired.
It is essential to understand how fights are scored, to understand that it is not the crowd’s cheers or perception at the end of a match that dictate the winner. Style matters, the type of punches thrown matters, technique matters.
1) What’s in a score?
At the beginning of every round, both fighters are even at 10-10. If one begins to dominate and ends up winning the round, the winner is given 10 points, while the other gets nine, unless there is a knockdown (in which case the round is scored 10-8, and an extra point is added for any subsequent knockdown, so a second knockdown in the same round is scored 10-7, and so on). In rounds that are judged incredibly even, they are scored 10-10. But the most important thing to note is this: whether the round was won decisively (as with Marquez dominating Pacquiao in middle rounds) or whether it was a close round (as with the beginning and later rounds of the fight), the score is 10-9, sans a knockdown.
Pacquiao may have lost a number of rounds but he also won others — something the crowd seemed to forget because the rounds Marquez won were more definitive, more convincing. The final score, however, is tallied by adding up the number of rounds won.
ESPN quoted a post-fight tweet by Bob Papa, HBO’s “Boxing After Dark” announcer, who explained it most accurately: “Even though feels like JMM won, I had draw. You MUST score each Rd and write it down Then add up at end. ‘Feel’ & actual score differ often.”
2) Stats support the judges
CompuBox statistics show Papa is right. CompuBox, a computerized scoring system used in boxing fights to count and categorize punches, supported the judges’ decision: Pacquiao threw more punches, connected a higher number of punches, and landed more power punches than Marquez.
CompuBox works via two operators; in a fight, two operators are in charge of the system, one operator per fighter. Each operator has four keys that they hit every time their fighter connects a jab, misses a jab, connects a power punch, and misses a power punch. Of course, power punches — punches that are a hook, an uppercut or a cross, basically anything aside from a jab — are scored more.
Pacquiao threw and landed more power punches than Marquez.
But it was close. Their stat report for the fight reads, “Pacquiao had just a 117-100 edge in power shots landed, while Marquez landed the cleaner shots. Pac was busier, averaging 49 punches thrown per round to 36 per round for Marquez (http://bit.ly/vLJh0V).”
That said, it is interesting to note that when Pacquiao defeated Marquez in 2008 via split decision, the CompuBox numbers showed that Marquez actually landed more jabs and power punches — he landed 172 total punches out of 511 thrown — compared to Pacquiao (157/619), even if the latter threw more punches in total. Thus, depending on which stats one looks at, one can argue that based on numbers alone, Marquez may have won the fight.
3) Underdogs have more to prove
The differences were slim, far from the lopsided performance fans usually see of Pacquiao, but when fights are that tight, judges are said to prefer the bout’s aggressor.
“The rounds were all close, and when that happens you should give it to the more aggressive fighter,” Roach said after the fight. “Manny was clearly more aggressive, Marquez only tried to counterpunch him.”
This is especially crucial for a fighter defending a title. Marquez aimed to take Pacquiao’s WBO welterweight title from him. Because of this, as the challenger, he was expected to be the aggressor. This wasn’t the case: while Marquez connected a higher percent of total punches thrown, he boxed only after Pacquiao attacked him, throwing counter punches instead of being the one to initiate the exchange. For a challenger, Marquez just didn’t do enough to win. And for a defender, Pacquiao didn’t do anything wrong to lose.
Hence for close rounds, Pacquiao got the nod, Pacquiao got the 10, and in the end, Pacquiao got the win.
Marquez, Pacquiao’s kryptonite
Fights between Pacquiao and Marquez seem destined to be clouded by controversy. In any of these, neither has won by technical knockout or by unanimous decision.
No resolution had ever come easy, if at all.
When the longtime rivals first met in 2004, Pacquiao won via split draw. Despite knocking down Marquez three times in the first round, Marquez was able to pull off a draw after winning latter rounds. One judge scored it 115-110 for Pacquiao, another had it 115-110 for Marquez, and the third had it 113-113. Controversy persists as Pacquiao should have technically won the fight by majority decision, since the last judge scored the first round 10-7, when it should have been 10-6. Meanwhile, Marquez still believes his resilience and comeback should have given him the win.
In their 2008 rematch, Pacquiao was triumphant again in the judges’ eyes. He defeated Marquez — barely — by split decision. Pacquiao knocked Marquez down in the third round with a blistering left hook, but again, Marquez fought his way back, up until the final second of the raucous brawl. One judge gave that fight to Pacquiao 115-112, another to Marquez 115-112, while the last gave it to Pacquiao 114-113. Pacquiao won in the scorecards by just one point, but as mentioned earlier, CompuBox indicated that Marquez landed more punches. Because of this, fans and analysts still disagree on the deserving winner up to this day.
What is it about Marquez that Pacquiao just can’t get a glove on? Perhaps it is personal for both fighters. Even before fighting Marquez, Pacquiao had put down Mexican fighters Emmanuel Lucero and Antonio Barrera, and later, Erik Morales, which drove Marquez to dedicate his fights with Pacquiao to the Mexican people. For Pacquiao, it is only Marquez that he cannot seem to convincingly beat– not in 2004, not in 2008, not now — a sobering but frustrating fact. In recent years, Marquez has had to watch Pacquiao’s career soar since their first match, which may have served as ammo to fight with a heart that knew no limits. And maybe Pacquiao secretly knows that this Mexican warrior is his kryptonite, a scary, unnerving thought.
Whatever the reason, this third fight was meant to settle the score between the two. Instead, it only raised more questions.
Pacquiao may have won in the scorecards, in statistics, but he was subpar by Pac-standards. He was simply not as impressive in this brawl compared to past bouts. Filipino fans weren’t on their feet, they weren’t cheering at the end of the 12th round. Instead, after the final bell rang, murmurs of how Floyd Mayweather Jr. would annihilate Pacquiao spread through a discontented crowd. Confused Pacquiao fans sat in silence, awaiting the decision. Talks discussing the possibility of a fourth match surfaced, and dare someone say it — maybe, maybe, now that Pacquiao shed his invincibility, the Mayweather fight will happen sooner rather than later.
Yes, Pacquiao was the winner in terms of technicalities. He was a fighter that won his match.
And therein lies the problem: he was merely a winner. He wasn’t Pacquiao.
Follow the reporter on Twitter: @natashya_g