“Are you fucking kidding me?!”
Thus I screamed at the oversized TV about 20 feet away from me, but so did about a hundred other guys, all of us jacked up on testosterone, loaded on booze, and impervious to the festival of lingerie, high heels and glitter adorning the beauties who kept seducing the shiny, metal poles surrounding us. Hardly a soul was paying them any attention.
It was the third round of Pacquiao vs. Marquez IV, and the Mexican master had just dropped the Filipino fighting machine with a phenomenal right hand. It was the first knockdown Marquez had scored in 39 rounds of combat with Pacquiao, and everyone in the room with a dick between their legs was losing their collective shit. With good reason, too; that punch single-handedly raised the stakes to all-new-heights in the Pacquiao-Marquez rivalry, and also set the table for the feast that was still to come in the next three rounds.
“Chiquita, get your tits outta my face!” said a mustachioed hulk somewhere behind me, probably for the first and only time in his life. “Ten seconds left!” he added, as the blonde skittered away, hopping bunny-like on her high-heels, pursing her lips like an 8-year old who just realized she won’t be getting cotton candy at the fair tonight.
Next to me, Jose Luis was going crazy. “I told you, puto!” he said to me in particular and to the rest of the patrons in general. “I told you Marquez still had it!”
Jose Luis had this annoying tendency to call everyone a puto when he got excited. In this case, the slow-mo repeat of Marquez’ right-hand shot had him ready to go ballistic. On the screen, Pacquiao went down and upon landing his flesh slowly reverberated and cascaded as if his body was about to dissolve into the fifth dimension.
“Yeah, he’s got something. Look at his fucking biceps,” I said, staring at the roped arm muscles on the screen. You got the feeling if the camera zoomed in near enough, at just the right angle, you wouldn’t know whether you were looking at a prizefighter’s blood-flooded arm or a pulsating boner.
Although Jose Luis and I came to this joint on our own, you’re never going to be alone watching a Juan Manuel Marquez fight in a titty bar overlooking the Rio Grande. The large majority of patrons that night were rooting for the Mexican legend, except for a handful of Filipino-looking dudes, probably students at the local university, sitting in a far corner and too afraid to mingle with the boisterous Latino contingent.
There’s nothing like sports to make strangers coalesce into a single will. Most of us there were Latinos, yes, but at the start of the night we were also strangers, no more likely to buy each other drinks than two random people who bump into each other in a New York City subway. But since Pacquiao vs. Marquez IV was turning into a hell of a fight, and since the guy favored by most of the clientele was winning, well, let’s just say there was more than enough ice-breaking material to go around.
People who didn’t know each other before that night embraced while holding a chugging contest. Others promised to pay for their neighbor’s lap dances. I saw a guy get up from his chair, thrust his pelvis forward while grabbing his package and holler “Chupame esta, cabron!” while a guy from a different table laughed and pointed to the table with the Filipinos before mock-blowing the first guy.
In the fifth round, however, the mood was threatened by Pacquiao’s rally. In a worthy homage to Nigel Tufnel, the Filipino discovered he could still go to eleven. “Chino cabron is coming on!” shouted Jose Luis, making it clear that my friend’s handle on nationalities is fuzzy at best, and that I wasn’t the only one sensing the tide turning, and this was before Manny sent Marquez to the canvas. If by the end of the round you weren’t sure if Manny was on beast mode, all you had to do was look at the gruesome, crimson mess he’d left where Marquez’ nose used to be.
I’d be a shameless liar if I didn’t admit that at the end of that infamous fifth round I feared for Marquez. A chill ran down my spine every time Manny fired away his left hand, and the same chill made a u-turn and ran back up when I saw Marquez withstand Pacquiao’s shots while countering with his own. The guy was getting chopped down in fast motion and yet he refused to yield ground.
It may or may not be true, but at the time it felt like Marquez would rather die on his feet than let Pacquiao knock him out. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn this was Marquez’ attitude going into the fight; after all, anyone who wrings three rematches out of the Filipino and is treated the way “Dinamita” was in that fifth round, only to then walk back to his corner calm as a Hindu cow, must have some pretty solid convictions. In the case of the Mexican, it was his conviction in the superiority of his cunning and technical prowess over Pacquiao’s focused ferocity that propelled him through 41 grueling rounds and five disheartening knockdowns to arrive at that fated sixth stanza.
All of this was far from Jose Luis’ mind at the start of the sixth. “Se lo van a coger! Pobre Marquez!” he cried, which is Spanish for “Marquez’ condition is precarious.” I had to agree with him, and after tallying up all the concerned looks on the faces around us, I concluded his opinion was an accurate portrayal of the consensus. The Mexican’s mindset might have been as strong as ever when the sixth began, but it was hard for any of us to see how that would help him withstand the onslaught of the Pacman. Of course, in the end, we only had to wait two minutes and 59 seconds more for Marquez to prove us wrong.
There was a way to stop Pacquiao, and Marquez had figured it out. Everyone called it a perfect punch, and some attached a “lucky” to it. The last part is nonsense and as far from the truth as you can get. It may have taken some more time and more views to realize, but the execution of Marquez’ massive right hand was all method: it was the logical conclusion to his conundrum, just as E-equals-MC-squared was to Einstein’s. Through three fights and four training camps, he had had the chance to study his foe, to learn the cadence of Pacquiao’s ticks and tocks. And you can almost see Marquez running up and down the volcanoes near his training camp, the ones that surround his native Mexico City, seeing it all in his mind’s eye. Hell, he was probably murmuring to himself all the while, no longer an athlete doing roadwork but an entranced mystic reciting a mantra: “he feints, jabs with the right; I step outside, boom! with my right!”
And that’s the way he did it, sending the titty bar into a frenzy. I felt bad for the poor, near-naked girls, scurrying around like frightened chickens, trying to stay balanced on their stilettos while guys jeered and jumped and chugged. It was unbelievable. Roy Jones Jr.’s “He’s not getting up, Jim!” became an instant meme. Jose Luis’ chair became a catapult that launched him to his feet; he looked at me with demented eyes, as if lost in a place of horrible ecstasy from which he wasn’t sure he wanted to be rescued. If worse comes to worst, I told myself, I’ll ask the tall brunette to rub her double Ds all over his face. If that doesn’t snap him out of it, nothing will.
I guess it wouldn’t hurt to try that trick on myself. Almost two years have passed since that night, and when my new editor asked me to come up with something on Pacquiao vs. Algieri, I ended up revisiting that crazed scene on the Mexican border. And to be honest, I’m okay with that. I mean, if you think about it, even Pacquiao and Marquez have been unable to move on. Ever since, neither fighter has had a truly significant outing: the Pacman outclassed Brandon Rios and defeated Timothy Bradley in an unnecessary rematch; Marquez lost to Bradley before teaching Mike Alvarado a boxing lesson.
More telling is the fact Marquez refuses to face the Pacman again. Maybe his conviction in his superiority is not as absolute as I thought? Regardless, Pacquiao and Marquez and I are now stuck in time, not knowing if anyone other than the Mexican professor can bring out the best in the Filipino fighting machine. Coming back to this weekend, something tells me Chris Algieri is not that guy; too inexperienced, and perhaps a bit too vain, a bit too cocky. Then again, there always comes a time in which the old must make way for the new.
Eventually, maybe as soon as this weekend, even Pacquiao will have to move on. But whatever happens this Saturday night in Macau, the Pacman can rest assured his meetings with Marquez are forever enshrined in the memories of those who witnessed them, like Jose Luis and me, and the rest of that crazy mob in the strip club by the Rio Grande.
—Carlos Ramirez H.