“Hard right hand by Marquez and for the first time in four fights Manny Pacquiao has been knocked down!”
“Are you fucking kidding me?!” So I screamed at the huge screen about twenty feet away from me, and so did about a hundred other guys, all of us jacked up on testosterone and beer and oblivious to the festival of lingerie, high heels and glitter adorning the sexy beauties seducing the metal poles around us. Hardly a soul was paying them any attention at all.
It was round three of Pacquiao vs Marquez IV, and the Mexican master had just dropped the Filipino fighting machine with a booming right hand. It was the first knockdown Marquez had scored in thirty-nine rounds of combat against Pacquiao and everyone with a dick between their legs was on their feet and losing their minds. With good reason, too; that punch single-handedly raised the stakes to all-new-heights in the Pacquiao-Marquez rivalry, while setting the table for the feast of action that was still to come.
“Chiquita, get your tits outta my face!” bellowed a mustachioed hulk a few tables away, probably for the first and only time in his life. “Ten seconds left!” he said as he stared at the screen, the blonde skittering off, pursing her lips like an eight-year old who just realized she wouldn’t be getting cotton candy at the fair tonight.
Next to me, Jose Luis was going crazy. “I told you, puto!” he shouted, “I told you Marquez still had it!” Jose Luis had this annoying tendency to call everyone a puto when he got excited and in this case, the slow-mo repeat of Marquez’s right-hand shot had him going out of his mind. On the screen, Pacquiao was falling, his eyes half-closed, and upon landing his flesh slowly reverberated and cascaded like his body was about to dissolve into the fifth dimension.
“Yeah, he’s got something,” I remember saying. “Look at those fucking biceps,” and I stared in awe 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. “All natural, no doubt,” I muttered.
Although Jose Luis and I came to this joint on our own, you’re never alone watching a Juan Manuel Marquez fight in a titty bar overlooking the Rio Grande. The majority of patrons that night were rooting for the Mexican legend, except for a handful of Filipino-looking dudes, probably students from the local university, sitting in a far corner, too timid to mingle with the boisterous Latino contingent. I couldn’t blame them. We were getting wild.
There’s nothing like sports to make strangers coalesce into a single will. Most of us there were Mexican, yes, but at the start of the night we were strangers, no more likely to buy each other drinks than two random people who bump into each other on a New York City subway. But since Pacquiao vs Marquez IV was turning into a hell of a fight, and since our compatriot was winning, well, let’s just say there was more than enough ice-breaking material to go around.
After that knockdown everyone was ready to let loose. I saw guys who didn’t know each other embracing and clinking beers and holding chugging contests, while others were hollering at the girls and paying for their neighbor’s lap dances. I saw one guy get up, thrust his pelvis forward while grabbing his package and holler “Chupame esta, cabron!” as a guy from a different table laughed and pointed to the the Filipinos before mock-blowing the first guy.
But all that craziness calmed down real fast just a few minutes later in round five. That was when, in a worthy homage to Nigel Tufnel, the Filipino showed he could still “go to eleven.” “Chino cabron is coming on!” shouted Jose Luis, making it clear my friend’s handle on nationalities was fuzzy at best, and also 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 Pacquiao was on beast mode, all you had to do was look at the gruesome, crimson mess he’d left where Marquez’s nose used to be. Things did not look good for “Dinamita.”
I will admit that at the end of that infamous fifth round I feared for Marquez. A chill was running down my spine every time Manny fired that cannon of a 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 certainly felt like Marquez would rather die on his feet than let Pacquiao knock him out and looking back I’m still pretty sure that’s how he felt. After all, anyone who wrings three rematches out of the Filipino and then is abused 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. But if he was calm and collected and still focused on the task at hand, some of his fans were close to panicking at the start of round six.
“Se lo van a coger! Pobre Marquez!” shouted Jose Luis as the bell rang, which is Spanish for “Marquez’s condition is precarious.” I had to agree with him, and after tallying up all the concerned looks on the faces around us, I knew we all felt that way. Marquez’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 fifty-nine seconds for Marquez to prove us all wrong.
In fact there was a way to stop Pacquiao, and Marquez had figured it out. Later everyone called it “a perfect punch,” some attaching the word “lucky” to it, but that last part is as far from the truth as you can get. In fact the execution of Marquez’s right hand missile was all meticulous preparation and ruthless execution, the logical solution to a vexing conundrum, just as E-equals-MC-squared was to Einstein. Through thirty-six rounds and four training camps, Marquez had had the chance to study his foe, to learn the cadence of Pacquiao’s ticks and tocks, and one imagines Marquez running up and down the volcanoes near his training camp, the ones surrounding his native Mexico City, murmuring to himself over and over, 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 every last Mexican in that titty bar on the Rio Grande into a demented frenzy. It was unbelievable. Jose Luis’ chair became a catapult, launching him to his feet; he looked at me with insane eyes, as if lost in a place of horrible ecstasy from which he wasn’t sure he wanted to be rescued, as people around us started chanting, He’s not getting up, Jim! He’s not getting up, Jim! I felt bad for the frightened, half-naked girls scurrying around like chickens, trying to stay balanced on their clear heels, as guys jumped and jeered and screamed and chugged their beers. Jose Luis just kept staring at me, his eyes and mouth wide open, and we only joined in with the pandemonium around us after I poured what was left of my beer over his head and screamed in his face.
I guess it wouldn’t hurt to try that trick on myself now. Seven long years have passed since that unforgettable night, but a part of me can’t let it go, can’t shake the feeling that while that was the high point of the “Dinamita” vs “Pacman” rivalry, something was left unfinished. But, in a way, Marquez never moved on from it either. He inexplicably refused to cash in and give Manny a fifth fight, even when Bob Arum offered to do it in Mexico City. And then he lost to Timothy Bradley.
And in the time since, has Pacquiao even come close to being the pitiless, deadly, man-on-a-mission berserker that he was that night, hammering Marquez with those vicious left hands? No doubt he deserves major props for soldiering on and beating Bradley, Rios, Broner and Thurman, but none of that can eclipse the huge egg he laid when he finally got Floyd Mayweather in the ring. It’s hard to shake the feeling that something vital in the Pacman was left in the ring on that crazy night seven years ago.
But it’s also hard not to shake the conviction that he would have regained it if he and Marquez had locked up one last time. We’ll never know for sure why my Mexican brother refused to face him again. Maybe, as he said, it was pride and legacy and walking away on his terms. But then again, maybe it had to do with how he felt in the minutes before he landed that final huge right hand, as he struggled to breathe through his mashed up nose and knew he was maybe just one more flush left hand away from defeat. Who can ever say for sure?
Either way, it hardly matters now. Even when you’re stuck in time, the world keeps spinning and moving on and eventually the old must make way for the new. But no matter what, both Marquez and Pacquiao can rest assured their epic battles are forever enshrined in the memories of passionate fight fans, of people who lived to see these two natural-born warriors do their thing, people who couldn’t wait to see “Dinamita” and “The Pacman” rumble. People like Jose Luis and me, and the rest of that crazy mob in the strip club by the Rio Grande. —Carlos Ramirez H.