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Battling for lord of the ring in trilogy

Manny Pacquiao fights Juan Manuel Marquez for the third time Saturday, continuing a tradition of the sport that includes Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier.

November 08, 2011|By Lance Pugmire
  • Manny Pacquiao walks away after hitting a speed bag next to photos of Juan Manuel Marquez during a workout session in Los Angeles in October. Pacquiao and Marquez will meet in the ring for the third time Saturday in Las Vegas.
Manny Pacquiao walks away after hitting a speed bag next to photos of Juan… (Danny Moloshok / Reuters )

In a sad touch of irony, Joe Frazier left the world the same week the final chapter will play out in what could be boxing's next great trilogy.

Manny Pacquiao and his rival, Mexico's Juan Manuel Marquez, clash for a third time Saturday in Las Vegas with both intent to settle thequestion of who is the better man.

"There are personal feelings here," Pacquiao said recently after 15 rounds of sparring at a Hollywood gym. "I'm not saying I'm angry, or that I hate him, but those feelings give me more motivation in training, and they'll inspire me to fight as hard as I can, because I'm expecting him to be at his strongest."

The 32-year-old Pacquiao (53-3-2, 38 knockouts) has risen to become boxing's top pound-for-pound fighter with 14 consecutive victories that included knockouts of Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto, Erik Morales and Ricky Hatton.

Meanwhile, the 38-year-old Marquez (53-5-1, 39 KOs) has been the gritty counterpuncher who seems to have Pacquiao's number. Sure, Pacquiao knocked him down three times in the first round of their 2004 bout, but Marquez won nearly every round after and their first bout was called a draw.

In 2008, Pacquiao scored another knockdown of Marquez, but he was left bloodied in a back-and-forth 12-round battle. Pacquiao won the split decision by one point on the deciding judge's scorecard.

"They were wars," Marquez said. "You know you're not going to be short-changed watching us fight.

"For me, I know I have to win the fight in a more convincing fashion than I believed I already did the first two times, so no one can say again that it was close. I want to be the clear winner."

That's what sells these trilogy dramas. Unfinished business. Someone scorned. Proving it once and for all.

And no three-fight series captured the animosity, skill and violence better than Frazier's 1971, 1974 and 1975 battles with Muhammad Ali.

Part 1, at Madison Square Garden, was dubbed "The Fight of the Century," a celebration of barrel-chested Frazier's toughness and left hook, which he used to deck the then-unbeaten Ali in the 15th round of a unanimous decision. The long-armed Ali displayed all of his boxing gifts to win the rematch against Frazier, setting the stage for the finale.

"They go into this last fight for ultimate vindication, it's personal, for all the marbles, and beyond the seventh game of the World Series," said Bob Arum, who is promoting the Pacquiao-Marquez fight and was a co-promoter of Ali-Frazier III, the "Thrilla in Manila."

"You cannot believe the tension in those two camps [for the third Ali-Frazier fight]. This was it. This was the end of the world. And they gave us a fight for the ages. It's the greatest fight I've ever seen."

Ali said it was "the closest thing to dying" he'd ever experienced, fighting inside a sweltering arena in the early morning to accommodate U.S. closed-circuit television. Frazier lost the early rounds and rallied to win the middle rounds, but then his eyes swelled badly, and Ali connected on a devastating right in the 14th round that wobbled Frazier.

Frazier's Hall of Fame trainer, Eddie Futch, stopped the fight, uttering near-religious comfort: "Sit down, son … . Nobody will ever forget what you did here today."

Neither man was the same fighter after.

"The issue for fighters in trilogies often becomes that when you know it's going to be that kind of fight, does the money compensate for the fact it's probably going to diminish the rest of your career?" HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant said.

Arum said he exited the "Thrilla in Manila" arena to a blazing, high-noon sun.

"It was the most unreal feeling I'd ever experienced, and it's stayed with me my entire life," Arum said. "We had just seen the most incredible fight to the death. You want to talk about how great boxing can be? That's Exhibit A."

Futch ended up mentoring Freddie Roach, who now trains the Filipino superstar Pacquiao, who was born three years after Ali-Frazier III.

Pacquiao started training for his third bout with Marquez even before the first news conference, determined to quiet his opponent for good. Marquez trained again in the high-altitude mountains of Mexico to build up his endurance.

"These guys, Marquez and Pac-Man, they're made for each other too," Ali's trainer Angelo Dundee said.

Pacquiao has been through one trilogy with former world super-featherweight champion Morales during 2005-06.

Pacquiao blamed the distractions with a former promoter for his opening loss by decision to Morales — Pacquiao's most recent defeat. In their next fights, Pacquiao rallied with a 10th-round TKO and a defining third-round knockout.

"I learned a lot, focused, applied different techniques," Pacquiao said. "More combinations, counterpunches. More power punching."

He smiled after mentioning the power, which has increased since the last Marquez bout, along with Roach's lessons emphasizing footwork and defense.

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