Manny Pacquiao, right, landed some sharp punches, but the crowd booed roundly… (Harry How / Getty Images )
From Las Vegas -- It was a night when boxing hero Manny Pacquiao decided to pick on somebody his own size.
In fact, most in the sold-out crowd of 16,368, as well as quite a few on press row, thought he had lost.
PHOTOS: Pacquiao vs. Marquez
Pacquiao took a majority decision, but seldom in boxing history has a fight this big ended with this much doubt and controversy.
The gutsy, effective opponent, Juan Manuel Marquez of Mexico, who was given little chance and was sent off as anywhere from a 7-1 to 9-1 underdog, left the ring to raucous cheers, as he waved a huge sombrero.
It was a good 15 minutes after the fight ended before the crowd stopped booing and hissing.
To many, the pound-for-pound best boxer in the world was outboxed by Marquez, at 38 his senior by six years. Marquez not only stayed with Pacquiao in a heated pace for all 12 rounds, but he seemed to get the best of whatever flurries the two managed in their nonstop jiggling and dancing and feinting.
Seldom before in boxing has there been a scene where a highly popular champion gets booed loudly and raucously during his post-match interview. Nobody could hear a word of what he said, and nobody seemed to care. They had seen what they had seen.
Nacho Beristain, Marquez's manager, called it "a robbery of the utmost."
It was a night in which the last thing you wanted to be was a judge. The three who will take tons of heat on this one were Robert Hoyle, Dave Moretti and Glenn Trowbridge. Hoyle had it 114-114, Moretti 115-113 and Trowbridge 116-112, both for Pacquiao.
And so ended the controversial trilogy between the two. In 2004, Pacquiao knocked Marquez down three times in the first round and Marquez came firing back to get a draw. That's the last semi-blemish on Pacquiao's record. In that one, a much-forgotten element was that one of the judges scored the three-knockdown round 10-7 for Pacquiao, rather than the almost automatic 10-6. That one point would have erased much of the talk about this matchup.
In the next fight, in 2008, Pacquiao won a split decision by one point.
That was controversial too, but nothing near what this one may turn out to be.
The usual chat about the integrity of boxing will now begin in full volume. So much was at stake. Had Pacquiao lost, the pot of gold at the end of boxing's rainbow, the Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. matchup, would have gone away, at least for the moment. Pacquiao would have, most likely, invoked a rematch clause with Marquez that was in the contract.
Now, even after winning, Pacquiao's side is talking about it. They can call it Trilogy Plus One, or something like that.
"I'm bound and determined to find a definitive winner from these two," said Top Rank Promoter Bob Arum. "If we can get both fighters to agree, we'll put it on May 5."
Arum said he asked Pacquiao if he won, and Pacquiao said, "Yes, it was clear. I blocked a lot of his punches.. If he wants a rematch, he'll get it."
So, once again, it appears that Pacquiao-Mayweather will be put on hold. And, because since Mayweather dominated Marquez in their 2009 fight, the attraction for that mega-fight may have modified a bit.
A subdued Marquez, who went all the way to the Philippines to entice Pacquiao into giving him this third fight and wore a T-shirt that claimed he had won the first two fights, was beyond disappointed all the way to dumbfounded this time.
"I was robbed," he said. "It happened again. I don't think there is much more I can do in the ring."
This was stunning to all who had become used to Pacquiao dominating and destroying bigger opponents, the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito and Shane Mosley.
In each case, Pacquiao's speed and footwork wore the other down. This time, Pacquiao's speed and footwork were in place, but Marquez stayed right with him. The expectation was that Marquez would tire by the middle rounds. Instead, he kept connecting and, in the minds of most, winning more rounds than losing.
Lost in the fire and brimstone of this controversial classic was the victory in the semi-main event by Palm Springs' Tim Bradley. He remained undefeated by beating a 40-year-old, grabbing and holding Joel Casamayor. It was to be Bradley's audition for a shot at Pacquiao, were the Mayweather match to fall apart again.
But now, obviously, there will be more pressing matters in the Manny Pacquiao camp.
PHOTOS: Pacquiao vs. Marquez