LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Manny Pacquiao escaped again, in a decision that left Juan Manuel Marquez fuming once again.
The Filipino sensation was taken to the limit Saturday night before winning a majority decision that infuriated Marquez and most of the sellout crowd at the MGM Grand arena. While close, the win helped Pacquiao continue a remarkable run that has made him the most exciting fighter in the sport.
In a bruising battle against a counterpuncher who was both accurate and fast, Pacquiao needed the final round on two scorecards to pull out the win. He got it, even though a third judge scored the round in favour of Marquez.
As boos — and cans and bottles — rang down on the ring, Pacquiao celebrated another victory and another huge payday.
"My fans are very happy because they thought I won," Pacquiao said.
He did, but on the narrowest margin. That, perhaps, was to be expected considering the previous 24 rounds the two had fought were just as close.
Pacquiao won on two scorecards, while the third ringside judge had it a draw. It was a narrow escape for the Filipino congressman, who took as much punishment as he got over 12 rounds, and Marquez was so upset he stormed from the ring.
"This was the second robbery and this one was the worst," Marquez said. "We won with clearer punches."
The third fight between the two was as close as the previous two, and by the time they finished 12 rounds the outcome was still in doubt. Pacquiao won some rounds with sheer aggression, while Marquez won others with brilliant counterpunching, keeping Pacquiao from getting inside.
Marquez was a 7-1 underdog, but it was clear early he would be in this fight. He picked Pacquiao apart with right hands almost every time he tried to get inside, and landed good hard flurries throughout the fight.
Pacquiao was the aggressor throughout, and landed some sharp punches of his own. But when the decision was announced, the crowd booed roundly and, once again Marquez had lost a close fight.
One ringside judge had it a 114-114 draw, while two others favoured Pacquiao by 115-113 and 116-112. The Associated Press had it 114-114.
"It's hard when you're fighting your rival and the three judges, too," Marquez said.
The sellout crowd at the MGM Grand arena threw bottles and cans toward ringside after the decision was announced, with one full can hitting a ringside writer.
Pacquiao found out early he would be in for a long night, taking counter punches from Marquez in the opening rounds while looking for his own opening. He had trouble all night finding his range and, when he did get inside, Marquez often moved to the side and landed a counter right hand.
It was the third close fight between the two men, though this one was fought at 144 pounds instead of 125 as was their first fight seven years ago. That fight was a draw, while Pacquiao won a split decision in the second bout in 2008 at 130 pounds.
Marquez fought going backward all night, and that might have been his undoing. While he landed well at times, Pacquiao was in his face most of the night.
Ringside punch stats showed just how close the fight was. Pacquiao was credited with landing 176 of 578 punches, while Marquez landed 138 of 436.
The power punches were even closer, with Pacquiao connecting on 117 to 100 — though Marquez seemed to land the harder punches.
Pacquiao was behind on one scorecard and only ahead by a point on a second going into the 12th round, and the crowd was on its feet roaring for what they expected to be a classic last round. But both fighters were tentative, brawling only toward the end of the round, and two judges gave Pacquiao the round while the third gave it to Marquez.
"He was ready for my punches," Pacquiao said. "I thought I blocked a lot of his punches."
The fight was fought at a hard pace, and both fighters fought in spurts that brought the crowd to their feet. Pacquiao won the first three rounds on two scorecards, then Marquez came roaring back with some crisp right hands of his own.
It was evident early that both fighters were so familiar with each other they knew what the other was going to do, and they compensated by fighting in spurts when each had the advantage. Neither ever seemed seriously hurt, though Marquez landed several right hands that snapped Pacquiao's head back and stopped him from coming forward.
The two clashed heads in the ninth round, opening a cut above Pacquiao's right eye, and he was also cut inside his mouth. Marquez wasn't cut but his face was swollen and his eyes were closing in the later rounds.
It was the 15th straight win for Pacquiao, who earned a minimum of US$22 million while improving his record to 54-3-2. Marquez, who earned $5 million, fell to 52-6-1.