Tuesday, November 15, 2011

There Was No Robbery

Here's a taste of what the Mexican newspapers and their readers are saying about Pacquiao-Márquez fight:

That Mexicans would react like this is understandable; there's always a predisposition in sports media to support their own in any international competition. This piece by Jay Caspian Kang, who watched the fight in Mexico, indicates that the sentiment rubbed off on him. Highlights:
But from the opening bell to the late-middle rounds, Manny seemed stuck in the past. Every time he went forward, Marquez answered with precision counterpunching. At the end of the seventh round, the Mexican TV scorecard read: Marquez 69, Pacquiao 64. It made sense. Manny was clearly frustrated, confused. Marquez had whipped himself into a rare focus. I asked my friend if he had ever seen Marquez this good, this sharp, this strong. He shook his head and said, "He is ready, I think, to be Mexico's champion."


I had scored the fight 116-112 for Marquez. I felt awful for Marquez, who fought a perfect fight. I felt awful for the people in the bar who had been ready to crown Marquez as the great fighter of his generation. But mostly I felt awful for myself and all the time I have spent over the past years trying to make sense of this corrupted, dying sport. The bout I watched was a dominating win by the fighter who was willing to make adjustments and outsmart his faster, stronger opponent. Manny threw more punches, but they reminded me of the "more punches" Oscar De La Hoya threw in his bout against Floyd Mayweather.


When I got back to my hotel, I was shocked to find that a number of boxing writers whose work I admire had scored the fight much differently. One scored it a draw. The other scored it 115-113 for Marquez. Another had the fight 115-113 for Manny.


Let's stop talking about the power of the almighty dollar and call the fight for what it was: a robbery.
This is a bizarre take: he seems to recognize that reasonable people could disagree on the result, yet he calls boxing a corrupt, dying sport, and says it was a robbery. A lack of objectivity is written into the rules of boxing, and fights that could have gone either way are inevitable. To be boxing fan is to accept that. Horrible decisions are quite maddening, but this wasn't Lewis-Holyfield or Whitaker-Chávez, nor was it even Lara-Williams. There were nine or ten different rounds that could have been scored either way. I love Márquez --in fact, I bet on him in the first two Pacquiao fights-- and I can sympathize with the fact that he has essentially proven himself Manny's equal over 36 rounds, yet he has come away empty handed. But there is a difference between an unjustifiable robbery and a close fight that went the other guy's way. Indeed, it's important distinction to draw, so as to both shine a brighter light on the truly heinous decisions and to spare us all the silly upset over close calls. After a fight like this, those people who are so convinced that no right-minded person could disagree with them that they give up on the sport are just infuriating. If only they would follow through on their threats.

Kang's take on the specifics of the action is odd, too; Márquez fought the perfect fight, except for getting completely out-hustled down the stretch. That was a significant imperfection! And Manny didn't sit down on his punches the way he did with Margarito, who had nothing to throw back at him, but he wasn't merely slapping. If he did, Márquez's face wouldn't look like this today:

Márquez vastly exceeded expectations, and it seems as though many people wanted to hand him the victory based on that alone. This happens from time to time; the same dynamic drove a lot of the angry reactions, to take but one example, to the Jermain Taylor-Cory Spinks fight, in which the latter, a light-fisted welterweight, boxed beautifully but did about as much damage to Taylor that evening as you or I did. In short, exceeding expectations is not the same thing as scoring more blows than the other guy; Wepner, it should be remembered, actually got his ass kicked by Ali.

At the end of the day, we have this: Márquez never knocked Manny down, nor did he ever seem to hurt him. The reverse is also true, but Pacquiao has been a stronger puncher than Márquez his entire career, and Márquez landed more total punches than Pacquiao in one single round. Márquez landed more power shots than Pacquiao in four of 12 rounds. Compubox totals aren't God's truth, but they do give us an indication of the flow of the fight, and here they tell us what anyone watching should already know: it was not a robbery, but a close contest that could have gone either way.

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