May 14, 2004

Judges Split In World Featherweight Championship

By Fiona Manning

In one of the most extraordinary displays of courage, IBF/WBA featherweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez (42-2-1, 33 KOs) rose from the canvas after three knockdowns to retain his titles in a breathtaking non-stop battle which resulted in a split decision draw against so-called “The People’s Champion” Manny Pacquiao (38-2-2, 29 KOs) on Saturday night.

With wide-ranging scores at the end of a thrilling and bloody battle a the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, judge Guy Jutras scored the bout 115-110 for Marquez, Judge John Stewart 115-110 Pac-quiao and Burt Clements saw a draw 113-113. 

Both fighters claimed victory and nobody was truly disappointed in the draw despite the controversy surrounding Clements’ scoring the first round as a 10-7 round instead of 10-6 which would have given Pacquiao a one point victory.

It looks likely that Pacquiao, who was hoping to move up four pounds to the 130 division to fight Erik “El Terrible” Morales will now recover his injuries (including injured hands and blistered feet) to prepare for a highly-anticipated rematch with Marquez.

Whatever the results, Pacquiao and Marquez came to fight and fight, they did.

Pacquiao led with his snapping jab, dropping Marquez an astonishing three times in the first, seemingly on his way to an early KO victory. 

It says volumes about the often-underrated Marquez’s conditioning and experience that he turned things around very quickly. After surviving a tough second round, he figured Pacquiao out very quickly to pick up the third and fourth rounds easily.

Marquez showed his grit as a champion in the next several rounds, getting into his rhythm landing his jab as well as right hands. 

Pacquiao became more and more content on just landing his powerful left hand. Marquez was throwing and landing whenever Pacquiao pressed forward. Marquez kept Pacquiao on the outside more with his accurate punching activity.

Was Pacquiao shocked? You betcha. That surprised look carried him through to the fifth, when Marquez cut him over the eye.

For whole rounds, Pacquaio was still only throwing and landing his left hand, while Marquez continued his effective counterpunching.

The lack of an offensive assault from Pacquiao allowed Marquez to outwork him and get back into the fight on the scorecards.

Marquez was having such success landing counter shots that he began to sit down on his punches more.  He connected with quite a few thudding right hands on Pacquiao, who would take the assault and then attempt to fire back but Marquez continued to outwork him.

By the seventh, Marquez bled profusely from the nose as well as a swollen lip and Pacquiao sported a cut right eye plus the bridge of his nose was grotesquely swollen. 

The non-stop action continued in rounds eight and nine.  Marquez had more and more success with his right hands as Pacquiao tried desperately to land another left hand that might end the fight.

Even when Pacquiao did land some thunder, Marquez was able to shake it off and fire back time and time again.

Pacquiao became increasingly wild as the rounds progressed which resulted in less success landing flush as he threw his shots like an amateur. He offered little in the way of effective counterpunching but instead he concentrated on that one big knockout bomb.

In rounds eleven and twelve - the championship rounds - the fighters continued to try to impose their will on each other. Marquez had great success throughout the fight whenever he forced Pacquiao back.

Marquez surprised a lot of people with his aggressive stance in the fight. The two warriors traded evenly with huge power shots going down the stretch. In the end, their brilliant display of power, speed, aggression, heart, determination, and skill was rewarded with the decision of a majority draw.

In the main undercard support bout, Puerto Rican superstar Miguel Cotto continued his meteoric rise to superstardom with a thrilling win over tough Australian (by way of South Africa) junior welterweight, Lovemore Ndou.

Ndou, a late sub for Juan “Pollo” Valenzuela, whined about everyone mispronouncing his name (it’s Nuh-doo and no apostrophe between the N and the d) and continued his unbroken record of screaming robbery in losing once again in a big US fight).

Fresh off what was perceived an unlucky decision loss to Sharmba Mitchell, he was simply outclassed for 12 rounds by Cotto in what was considered a real test of Cotto’s abilities.

Cotto proved his building legend is no myth in a dominant performance against a strong, cagey veteran who also wanted to make a statement.

Both fighters started cautiously, perhaps wary of each other’s power. However as the first round drew to a close, both seemed to lose respect for one another and began to let their hands go, to the crowd’s delight. It was a close round although Cotto was busier.

The second began in much the same vein, with both fighters looking to counter. Cotto, although on the back foot for most of the round, showed why he is so dangerous by catching Ndou with some wicked body shots.

In the third, Ndou began to come on and landed some heavy leather on his opponent, but he still appeared just a little tense and unwilling to open up. Cotto, for his part, responded as the round drew to a close and imposed himself upon Ndou, bullying him with his superior size and hand speed.

A still reticent Ndou did little for the first half of the fourth round, but began to counter well as the round progressed. However, what could have been a close round turned in Cotto’s favor by the excellent hooks he was ripping to Ndou’s midriff.

The fifth began promisingly for Ndou as he promptly landed a corking right hand flush on an advancing Cotto’s chin. Looking relaxed with his left hand dangling by his side, Ndou began to warm to the task and found a home for several chopping right hands on the side of Cotto’s face. This was Ndou’s best round.

Seemingly worn down in the sixth, Ndou was unable to capitalize on the success of the previous round.

Cotto had continued success by working the body and showed what a formidable puncher he can be.

Bizarrely, both fighters switched to southpaw as the seventh round began. Ndou had success with this tactic when he fought Mitchell back in February. And he had success with it with Cotto—at least for a while. However, Cotto matched him shot for shot and came back stronger, landing two huge lefts midway through the round.

Ndou showed his mettle in taking these shots, but obviously sensing a points deficit, he began to stalk Cotto through the eighth.

Cotto, for his part, was more than happy to box off the back foot and land some shots on Ndou who seemed to wake up in ninth for a strong round.

Although still in retreat for most the tenth round, Cotto boxed beautifully and displayed an educated jab that bounced Ndou’s head back with great frequency.

By the 12th, it was obvious Ndou needed a knockout to win the fight- which never came. Ever the showman, Cotto unleashed a barrage of straight lefts and rights seemingly rocking Ndou for the first time in the evening.

The judges had it unanimously for Cotto with scores of 117-111, 115-113 and 116- 112.

Cotto retains his WBC Intercontinental belt and moves to 20-0,  with 16 KO’s while N’dou falls to 37-7-1, 23 KO’s.

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