LOS ANGELES – When last we left Manny Pacquiao, darling of the fight world, he was flat on his face, out cold in the corner of a boxing ring.
It was the night of Dec. 8, in the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
It was such a startling moment that even the most rabid fans of Juan Manuel Marquez, who threw the punch that put Pacquiao in that situation, had to have a fleeting moment of dread that something really bad had just happened.
Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s Hall of Fame trainer, was just a few feet away and was horrified.
“My girlfriend’s a doctor,” Roach said, “and she thought he was dead.”
As chaos swirled around him, Pacquiao remained still. Roach estimates his fighter was unconscious for at least two minutes. But replays showed it was just more than a minute. Photographers swooped in and Pacquiao’s best friend, Buboy Fernandez, and financial adviser, Michael Koncz, got into a pushing match with one of them.
“I had to apologize to a couple of photographers later, for yelling at them,” Roach said. “I know the best thing is to clear the way so the doctors can do their job, but I shouldn’t have yelled at them.”
Soon, it was clear that Pacquiao was not dead, but the victim of a near-perfect punch by a boxer he was fighting for the fourth time and appeared to be beating decisively, when it all came to a shocking halt with 1 second left in the sixth round.
“I knew Manny was all right,” Roach said, “when I told him in the dressing room that we better get him to the hospital to be checked. He said OK, but that he wanted to wash the blood off his face first. That meant he was thinking clearly.”
Pacquiao returned to his hotel room, ate some soup fed to him by his mother, got up and shadow boxed a little, asked his public relations chief to send a message to the media, saying, “I’m fine,” and sat back down on the couch to watch a video of the fight.
How did it happen?
There will always be a multitude of theories. Roach’s is that it was more about footwork than Marquez being better or even luckier.
“When you have a lefty (Pacquiao) fighting a right-hander (Marquez),” Roach said, “you have guys stepping on each other’s lead foot more than righty-righty or lefty-lefty.
“We were concerned enough about that happening – because it had happened a lot in their other fights, and even could be used as a strategy by Marquez – to ask the referee to come to our dressing room before the fight so we could warn him to watch for that.”
“But what happened was the opposite, and I didn’t see it clearly until later, when I looked at overhead camera shots.
“Marquez didn’t step on Manny’s foot. Manny stepped on Marquez’s foot. And when Marquez pulled it out, it sent Manny off-balance and forward – right into the perfect right hand.
“I wasn’t ready for that. I had told Manny, when he steps on your foot, don’t pull away. But the other way? I didn’t see that coming.”
What’s the immediate future?
“I told Bob Arum (Pacquiao’s promoter) that I didn’t want Manny back in the ring as soon as April,” said Roach, who adds that Pacquiao fought him at first on waiting that long. “I think a fifth fight with Marquez in September is the right fight. I think that makes more sense now than ever.”
Arum says of Pacquiao-Marquez V: “That fight may be bigger right now than a (Floyd) Mayweather fight.”
Marquez, of course, is in a great bargaining position and no deal has been reached.
Plus, he is 39 years old, with 62 professional fights and 462 professional rounds.
Age and years of punishment are also a concern for Pacquiao. He is 34, has had 61 professional fights and 371 professional rounds.
A popular theory in the immediate aftermath of this knockout was that this kind of out-cold damage would not allow Pacquiao to be the same quality fighter.
“He says he’s fine, and I believe him,” said Roach, who knows all too well the dangers of boxing too long. He did, and is now slowed by some neurological damage.