Was a bit of a tough week for me with two of my fighting favorites exiting the stage.
First, James Toney, my favorite of favorites, suffered an embarrassing defeat against Denis Lebedev. It was difficult to watch for me, almost physically painful. James lost every round and looked – really for the first time in his amazing career – pitiful.
I mean, we’re talking beyond shot. We’re talking about James Toney, master of the craft, incapable of throwing a punch without toppling over. It was horrifying.
There was a mitigating factor. He damaged his left leg in the second round and was clearly hobbled. Some sick part of me still thinks maybe he could have been competitive without the injury, but I know that’s delusional.
A great fighter, a great champion, and a flawed but captivating character; I intend to one day write a long and fine piece about James Toney. For now, I hope he retires and remains as neurologically intact as possible.
And, of course, Joe Frazier passed this week. He was my favorite heavyweight and I loved that left hook and the personal meanness. I’ve written about it before, but Joe has always been to me one of the key signifiers of what makes boxing different from any other athletic competition. It’s so personal, so real, and so unadulteratedly human.
As Joe said of his losing battle in Manila, “Goddamn it, when’s somebody going to understand? It wasn’t just a fight. It was me and him. Not a fight.”
Most people don’t even try to understand, and if I do it’s only at a very surface level, but no one was a more instructive figure on the stakes behind the “science of bruising,” than Smokin’ Joe Frazier.
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And now, a few words on Pacquiao-Marquez III.
It has been a special series, with two truly great fights leading up to this point.
Pacquiao’s obviously a huge favorite and I agree that he’s highly likely to win. Pacquiao has crushed all of his recent opponents, men much bigger than Marquez.
Despite what some people think Pacquiao’s recent opposition has been very good, quality fighters all. Pacquiao has certainly improved over the years since his first fight with Marquez and his performances of late show that.
The difference though, really, is that Marquez is a great fighter, while the rest of these welterweights are merely very good. Pacquiao struggled with Marquez and Morales – great fighters – he wrecked Ricky Hatton, a very good fighter. True, Marquez looked outmatched against Floyd at this higher weight, but I don't think he was quite as well prepared as he is for this bout. I also think Floyd has a better style for Marquez than Pacquiao does. And, well... I just think Floyd is better.
That being said I still believe Pacquiao will win. He’s just a little too electric at this point to be derailed by even his stylistic bogeyman, Marquez.
My vision of the fight mirrors Manny’s second matche against his other great rival, Erik Morales. In that match Morales gave as good as he got early, before Manny ground him down with relentless aggression and a concerted attack to the body. Morales, brave till the end, gave a rousing performance before succumbing late.
I see Marquez starting well, even winning a few of the early rounds, but I think Pacquiao will be a bit too much, a bit too strong. Marquez is a great fighter, but Manny is greater at this point, a true terror to behold. A great fighting champion.
Manny Pacquiao TKO 9 Juan Manuel Marquez
P.S. I’m excited to say I’ll be writing my first piece for the newly formed Classical in the wake of Pacquiao-Marquez III. I’m pleased to be working with my good friend Bethlehem Shoals again, and many of the fine writers they have on the team. Please check it out Monday!