LAS VEGAS -- Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez have given boxing fans three fights for the ages, with almost unparalleled action, drama and suspense. Theirs ranks among the great trilogies in the sport's history, along with the likes of Erik Morales-Marco Antonio Barrera and Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier.
Their first three fights have also been excruciatingly close. Personally, I scored fights one and two in favor of Marquez and had their third bout last year a draw at 114-114. Officially, the first match in 2004 was a split draw, while Pacquiao took a split decision in 2008 at Mandalay Bay and then won a majority decision last year at the MGM Grand.
Neither man has been happy about the way any of the three fights ended and have vowed to score a more definitive victory tonight.
A strong case could be made for either man tonight. Pacquiao has been the aggressor in each of the first three fights, but he had difficulty with Marquez's counter punching style. Pacquiao, a left-hander, consistently would step to his own left and that would put him in the perfect spot for Marquez to catch him with a straight counter right. Pacquiao tonight will try to step to his right so that his lead foot is outside of Marquez's, which will create a better punching angle for his powerful left.
Marquez has spoken of initiating the action more, which seems like a dubious choice. One never wants to get into a firefight against an opponent with more ammunition and Pacquiao clearly has the more powerful guns. A change in approach would be a departure from the counter punching style that has made Marquez one of the sport's elite boxers over the last two decades.
Two things in this fight make me favor Pacquiao ever so slightly. First, Marquez has added considerable bulk. That creates a question of whether he'll be able to handle that bulk. He insists he's both faster and stronger, but history has taught us so often that when a boxer bulks up, he creates more difficulties for himself than he solves.
Secondly, Pacquiao has more room for improvement. Marquez is the better technician and he was on point in each of the three fights, yet he still wasn't able to clearly defeat Pacquiao. Even though I have Marquez up 2-0-1 in the series on my own card, I recognize that all three bouts could have gone either way.
I expect the adjustments Pacquiao makes and his edge in punching power to be the difference. With a knockdown in, I'm predicting a 115-112 unanimous decision victory for Pacquiao in what should once again be a stirring fight.
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