Joe Cortez never has wavered in his belief he did the right thing on the night of May 8, 2004.
The Hall of Fame referee from Las Vegas was the third man inside the ring, watching Manny Pacquiao pummel Juan Manuel Marquez in the first round of their WBA/IBF featherweight title fight at the MGM Grand Garden. Pacquiao had knocked down Marquez three times, and as Cortez stood over the fallen Mexican and counted toward 10 for the third time, he had a decision to make.
Does he stop the fight? Or does he let it continue?
Marquez got up at the count of eight, and Cortez decided to let him continue. And because he did, he influenced boxing history.
"If it had been late in the fight, I definitely would have stopped it," Cortez said. "But it was only the first round, and I could see in Marquez’s eyes that he wasn’t through."
Had Cortez stopped the fight, there would not have been a rematch, let alone a third or fourth bout. But Marquez rallied for a draw that night, which led to ensuing controversy with the judges in the next two fights between them – both won by Pacquiao.
On Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden, Pacquiao (54-4-2, 38 knockouts) and Marquez (54-6-1, 39 KOs) will meet for a fourth time. Both claim they won all three of their previous fights, and those who worked the corners can make a case that their guy won.
Each fight had its own unique set of circumstances that got Pacquiao and Marquez to this point. Both have incentive to close the book on their rivalry. Marquez, 39, wants his measure of revenge for the previous three outcomes. Pacquiao, 33, wants to leave no doubt that he is the better man.
And as they prepare to meet for the fourth time, here’s a look at how they got to this point.
Marquez had established himself as one of the world’s best featherweights and owned the WBA and IBF titles. He had fought primarily in Mexico, and Top Rank was promoting him.
Pacquiao had become a star in his country, a rags-to-riches story of someone who had grown up poor in the Philippines and sold cigarettes on the streets of Manila to help support his family. His nonstop-action style also made him popular with his growing fan base in North America.
Marquez began the first fight as the aggressor. He was landing solid shots and appeared to be on his way to a strong start. Suddenly, a straight left by Pacquiao caught Marquez, and down he went.
"When Manny knocked Marquez down with that first left, I thought the fight was over," said Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach, who trains Pacquiao.
But Marquez got up, only moments later to be dropped again, this time by a left-right combination. Marquez had gotten sloppy and paid for it.
"I was really angry after that second knockdown," said Marquez’s longtime trainer, Hall of Famer Nacho Beristain. "He wasn’t listening to the corner, and he walked into that punch."
As time was winding down in the first round, Marquez got hit again by a Pacquiao left and went down for the third time. With blood flowing from his right eye and looking dazed, Marquez appeared to be finished. But he beat the count and was on his feet by eight. Cortez looked at him, Marquez looked back, and the fight continued.
"As a referee, I’ve been through so many fights where the fighter was out of it," Cortez said. "On the third knockdown, he was looking bright-eyed at me as I counted. It was as if he was saying, ‘I’m OK. Please don’t stop this fight.’ "
Marquez regrouped and began to take the fight to Pacquiao. He opened a cut over Pacquiao’s right eye. Neither fighter backed down.
"After that first round, I was dominant in the rest of the rounds," Marquez said.
But when the scorecards were read, Marquez hadn’t done enough to overcome the damage of the first round. Judge Guy Jutras of Canada had Marquez winning 115-110, and John Stewart of New Jersey had Pacquiao ahead 115-110.
That left it up to Reno judge Burt Clements, who scored it 113-113. But had Clements scored the first round 10-6 for Pacquiao as he could have, he would have had Pacquiao ahead 114-112 and winning by split decision. Clements said after the fight he made a mistake in scoring the first round, not realizing he could give a 10-6 score.
It would be four years before the two would fight again.
On March 15, 2008, with Pacquiao being promoted by Top Rank and Marquez with Golden Boy Promotions, the rematch took place at Mandalay Bay Events Center.
Both fighters had moved up to 130 pounds, and Pacquiao’s WBC super featherweight title was on the line. But Marquez was more interested in justice than belts, saying he was going to pick up where he left off four years earlier at the MGM.
Pacquiao hadn’t lost any quickness despite moving up in weight. He seemed to be faster as well as stronger, and when he knocked down Marquez in the third round and almost dropped him again moments later in the round, it appeared judges wouldn’t be necessary.
"I thought I had it won right there," Pacquiao said. "I thought I was through with this guy for good."
But Marquez showed his toughness and courage again. He began to find the soft spots in Pacquiao’s defense, and whenever Pacquiao moved away from him, Marquez was ready to tag him with his right hand.
"I don’t know what Manny was thinking," Roach said. "We prepared for that right hand and told him not to move to his left. It was as if he had forgotten everything we worked on in the gym, and he nearly paid for it."
In the sixth round, Marquez was scoring with big shots and dominating the fight. But only one judge – Jerry Roth – gave Marquez the round. Duane Ford and Tom Miller had Pacquiao winning the sixth.
"To be honest, I thought we lost that sixth round," Roach said.
Marquez would have won the fight had Miller given him the round – his scorecard favored Pacquiao, 114-113. Ford had Pacquiao winning 115-112, and Roth scored it 115-112 for Marquez.
After the split decision, the postfight news conference erupted into a shouting match between the two camps. Marquez and Golden Boy claimed he was robbed, while Pacquiao and Top Rank said the fight wasn’t even close.
"I think Pacquiao knew he lost," Marquez said. "He acted surprised when they announced the decision. In my heart, I know I won this fight, too."
Pacquiao disagreed. "He figured me out, and he fought a very good fight. But I still believe I won," he said.
Pacquiao quickly left 130 pounds in his rearview mirror, choosing to move up in weight in pursuit of more lucrative paydays. He had become a pay-per-view star, and there was talk of him and Floyd Mayweather Jr. squaring off in what would be boxing’s biggest fight in decades.
Pacquiao stopped David Diaz in June 2008 to win the WBC lightweight title. In December, Pacquiao moved up to welterweight and stopped Oscar De La Hoya in the eighth round. In May 2009, Pacquiao went back down to junior welterweight and knocked out Ricky Hatton in the second round.
Pacquiao also beat Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito and Shane Mosley to become the first fighter to hold world titles in eight weight classes. But he and Mayweather never came to terms for a fight.
Marquez did, on Sept. 19, 2009, at the MGM Grand Garden. He fought well that night, but Mayweather outboxed him and won a 12-round unanimous decision.
The night wasn’t a total loss for Marquez. It was the first time he had fought as a welterweight, and he saw that at 146 pounds he had enough speed, strength and stamina to compete.
Two years later, Marquez and Pacquiao agreed to fight for the third time, this one at 147 pounds. Pacquiao’s WBO welterweight title would be at stake on Nov. 12, 2011, at the MGM Grand Garden, the scene of their first meeting seven years earlier.
Marquez promised he would not leave this fight in the judges’ hands. He had trained with the sole purpose of knocking out Pacquiao.
Pacquiao’s training camp was fraught with distractions. He loved to go gambling and drinking. He was into making music and playing basketball. And he allegedly was unfaithful to his wife.
On the morning of the fight, Jinkee Pacquiao had had enough. She reportedly wanted a divorce, and she said she wouldn’t attend the fight. Pacquiao pleaded with her to reconsider. By the time he arrived at the Grand Garden, he was a mental mess.
"I wasn’t at my best," Pacquiao said. "I was more aggressive in that fight. He was backing up, and if I don’t take the fight to him, it’s a boring fight."
As the fight progressed, Marquez thought he was in good shape. Robert Hoyle, one of three local judges working the fight, gave Marquez the eighth, ninth and 10th rounds, something neither Dave Moretti nor Glenn Trowbridge did.
"It was a close, back-and-forth fight," Hoyle said. "Going into the seventh, eighth and ninth rounds, I had no clue who was winning the fight. But Marquez being such an effective counter puncher, he was able to land a lot of good blows, and he hit Pacquiao more."
But Pacquiao’s late surge in the 12th round might have proved to be the difference. He won the round on two scorecards – including Hoyle’s – and the fight by majority decision.
Moretti scored the fight 115-113 and Trowbridge 116-112, both for Pacquiao. Hoyle had it 114-114.
"When they read my score, I was surprised," Hoyle said. "Then I heard Dave’s score, and 115-113 is only a point away, and it made me feel like we basically saw the same fight. Glenn and I obviously saw the fight differently, especially the last round."
Pacquiao knew he was fortunate to have overcome the distractions. Marquez thought he had been robbed again.
"Without a doubt, I thought I won this fight even more than the others," Marquez said. "There was no question I won."
Said Beristain: "It was an out-and-out robbery. I have no idea what fight those judges were watching. What they did to him was criminal."
ONCE AND 4 ALL
After eight years, 36 rounds and three controversial decisions, both fighters look to Saturday as a chance for closure.
Pacquiao lost his WBO welterweight belt to Timothy Bradley on June 9 in a controversial 12-round split decision at the MGM Grand Garden, but rather than seek an immediate rematch with Bradley, he wanted to settle things with Marquez.
"I never thought we’d fight four times," Pacquiao said. "But I need this fight for me. That’s why I took this fight. I want to show the people that I am the better man."
Marquez said a knockout over Pacquiao will exorcise the demons that have lurked within his soul throughout this amazing boxing odyssey.
"It will allow me to be at peace with myself," Marquez said. "I will be able to retire knowing I beat Manny Pacquiao fair and square inside the ring."
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.