There was one second left in the sixth round of Saturday’s big fight in Vegas  between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. Pacquiao, one of the best boxers  in the world, had been picking apart his old nemesis Marquez with darty punches  that the Mexican, an expert counter-puncher, couldn’t seem to counter. The  Filipino fighter had connected on 94 punches to Marquez’s 52, had broken his  opponent’s nose and dropped him in the previous round. Marquez was bleeding  profusely and having trouble breathing. All three judges had Pacquiao winning  47-46 through five rounds.

Then in the dying moments of round six, the two men started exchanging  furious punches near the ropes. Marquez feinted left and threw one of the most  vicious short rights in recent boxing history, hitting Pacquiao flush in the  face and sending him to the canvas, right in front of Mitt and Ann  Romney’s ringside seats (“I couldn’t believe it, he went down right in front  of me!” Ann said later.) It seemed oddly appropriate: Romney knows all about  clear defeats emerging dramatically after close and tough battles. And Pacquiao  is a politician–a congressman with presidential ambitions in his native Philippines.

There was exaltation from Marquez, all sprinkled with blood, from his  cornermen and from the mostly pro-Marquez crowd at the MGM Grand. But the  obvious end of the match was also chilling because Pacquiao, seemingly  invincible once upon a time, was so slow to revive. His corner put a white wet  towel over him and started massaging his head as his weeping wife Jinkee–whose  name is tattooed on his arm–struggled into the ring and to his side. Eventually  regaining consciousness, Pacquiao said, “I got hit by a punch I didn’t see.” His  eyes were still glazed over.

It felt like the end of Manny Pacquaio. This is the second fight he has lost  this year. Despite his dominance of Marquez through most of the fight, he looked  just slightly more timid than the Pacquiao of old; his legs didn’t move along  with their typical bounce; he had been knocked down in round three, the first  time that had happened in years and an omen for the way the struggling Marquez  would finish the match. One of the smartest men in boxing, Marquez was setting  up his KO.

The punch that ended the fight would bring a resounding conclusion to one of  the bitterest rivalries in sports. Until Saturday, Marquez could claim to have  been cheated by history. Considered the sixth best pound-for-pound boxer in the  world, he fought Pacquiao to a controversial draw in 2004; he then lost a  split-decision (by one point) in their 2008 re-match. Marquez again lost to  Pacquiao in a 2011 controversy. At the conclusion of that fight, when the judges  ruled that Pacquiao had won, the Filipino was greeted by thunderous boos.  Marquez, disgusted, stormed out of the ring, believing he had won. He would  prove he deserved victory by knockout at the end of round six of their fourth  encounter–one of the most exciting in recent years, an instant classic.

It might not have happened. After their 2011 match, Pacquiao was moving onto  younger fighters and bigger paydays, and maybe—just maybe—an eventual superfight  with Floyd Mayweather Jr.

But earlier this year Pacquiao lost a controversial decision to Timothy  Bradley. While Pacquiao lost on the judges’ scorecards, the boxing public  believed he had soundly beaten Bradley—who was wheeled into the post-fight press  conference in a wheelchair. But since Mayweather and Pacquiao’s promoters never  seem able to negotiate their fight for various reasons–most nonsensical–Pacquiao  decided to take on Marquez again. And as the Filipino’s coach Freddie Roach  says, “He walked into a two-inch punch.” Pacquiao hadn’t been knocked out since  1999.

He might retire. He might fight Marquez for a fifth time. But what is clear:  that punch will permanently alter the way Pacquiao is viewed as a boxer,  politician and cross-cultural star.

As a fighter, he relied on his speed to create punching angles and then  quickly move out of range of his opponent.  But as he aged, he wasn’t quite  getting out of counter-attacks as much. In training camp, there was talk of  Pacquiao knocking out his sparring partners, but other, quieter stories of  missed training runs and a lack of dedication to his strength and fitness  regime.  To many who know him well, he seemed more interested in Bible  study than the sweet science. There were also uneasy questions from his own  countryman about his dedication to the Philippines’ fervent Catholicism, sensing  a turn toward evangelical “born again” Protestantism. Indeed, there were some  snarky tweets that his defeat may have been the result of not performing what  had seemed to be a pre-fight ritual: kneeling in a corner and making the  Catholic sign of the cross. Pacquiao seems to be writing a different—more  complex—storyline to his life, and it hasn’t been easy to digest by his  countrymen. And the latest loss may shake the faith of his many non-Filipino  fans who have made him a global brand–but one based on winning and  invincibility.

After the fight, Pacquiao readily confessed to over-confidence, believing the  bloodied Marquez to be on his last legs. However, Roach, himself an icon of  perseverance because of his public struggle with Parkinson’s, said that, though  Pacquiao looked careless at times, the end is not nigh. “If I see signs of him  declining, I will tell him to retire. I don’t think this is the end of Manny  Pacquiao, no.” It was simply a mistake. He did not see the punch coming. That  says a lot for Pacquiao’s vision. In Marquez’s view, he had it coming.

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