|Decision victory by Manny Pacquiao, at right, prompted round of displeasure from crowd in Las Vegas, Nevada [AFP]
Manny Pacquiao has escaped again, in a decision that left his challenger Juan Manuel Marquez fuming.
The Filipino sensation was taken to the limit on Saturday night before winning a majority decision that infuriated his Mexican opponent and most of the sellout crowd at the MGM Grand arena.
The win may have been close, but Pacquiao still managed to continue a remarkable run that has made him the most exciting fighter in the sport.
In a bruising battle against a counterpuncher who was both accurate and fast, Pacquiao needed the final round on two scorecards to pull out the win.
He got it, even though a third judge scored the round in favor of Marquez. As boos and cans and bottles rang down on the ring, Pacquiao celebrated another victory and another huge payday.
"My fans are very happy because they thought I won," Pacquiao said.
He did, but by the narrowest of margins. That was perhaps to be expected considering the previous 24 rounds the two had fought were just as close.
Pacquiao won the 65kg fight on two scorecards, while the third ringside judge had it a draw. Marquez was so upset after the decision was announced, he stormed out of the ring.
"This was the second robbery and this one was the worst," Marquez said. "We won with clearer punches."
Pacquiao won some rounds with sheer aggression, while Marquez won others with brilliant counterpunching. He picked Pacquiao apart with right hands almost every time he tried to get inside, and landed hard flurries throughout the fight.
One ringside judge had it a 114-114 draw, while two others favoured Pacquiao by 115-113 and 116-112. The Associated Press had it 114-114.
"It's hard when you're fighting your rival and the three judges, too," said Marquez, who was a 7-1 underdog.
The sellout crowd threw bottles and cans towards the ring after the decision was announced, with one full can hitting a ringside writer.
It was the 15th straight win for Pacquiao, who earned a minimum of $22m while improving his record to 54-3-2. Marquez, who earned $5m, fell to 52-6-1.
The first bout between the two boxers seven years ago at 57kg was a draw, and Pacquiao won a split decision in their second bout in 2008 at 59kg.
Ringside punch stats showed just how evenly matched they were in this contest: Pacquiao was credited with landing 176 of 578 punches, while Marquez landed 138 of 436. The power punches were even closer, with Pacquiao connecting on 117 and to 100 for Marquez, although the Mexican seemed to land the harder punches.
Pacquiao was behind on one scorecard and only ahead by a point on a second going into the 12th round, and the crowd was on its feet roaring for what they expected to be a classic last round. But both fighters were tentative, brawling only towards the end of the round.
Pacquiao found out early he would be in for a long night, taking counter punches from Marquez in the opening rounds while looking for his own opening.
He had trouble finding his range all night and when he did get inside, Marquez often moved to the side and landed a counter right hand.
It was evident that both fighters were so familiar with one another they knew what the other was going to do, and they compensated by fighting in spurts when each had the advantage.
Neither ever seemed seriously hurt, though Marquez landed several right hands that snapped Pacquiao's head back
and stopped him from coming forward.
The two clashed heads in the ninth round, opening a cut above Pacquiao's right eye, and he was also cut inside his mouth. Marquez was not cut, but his face was swollen and his eyes were closing in the later rounds.