IF Floyd Mayweather doesn’t want to fight Manny Pacquiao now, he never will. For nine rounds Juan Manuel Marquez bewitched and bewildered Pacquiao before the 38-year-old Mexican faded to let the Filipino win the last three and, as it turned out, a majority points decision. It let Pacquiao retain his WBO welterweight title and also keep alive hopes for a Manny-Floyd showdown next year.

Las Vegas resident Mayweather was absent but will surely have noticed how Marquez’s skill put him on the brink of a huge upset until he ran out of gas on November 12, 2011.

Yet just when it seemed Juan Manuel had achieved the improbable, succeeding at an advanced age and well north of his best weight, he found the judges against him. Robert Hoyle had it 114-114, as did I (six rounds apiece). Yet Dave Moretti favoured Pacquiao 115-113 and, unbelievably, Glenn Trowbridge saw the champion up 116-112.

Manny Pacquiao

Marquez won his sessions clearly and certainly came out the moral victor, if only for surpassing expectations. Many thought he would get hammered and sent into retirement, but his superb showing proved that there is no age limit on skill or strategy.

Hands high and backing off, but never running, the Mexican worked with single jabs and rights, occasionally opening up with a combination. Simple but effective tactics.

Pacquiao struggled to open up an opponent who refused to stand and trade, but instead stuck to his game plan. I can’t remember Manny missing so much, or getting frustrated the way he did between rounds seven and nine, when Marquez was dominant. Manny didn’t really have a consistent weapon, barring his power-packed left cross. He rarely landed jabs and didn’t go to the body much.

Yet the Filipino congressman insisted his victory was fair: “I thought I won clearly. He headbutted a lot.”

Queried about the angry booing (and some beer bottle-throwing) that greeted the decision, Manny pointed out that most of the sell-out 16,368 crowd were Marquez fans, adding, “I don’t blame them.”

He continued, “I blocked a lot of his punches. Marquez is a counter-puncher, that’s the way it is.”

But while Marquez’s trainer Nacho Beristain insisted his man had been robbed, Pacquiao’s counterpart Freddie Roach disagreed.

“It was Marquez’s style, it was a real close fight,” said Roach. “I wanted Manny to move more to his right, but he couldn’t.”

Marquez was disappointed but seemingly not surprised by the verdict, saying, “I won with the clearer punches. I landed a lot of them. You need to win fights with intelligence and we fought very intelligently.

“For me, the better judges are the audience [the ones who booed]. It was the second robbery [between us] and of the two fights, this was the worst.”

Arum, whose Top Rank promoted this show (televised on HBO pay-per-view), immediately started talking up a potential fourth fight between these two bitter rivals in May 2012, but who knows?

The Mexican’s build-up was overshadowed by the revelation that helping him move up from his natural lightweight division was Angel Hernandez, who under his real name Angel Heredia received a suspended prison sentence for his part in the BALCO scandal that saw drugs supplied to track and field athletes.Marquez denied any wrongdoing.

“I made many changes to my preparation,” he explained. “I trained hard for months and felt sensational in this fight.”

For a match made at a catchweight 144lbs, Pacquiao came in at 143 but looked much more solid than Marquez at 142.

They combined to put on a fight that held the interest throughout despite long gaps between significant punches being landed. It was a genuinely close contest, with – for me – Marquez winning rounds one, three and five against two, four and six for Pacquiao.

The fifth was a big session for the Mexican, who jolted the champion’s head upwards with a left uppercut and landed enough rights to make him frustrated. By the seventh Juan Manuel was marking up around the right eye, but he was about to enjoy his best spell of the fight, taking that session plus the eighth and ninth as well. His timing and distance were excellent and Manny seemed mesmerised, at times just following his challenger around. And when a big right nailed him in the ninth, Pacquiao did the unthinkable and actually backed off from the exchange first.

Proof that Pacquiao was getting caught far more than normal came when he bled from the lower lip in round eight and then in the 10th he was cut on the right eye. But he has heart and fitness, and just when he needed it most he used his strength to control the last three rounds as the tiring Marquez retreated into a shell of caution.

Pacquiao didn’t actually land that many scoring blows over the final nine minutes, but by going forwards and forcing Marquez to cover, he at least gave the impression of being in command, while the Mexican looked like a man trying just to survive.

An inspection of the judges’ cards would show that while Hoyle had Marquez ahead by a point going into the last, Moretti had not had the Mexican up since round seven (67-66) and Trowbridge had always had him behind since the very first round.

Referee was Tony Weeks and Pacquiao is now 54-3-2 (38), Marquez 52-6-1 (39). As for a fourth fight, who knows? If it does happen, Marquez will see it as an opportunity, Pacquiao as a chore.