LAS VEGAS — The 28 stitches over his right eye weren't enough to keep Manny Pacquiao from headlining his own post-fight concert, which went on as usual into the early morning hours on the Las Vegas Strip.
They certainly won't keep him from his next fight, though that's the only sure thing when it comes to Pacquiao's immediate future.
He escaped with a win Saturday night against Juan Manuel Marquez, but that only tells part of the story. Seemingly invincible over the past three years, he looked anything but in scoring a majority decision over his Mexican nemesis in a win that enraged both Marquez and thousands of his supporters who packed the MGM Grand arena.
Somewhere, Floyd Mayweather Jr. had to be watching. Somewhere, Mayweather had to be wondering.
If Marquez could more than hold his own against Pacquiao by counter punching him every minute of the fight, what would stop Mayweather from doing the same? If Marquez did everything against Pacquiao except win, why not finally take dibs on next and finish the job?
It's boxing, of course, so nothing is ever that simple. In almost getting beat, though, Pacquiao may have done more to make a megafight with Mayweather than with any of his big wins in recent years.
Pacquiao has trouble with counter punchers, as his fight with Marquez clearly showed. And Mayweather is one of the best – if not the best – counter puncher in the sport.
"The style of Mayweather would get very complicated for Pacquiao," said Marquez, who has fought both men.
The style of Marquez certainly was very complicated for Pacquiao, who needed to win a few late rounds to pull out a decision almost as close as the one he won from Marquez in their fight three years ago. Pacquiao won the fight by sheer aggression, though Marquez seemed to land the harder punches, especially with his right hand.
One judge scored the fight even, as did The Associated Press. Two others had Pacquiao winning, 115-113 and 116-112. When the decision was announced, an infuriated Marquez stormed from the ring in protest, and fans started throwing beer bottles toward the ring.
"For me the best judges are the audience and you see how they responded," Marquez said. "I don't know what type of performance I need to give. It was a robbery once again."
Marquez may have only himself to blame for that. He came into the ring still fuming over the draw Pacquiao got against him seven years ago and the split decision Pacquiao won in 2008. He had to know most of the rounds were so close they were difficult to score, and that judges more often than not favor the fighter moving forward against the fighter moving backward when all things are equal.
Still, after listening to his corner tell him he was winning the fight, he came out slow in the final round. Neither man did much in a round when they might have been expected to let it all loose, but if Marquez would have fought a little harder and won the 12th round on two scorecards he would have gotten a draw.
"It could have gone either way," said Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer. "I thought Manny edged it out in the last two rounds."
Roach said the third fight between the two men – like the first two – was so close and competitive they should fight a fourth time. But after 36 rounds fought in much the same style at three different weights it's doubtful a fourth fight would have enough appeal to sell it to a wide enough pay-per-view audience that would allow Pacquiao to earn another $25 million or so.
What Pacquiao thinks about his future is hard to say. After getting stitched up, he showed up with a bandage over his right eye at the post-fight press conference, only to quickly leave after promoter Bob Arum – perhaps not wanting his fighter to have to answer what could be negative questions – allowed only two questions and quickly ushered Pacquiao out of the room.
What did Pacquiao see? He thought he won the fight clearly, and he has trouble with Marquez's style.
"He wants for me to create action and it's not easy to create action when he's waiting for a good shot," Pacquiao said. "He's a very good counter puncher."
So, of course, is Mayweather, who also possesses defensive abilities that the 38-year-old Marquez can only dream about. Mayweather dominated Marquez when they fought, though the fact Pacquiao had a lot of trouble with him may be more a style issue than anything. Styles do make fights, as the old boxing axiom goes, and Pacquiao's style matched up with that of Marquez almost guarantees close, competitive rounds.
Still, the fight was entertaining, a chess match fought with gloves by two fighters whose hearts will never be questioned. The sellout crowd at the MGM Grand was on its feet most of the way, cheering on the exchanges even if the final result didn't sit well with Marquez fans.
Thousands of miles away, almost everything in the Philippines came to a halt so Pacquiao's countrymen could watch their national hero fight. Crowds watching the bout fell silent as Marquez kept landing his right hand, and some feared Pacquiao might have been defeated.
Unlike the crowd in this gambling city, they burst into applause as the decision was announced. There were cheers of joy, but mostly there were cheers of relief.