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Pacquiao-Marquez one ‘Grand’ matchup

May 4, 2004 7:20 AM

he mainstream media will not clue you in on it, but there is a great fight coming up May 8 at the MGM Grand. It should have good two-way action at the books and great two-way action in the ring.

But it’s featherweights. Boxing writers, the few that are still working for newspapers, know this is one of those special matchups. Sports editors would rather give space to the Washington Senators vs. the St. Louis Browns than have Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez cut into their budget during an Olympic year. Guys who weigh 126 pounds should be sitting on horses, or maybe be George Foreman’s next snack.

Besides, what’s the point of covering the fight when nobody here speaks English?

I understand.

And you know what? You don’t have to read about Pacquiao-Marquez. You may not have to bet it, either. Just make sure you watch HBO (with a pretty good semi, the talented young Puerto Rican, Miguel Cotto, in his toughest test so far, facing the sturdy junior welterweight contender Lovemore N’Dou).

The reason I say you don’t have to bet on it is I don’t have a very strong opinion as to the outcome. This is not the kind of matchup where you can make a living. I have a lean toward the southpaw Filipino, Pacquiao, because of his speed and power.

But he is the betting favorite and is not worth any price more than pick ”˜em. Neither is Marquez. The late money will probably ”” not definitely, it’s another guess here ”” be on Marquez. He’s Mexican and likely to have more supporters at the MGM, though there will be enough Filipino flags flying in the Grand Arena to welcome back Douglas MacArthur.

Pacquiao surprised us all with a dominant six-round destruction in 2001 of Lehlohonol Ledwaba for the IBF junior featherweight (122 pound) title just when many of us "experts" were beginning to think we’d have to learn how to spell the South African’s name because he seemed to be a leading candidate in those pound-for-pound ratings.

It wasn’t close. But Pacquiao ”” like his name isn’t tough to remember ”” followed that with a sloppy performance in a unification bout with the brawling Agapito Sanchez that resulted in a six-round technical draw. After that fight, we figured there must have been something wrong in Ledwaba’s ice cubes for him to look that bad. Richard Hoffer of Sports Illustrated said when he heard that was one of the excuses floated by the Wladimir Klitschko fight for his collapse against Lamon Brewster, "A lot of fights are won and lost in the ice bucket.").

But in 2003, Pacquiao showed he was a major force himself in the pound-for-pound game. First, he dismissed the tough undefeated Emmanuel Lucero.

Then he moved up four pounds to featherweight and beat the pants off one of the guys we all had in the top five of thepound-for-pound listings, Marco Antonio Barrera.

Barrera was the "featherweight king." He had no belts, since he kept refusing them (why pay sanction fees?), but in beating such as Naseem Hamed and Erik Morales, he was the No. 1 featherweight in the world. Period.

Until Pacquiao knocked him down twice and forced Barrera’s corner to give up in the 11th round. It should have gotten him fighter of the year honors.

If he follows his plan, it will get him those honors in 2004. He is already looking past Marquez to Morales, who has moved up to 130 pounds.

If he can beat Barrera, Marquez and Morales, he’ll not only be featherweight king of the world, he’ll be president of Mexico.

Marquez, however, is not going to be easy.

Like his kid brother Rafael, who last year knocked out the undefeated Tim Austin to become bantamweight champion, he is trained by Nacho Beristan, the dean of Mexican conditioners.

Very quietly, Beristan has led a revolution in boxing. Someone would mention a Mexican fighter, you’d think of the stereotypical aggressive left hooker.

Beristan’s guys know how to box, too. Juan Manuel Marquez is inventive in his combinations, possesses fine power and hand speed, and good defense.

In the other corner, we have Freddie Roach, everyone’s choice for trainer of the year in 2003 (Pacquiao, James Toney, Juan Lazcano, hell, he even won with Mike Tyson, tattoo and all). Roach says he is "bullish" on his guy’s chances.

I don’t want to argue with Freddie, but even says at a writers luncheon in Los Angeles, all 10 scribes picked Marquez.

That in itself could be a reason to lean toward Pacquiao. But my lean is not intellectual. It is a gut feeling.

My brain says Marquez as a dog is a great bet. He’s the naturally bigger guy, the more classic boxer. My heart says Pacquiao is something special.

It’s a "must" fight to watch, not bet.