Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011 | 4:51 p.m.
The hype is on for the return of Manny Pacquiao, boxing’s most exciting fighter, who was last seen headed back to his duties as a congressman in the Philippines after dominating Shane Mosley in a 12-round decision in May.
And, while he’s not fighting Floyd Mayweather Jr. as fight fans have hoped for a long time, he will be in the ring against Juan Manuel Marquez, a man who has given him more trouble than any other fighter in recent years.
They’ve gone 24 rounds together, with not much separating them. Pacquiao escaped in a draw in their first fight seven years ago, then won a decision by the narrowest of margins in the 2008 rematch.
Promoter Bob Arum, right, introduces Manny Pacquiao during a news conference Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011, in Las Vegas. Pacquiao is scheduled to fight Marquez for the WBO welterweight title Saturday.
That, however, was before Pacquiao exploded into the public consciousness with dominating wins over Oscar De La Hoya and others. And it was before Pacquiao grew big enough to fight comfortably as a welterweight, where he is not only bigger but stronger.
That’s a big reason the bookies in this gambling city make Pacquiao a 7-1 favorite in a fight between two boxers who like nothing better than to mix it up.There aren’t too many guarantees in boxing, but one is that both Pacquiao and Marquez will end up at some point in the center of the ring slugging it out.
And that’s fine with the congressman from the Sarangani province.
“I think this fight Marquez will fight me toe-to-toe,” Pacquiao said. “We know the style Marquez likes to fight and that’s his style.”
Marquez showed that in both of his two previous fights with Pacquiao, the first one fought at 125 pounds and the second at 130. But this fight has a contract weight of 144 pounds, and Marquez was outclassed in his only fight above 140 pounds, a 12-round drubbing at the hands of Mayweather.
To avoid that happening against Pacquiao, Marquez bulked up for the fight with a new conditioning coach with previous ties to performance-enhancing drugs. The upper body of the 38-year-old challenger is notably bigger, though that too doesn’t seem to bother Pacquiao or his handlers.
“I’m very surprised,” Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach said. “I thought he’d come in at 135 and use his speed and counterpunching against Manny. They moved in a different direction by getting bigger.”
Pacquiao is bigger now, too, though much bigger than Marquez remembers him from their 2008 fight. And that could be trouble for the Mexican fighter, who was dropped three times in the first round in their first fight and once in the second fight.
“I don’t think he’s going to be able to get up from this Manny Pacquiao punch,” Roach said.
Though Pacquiao is the attraction in the fight, Marquez might be the star today had he won either or both of the first two fights. He believes he did win both, angering Pacquiao when he showed up a few months ago at a rally promoting the bout in Manila wearing a T-shirt saying he was robbed.
But he’s not doing bad for the rubber match, with a $5 million guarantee against Pacquiao’s $22 million guarantee.
“This time is going to be different,” Marquez promised. “We’re going to be very, very intelligent in fighting with speed.”
Roach isn’t buying that, saying Marquez will be slower because of his added weight. Still, the fact that Pacquiao inserted a rematch clause in the fight contract should he get beat is evidence enough of the respect he has for a man he has faced for 24 long rounds in the ring.
“You win by knockout,” said Roach, “and there’s no rematch.”