LAS VEGAS — For about 10 seconds, they stared at each other intensely in front of 5,000 screaming fans who had packed into the MGM Grand’s Garden Arena for Friday’s pre-fight weigh-in.
Moments earlier, Manny Pacquiao had tipped the scales at 143 pounds, one pound under the catchweight limit of 144 pounds, while his rival for Saturday night’s HBO Pay Per View-televised clash, Juan Manuel Marquez, tipped the scale at 142.
The 32-year-old Pacquiao (53-3-2, 38 knockouts), rated No. 1 in THE RING’s pound-for-pound, will defend his WBO welterweight belt against the 38-year-old Marquez (53-5-1, 39 KOs), THE RING’s lightweight champ.
Pacquiauo allowed for a smile during the staredowns with his past three rivals before scoring relatively easy unanimous decision victories over Joshua Clottey, Shane Mosley and Antonio Margarito.
But none of them has been as difficult an opponent as Marquez, whom Pacquiao has battled twice already to a draw and a split-decision victory in 2004 and 2008.
“I really need to have my best performance in this fight,” said Pacquiao, who was lustily booed by Marquez fans, even as they may have been out-numbered by Pacquiao’s followers perhaps by 60 percent to 40 percent.
“I do not want to disappoint the fans. We’ve trained hard and we’re ready for this fight. I’m just going to rest and get ready for the fight.”
Pacquiao dropped Marquez three times in the first round of their initial meeting, but Marquez survived and pushed the fight to the draw. In their second fight, Pacquiao won a split decision by virtue of a knockdown scored in the third round.
“This is the most important fight of my career. I want to beat the man who is considered the best pound-for-pound fighter,” said Marquez. “This time, I need to win every round, and I need to win every round clearly.”
Marquez is fighting at the highest weight ever in his career for only the second time as a professional.
In his welterweight debut in September of 2009, Marquez lost a one-sided unanimous decision to current WBC welterweight beltholder Floyd Mayweather Jr. (42-0, 26 KOs), even though he weighed in at the same weight that he did on Friday.
This time, however, Marquez’s ripped and chiseled upper body was apparent.
Marquez’s muscularity was well-distrubuted over his body as the result of his work with newly-hired, controversial strength and conditioning coach, Angel Hernandez.
Hernandez’s past includes having given the blood-booster EPO, growth hormone and insulin to track star Marion Jones in 2000 at the request of her then-coach Trevor Graham, as well as selling banned substances to sprinter Tim Montgomery.
Pacquiao’s corner man, five-time Trainer of the Year, Freddie Roach, has said that Marquez’s increased weight and power won’t make a difference.
“With all of the muscle that Marquez has put on, I don’t think that he’s going to be the effective counterpuncher that he used to be. He tells us that he’s going to use his increased strength,” said Roach.
“But the only way to use strength is to throw punches. So the thing is that I think Marquez is going to come out fast and I don’t think that he’ll be the counterpuncher in this fight. I think that he will fall into our hands and I think that Manny will do very well against him.”
Asked about the fact that Marquez has seemed extremely confident going into Saturday night’s bout, Roach has a short reply.
“The first time Pacquiao knocks him on his a–,” said Roach, “That will take his confidence away. I don’t think that he’s going to be able to get up from this Manny Pacquiao punch.”
JOEL CASAMAYOR’S OVERWEIGHT BUT UNDERDRESSED
A 40-year-old former four-time titleholder and Cuban Olympic gold medalist, Casamayor (38-5-1, 22 KOs) required an hour to shed a pound in order to make weight.
Earlier on, Casamayor stripped nude before standing on the scales, at which point weigh-in moderator and ring announcer, Michael Buffer, made the crowd aware that “one trip to the bathroom” should take care of Camayor’s extra pound.
Bradley is THE RING’s No. 8-rated pound-for-pound fighter, and will be defending his WBO junior welterweight belt against Casamayor.
For a 10-round, junior welterweight bout, unbeaten 31-year-old “Mile High” Mike Alvarado (31-0, 22 KOs), of Denver, Colo., weighed in at 140 pounds even, as did his opponent, Breidis Prescott (24-3, 19 KOs), of Colombia.
Alvarado will pursue his 10th stoppage over his past 12 bouts against the 28-year-old Prescott, who is best known for a 54-second knockout over RING No. 1-rated junior welterweight and current WBA/IBF beltholder Amir Khan (26-1, 18 KOs) in September of 2008.
In the initial televised clash of junior lightweights, the 26-year-old Luis Cruz (19-0, 15 KOs), of Puerto Rico, and 23-year-old Juan Carlos Burgos (27-1, 19 KOs) of Mexico weighed in at 130, and, 129, respectively.
Cruz will be after his seventh knockout in his past right fights and his second consecutive stoppage victory when he meets Burgos.
Burgos is pursing his third straight win since losing by unanimous decision to Japan’s Hozumi Hasegawa in a failed bid to earn the WBC’s vacant featherweight belt in November.
JUDGES AND OFFICIALS
Referee Tony Weeks will be the third man in the ring for Pacquiao-Marquez III, whose judges will be Robert Hoyle, Dave Moretti and Glenn Trowbridge.
Moretti has worked four of Pacquiao’s past five fights, and was also among those judging at ringside for Marquez’s loss to Mayweather.
Trowbridge also had Pacquiao over Mosley, 119-108.
Referee Vic Drakulich has been chosen to referee Bradley-Casamayor, with Nevada-based Adalaide Byrd and Burt Clemens, as well as Mexico’s Levi Martinez being the judges.
FOUR TELEVISED BOUTS
WBC SILVER / NABO JUNIOR LIGHTWEIGHT TITLE, 10 ROUNDS
LUIS CRUZ vs. JUAN CARLOS BURGOS
Referee: Kenny Bayless
Judges: Duane Ford, Ricardo Ocasio, CJ Ross
IBF LATINO JUNIOR WELTERWEIGHT TITLE, 10 ROUNDS
MIKE ALVARADO vs. BREIDIS PRESCOTT
Referee: Jay Nady
Judges: Lisa Giampa, Patricia Morse Jarman, Jerry Roth
WBO JUNIOR WELTERWEIGHTTITLE, 12 ROUNDS
TIM BRADLEY vs. JOEL CASAMAYOR
Referee: Vic Drakulich
Judges: Levi Martinez, Burt Clements, Adalaide Byrd
WBO WELTERWEIGHTTITLE, 12 ROUNDS
MANNY PACQUIAO vs. JUAN MANUEL MARQUEZ
Referee: Tony Weeks
Judges: Robert Hoyle, Dave Moretti, Glenn Trowbridge
Photos by Stacey Verbeek
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com