LAS VEGAS – Manny Pacquiao will once again carry the hopes of his nation, still reeling from a devastating storm that killed hundreds in the south, when he climbs the ring at the MGM Grand Saturday (Sunday noon in Manila) against the most formidable opponent he has ever faced.
Pacquiao, the heart and soul of the entire Filipino nation, faces Mexico’s Juan Manuel Marquez for the fourth and last time as their historic rivalry – spanning eight long years and six months and 36 rounds of brutal action – comes to an end.
There will be no title at stake in the fight scheduled for 12 rounds at the full welterweight limit of 147 lbs.
But there’s always something more precious than the world title, when the pride of two gallant warriors and two great champions are put on the line.
Pacquiao tipped the scales during Friday’s official weigh-in at 147 flat while Marquez, dying to beat the Filipino after that draw in May 2004 and those razor-thin decisions in 2008 and 2011, came in lighter, perhaps close to zero-fat, at 143.
After being weighed, the two boxers faced the estimated 5,000 fight fans who came for the weigh-in, and spoke briefly of the fight.
Pacquiao was reminded by HBO’s Larry Merchant of the typhoon (“Pablo”) that struck northern Mindanao earlier this week, leaving more than 400 dead and many more missing.
The boxer who loves to help those in need said he’s aware of everything.
“My sympathy to all the families who were affected by the typhoon in the Philippines. This fight is dedicated to all of them,” said Pacquiao, drawing loud cheers from his fans. He said he continues to pray for his countrymen.
In the meantime, there are other prayers waiting to be answered Saturday evening before an expected sellout crowd of 17,000. As of yesterday, it was reported that all tickets, the most expensive down to the cheapest, have been sold.
There will be no empty seat in the house when Pacquiao and Marquez are unleashed by Kenny Bayless, the third man in the ring.
Pacquiao and Marquez have been to three tremendous fights. In the eyes of an expert, all three fights could have gone either way, and while it’s two wins and one draw for Pacquiao, it actually looks pretty even – minus the scorecards.
That’s why both boxers are here to score the knockout or, at the very least, score a clear win that would be impossible or hard to contest.
Fans want to see ‘old Pacquiao’
“In camp we did all our best. We are ready for the fight,” said Pacquiao, who has been less impressive in his last two outings, including his narrow win over Marquez last November, and a controversial loss to Tim Bradley last June.
His fans are longing to see the old Pacquiao, the same boxer who rocked the sport by overwhelming taller, stronger and bigger rivals like Oscar de la Hoya, Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito three or four years ago.
Did the loss to Bradley bring the fire back in Pacquiao’s eyes?
“Yes sir,” he told Merchant. “This is about my name, the honor of my country and the pride of the Filipino people.”
Marquez, winner of world titles in four divisions, said he’s ready for anything.
“We know each other too well so it’s going to be war. It’s going to be war,” said the 39-year-old Mexican counterpuncher. “We prepared four months for this fight and we will come with lots of intelligence. We are very prepared.”
Marquez did not say it because his body did. He had grown muscles he’d never had before and judging by his appearance, flexing his biceps and pumping his fist in the air, he looked ready to go to any war that needed to be won.
A member of Team Pacquiao who was up on stage during the weigh-in carried a worried look on his face, perhaps upon seeing how big the Mexican fighter was.
Marquez, who trained under Nacho Beristain and strength and conditioning expert Angel Hernandez, also thinks he is the more intelligent boxer.
“We will come with speed, intelligence and power. That’s what’s important (not the muscles). What’s also important is to know who the best man is,” he said.
Pacquiao will also try to prove that at his age he still has what it takes to remain on top of boxing.
He will turn 34 on Dec. 17 and while there are active fighters older than him, like Marquez who is 39, all the wear and tear may be starting to show or have started to show.
But to prove that he is still the Pacquiao the whole world knows, he needs the cooperation of Marquez.
“I want him to fight toe-to-toe to the finish,” said Pacquiao, always at his best against stationary opponents or those who love to engage, but not against moving targets or excellent counterpunchers like Marquez.
“It’s me or him – either way. He’s always claiming he won the (previous) fights so he needs to prove something – if he can prove it. You cannot say you won the fight but in every fight you are always backing off. He needs to be more aggressive,” Pacquiao said.
He was practically begging for Marquez to come to him and try to knock him out, because for him it would be his best chance to end the fight the way he wants it.
“Twelve rounds are long and I don’t know what he will do inside the ring. And that (toe-to-toe action) would be best if I am given the chance,” Pacquiao added.
Pacquiao’s legal counsel Franklin Gacal said it in a better way.
“Thirty-six rounds are never enough (for them). But 48 rounds will be too much. We will never reach 48 rounds,” said Gacal.
Pacquiao shot down a question if there’s anything in Marquez that scares him.
“No. If I’m scared of him I will not choose to fight him for the fourth time. Even every month we fight each other I will have no problem. I am giving him a chance here,” he said.
“But I respect him. I salute him. He has a brave heart,” he said.
That’s the old Pacquiao.