Wednesday September 10th, 2008

If Manny Pacquiao had a fan club, Juan Manuel Márquez would probably be its president -- as long as Pacquiao promised to show up for the club's meetings. With his trainer. And an official from the WBC.

If Pacquiao ever needed a driver, Márquez would most assuredly hop into his car, grab his passport and make the trip from his home in Mexico City to pick up the "Pac-Man." Only, instead of taking Pacquiao to his destination, Márquez would probably drive to a local boxing gym, enlist a referee and demand Pacquiao lace up his gloves.

That's how desperate Márquez is to fight Pacquiao again.

It's been this way since last March, when in the rematch to their explosive 2004 featherweight fight (a match where Márquez was knocked down three times in the first round before rallying to force a draw) Márquez, the then-reigning WBC super featherweight champion, lost a razor-thin decision to Pacquiao. Two judges scored the fight 115-113 in favor of Márquez and Pacquiao, respectively, while a third gave Pacquiao a 114-113 edge.

Since then, Márquez has done everything short of showing up at Pacquiao's estate in the Philippines with Jay Nady in tow to get the popular Filipino back in the ring. In the aftermath of the rematch, Márquez tried to bait Pacquiao into agreeing to a third go-round immediately after the fight. No dice. All he got was a scolding from Top Rank promoter Bob Arum on the dais.

"Grow up," Arum shouted at Márquez. "Be a man and accept the judge's decision."

Márquez tried to force another fight by chasing Pacquiao to his new weight class, the 135-pound lightweight division. That didn't work either. After systematically dismantling David Diaz for the WBC lightweight title, Pacquiao accepted a lucrative offer to fight Oscar De La Hoya at welterweight. Eating all the chalupa's in Mexico wouldn't make Márquez competitive at 147 pounds.

So what was Márquez left with? A healthy amount of frustration, that's what.

"Manny Pacquiao knows that in the second fight, something strange happened with the decision," said Márquez. "I wanted to fight Pacquiao because I wasn't happy with that decision."

On Saturday, Márquez will have an outlet for those frustrations when he takes on Joel Casamayor (HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET) for Casamayor's Ring Magazine lightweight title. While it's not the fight Márquez wanted, it is one he's focused on. In other words, he hasn't been taping photos of Pacquiao to his speed bag during training camp or calling his opponent "Manny Casamayor."

"Joel Casamayor is one of the best 135-pounders," said Márquez, who is (48-4). "I'm going to prove to the people and I'm going to prove to myself that I can do better things in higher [weight classes]."

Still, Márquez can't resist tweaking Pacquiao, even in the context of praising his opponent.

"I just want to prove that I'm fighting the best," said Márquez. "When Pacquiao fought Diaz, he was a champion, yes, but not a top fighter in the 135-pound division. I'm going to prove I'm the best 135-pound fighter out there."

Though the light hitting Casamayor (36-3 with just 22 knockouts) will never be confused for the powerful Pacquiao, he has his own attributes: a cagy southpaw who counterpunches in his sleep. Casamayor's bread-and-butter is lightning quick hands that enable him to throw a flurry of combinations. At 37, he's looked to have one foot in retirement's door before a stunning tenth round knockout of Michael Katsidis last March re-established Casamayor on the lightweight stage.

And much like Márquez before his most recent fight with Pacquiao, Casamayor is talking like a man with something to prove.

"Juan is a great fighter," said Casamayor. "It's a chance for me. I believe 100 percent [that Márquez is the best lightweight]. Better than Nate Campbell, better than Juan Diaz and a lot of other guys in this weight division."

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