LAS VEGAS -- A couple things we need to clear up before Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez step into the ring for the third time on Saturday night:
Pacquiao does not feel disrespected by Marquez. OK, maybe he feels a little peeved by the fact that Marquez showed up at a press conference in the Philippines sporting the now infamous "Marquez beat Pacquiao twice" T-shirt. But throughout fight week, the perception -- one fueled by Bob Arum and Freddie Roach -- has been that Pacquiao's blood has been boiling over Marquez's insistence that he won the first two fights. It's not true. No one knows how close those two fights were better than Pacquiao; he put Marquez down four times over 24 rounds and Marquez just kept coming. Pacquiao's motivation is putting punctuation on this rivalry, to settle it once and for all. Yes, Pacquiao wants the knockout. Yes, he wants it to be one-sided. When this fight is over, Pacquiao wants to finally stop hearing that he should fight Marquez again.
Marquez is not doomed. Marquez is a huge underdog in this fight. Most observers feel that Marquez's age (38) and the fact that he is moving back up to a weight class (welterweight) in which he struggled against Floyd Mayweather in 2009 are two big factors working against him. But though Marquez has seemed more hittable in recent fights, he is still regarded as the No. 1 135-pounder in the world and his counterpunching is as sharp as ever. Moreover, and this can't be stressed enough, Marquez knows how to fight Pacquio. In previous fights, Marquez quickly got Pacquiao's timing and though he took some shots, he has been more competitive with Pacquiao than any other fighter in recent history. Moving up in weight might be an issue, but at Friday's weigh-in Marquez (who weighed in at 142 pounds to Pacquiao's 143) looked more lean, more cut than he did before the fight with Mayweather. Pacquiao may still win, but this will be a very competitive fight.
Now onto your mail ...
Call me crazy, but I'm giving Marquez a real shot. What happens if he wins?
-- Mike, Los Angeles
There's an automatic rematch clause in the Marquez-Pacquiao contract that mandates that Marquez fight Pacquiao again. He'll make a minimum of $10 million for that fight, so I don't think he would mind one bit. After that, who knows? I asked Juan about his future this week and he said he wasn't even thinking about it. He could go back down to lightweight or junior welterweight, where he would be in demand to fight someone like Brandon Rios or Marcos Maidana. I honestly don't think Marquez has thought about it.
Do you think Marquez's strength coach, Angel Heredia or Hernandez or whatever it is, has given Marquez steroids?
-- Bill, New York
I'm going to say no, only because Marquez has been fighting for 18 years and there has not been the slightest whiff of performance-enhancing drug use around him. While I find it odd that he would choose a conditioning coach with such a sordid past, I don't think we can just assume that Marquez is using anything but legal supplements. Besides, it's boxing. Victor Conte has carved out a niche for himself as a conditioning coach. I'll add one thing though: I got multiple calls from people in the industry who said they were shocked at how good Marquez looked. The insinuation from them being that he must have been taking something. I don't agree, but it's something others brought up.
What's the atmosphere like in Las Vegas?
-- Jim, Westchester, N.Y.
I got here on Tuesday, Jim, and it was pretty quiet. But since Thursday it has really picked up. They are expecting a sellout crowd of 16,000-plus, there is a strong Filipino presence (Pacquiao told me more than 60 Congressmen were planning on attending) and the media coverage has been overwhelming. One thing that did surprise me was that Marquez might have an even stronger fan base here than Pacquiao. At Friday's weigh-in Pacquiao was met with a bigger mix of boos and cheers than I have ever heard before.
How does this fight end? And will we see Pacquiao-Mayweather next year?
-- Mike, Austin, Texas
I'm picking Pacquiao, Mike, but I'm one of the few writers out here who think it is going to be close. I refuse to underestimate Marquez and I won't paint his prospects at welterweight with a negative brush based on one bad performance. I think it's a competitive fight for seven or eight rounds until Pacquiao turns on the jets in the last two and the referee or Marquez's corner stops the fight. I don't think he will win by conventional knockout though. I just don't see Marquez, who has that Mexican heart beating inside him, staying down for a 10-count.
As for Mayweather, all I can say is I'm optimistic. I have been assured by people involved with Mayweather that he is very serious about fighting Pacquiao in May. And we all know Pacquiao wants the fight. If these warring parties can just find a way to sit down in the same room with each other (figuratively speaking) and have an open discourse, they will be able to settle their issues pretty quickly. I think they know everyone is tired of seeing them kick the crap out of lesser opponents. As Roach says often, there really is no one left for them to fight.