Marquez, Pacquiao add another chapter to the Mexican-Filipino rivalry

Pacquiao, right, had Marquez down and nearly out in the opening round in their first fight, but he couldn't seal the deal. AP Photo/Joe Cavaretta

The title of a 1950s science-fiction movie, "When Worlds Collide," also would be an appropriate billing for Saturday's rematch between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez on HBO PPV from the Mandalay Bay casino resort in Las Vegas.

Pacquiao has the passionate support of the Philippines, where he is a national hero, whereas Marquez represents the great and proud boxing tradition of old Mexico.

It is a collision of styles as well as cultures, with Pacquiao bringing a fast-paced and punches-flowing attack -- a typhoon blowing across the Pacific, as HBO's Larry Merchant once described him -- whereas Marquez has the classic, time-tested skills of a superb technician.

Their first fight, in Las Vegas four years ago, left a sense of unfinished business, with Marquez battling back from three first-round knockdowns to earn a bitterly hard-fought draw -- and a fight that many thought he won.

The encore has been a long time coming, but all good things are worth waiting for. This fight is no exception.

Though Marquez is defending the WBC super featherweight title, Pacquiao is widely seen as the world's best at 130 pounds.

The oddsmakers have made Pacquiao the clear favorite, which is understandable. At 29, he is the younger man by five years. The feeling in boxing circles is that he has improved since the first fight with Marquez and has become more of a two-handed fighter, jabbing and hooking with the right instead of relying so much on the big left hand that comes as fast as a bullet from his southpaw stance.

Marquez is seen as an aging fighter, although still a formidable one. He has been marking up facially more than was the case in the past, showing damage around the eyes even in fights he has dominated.

Lately, Marquez has become more of a fighter, as opposed to being a pure boxer -- more willing to go toe-to-toe and risk getting hit.

It could be said that this is because of a desire to be more exciting and to score knockouts.

The other view is that Marquez, after a 15-year career, has inevitably become slower and no longer is able to use the ring the way he once did.

Marquez, though, surely looked as good as he ever has when outclassing a game Rocky Juarez in his last fight. The left jab was working as beautifully as ever; the punches from both hands were fast and accurate, the combinations thrown with flawless form.

He will need more of the same if he is to prevail on Saturday.

The first fight with Pacquiao in 2004 was fought at featherweight. Pacquiao moved up to 130 pounds soon thereafter, while Marquez has had just two bouts in the super featherweight (or junior lightweight, if you prefer) weight class.

There is a perception, probably correct, that Pacquiao physically is the stronger man. In Marquez's mind, though, the rematch is coming at the right time. He has had a year he's used to grow into the 130-pound division. "I feel so strong, so prepared for this fight," Marquez said in a telephone conference last month.

Marquez told the listeners: "What people are going to see is a great fight. I'm going to put everything in the ring."

Yes, he agrees that Pacquiao has sharpened his skills, but he feels that, he, too, has improved, saying: "I have become better. I'm a better boxer, better fighter -- and it's going to be a totally different fight."

One thing that won't happen, he said, is another first round like the last one. His trainer, Ignacio Beristain, believes that Marquez was too relaxed, that things initially were going too smoothly for him. Then Pacquiao landed the left hand, Marquez went down, and suddenly the bright beginning had changed into a matter of simply surviving the opening round.

Marquez says that this time he will be alert and aware of the danger that Pacquiao brings, that he will be concentrating at every moment.

Pacquiao has demonstrated, though, that he can hurt Marquez and knock him down, which must give the Filipino fighter a lot of confidence.

Pacquiao may have erred tactically that night by focusing just a little too much on landing the big left hand, in the process getting picked off and outpointed as Marquez started his incredible rally from Round 2 onward.

This time, we can expect a much more consistent type of fight from Pacquiao, certainly one in which he uses the right hand as a weapon and not just as a flicking, pawing range finder.

Equally important, Pacquiao seems to have his mind solely on Saturday's fight, with no outside interests intruding.

Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach sounded very confident when speaking over the phone from his Los Angeles gym on Monday, saying: "Manny's in the best shape I've seen in him for a long time and he's very focused for this fight, no distractions whatsoever. He thought he won the first fight. He feels he didn't do enough for his country and was disappointed.

"He's really rededicated himself. No basketball in this camp, no pool playing, no gambling. He told me: 'This year it's going to be nothing but boxing.' Obviously I won't predict a knockout because Marquez is so tough, but we've got a good game plan and I think we'll take him out late in the fight."

As in the past when Pacquiao has faced a top Mexican boxer in Las Vegas, the arena is likely to be packed with flag-waving, banner-bearing fans from both the Philippines and Mexico, with chants of "Mexico, Mexico" and "Manny, Manny" cascading down from the upper reaches of the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

Pacquiao has been something of a destroyer of Mexican fighters, with the big wins over Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera as well as outclassing Oscar Larios and knocking out Jorge Solis in lower-profile bouts.

If Marquez can beat Pacquiao, it would be more than a marvelous moment on the personal level. The achievement would earn national acclaim.

Pacquiao, as ever, feels the weight of the Philippines on his muscular shoulders.

It is, then, a huge fight for both men. Making up my mind who I think might win has not been easy.

Last time, Marquez almost certainly would have won -- had it not been for the shocking start.

Pacquiao has improved, but Marquez knows what to expect this time. He will be relying on a tight defense and precision to counter Pacquiao's speed and explosiveness.

There is no question that Pacquiao is the puncher in the fight, but Marquez hits with enough authority to get respect: He can make his opponent pay a price for recklessness.

Marquez always has believed that he clearly won the first fight; he feels that Pacquiao won no more than two or three rounds after the first round. He sees himself as the better, more complete fighter, and despite the early ordeal it was Marquez who finished the stronger man in the first fight, winning Round 11 on two judges' scorecards and sweeping the 12th in the scoring.

If Marquez can avoid an early calamity on Saturday, get the jab and straight right hand to work and establish a foothold in the contest, he can win. If Marquez once again gets hurt at the beginning of the fight, however, I am not sure that he will be able to hold off Pacquiao this time.

The guess here is that Marquez will successfully negotiate the treacherous waters of the early rounds and begin to score points with his textbook boxing.

If so, it will come down to whether Marquez can keep boxing the perfect technical fight or whether the sudden, powerful surges of Pacquiao will break down his defenses.

I lean just a little bit toward Marquez upsetting the odds by boxing his way to a narrow decision win. He will have to box the fight of his life if he is to succeed, but I suspect he has it in him to do so.

Graham Houston is the American editor of Boxing Monthly and writes for FightWriter.com.