Pacquiao back in glove he loves, but is Morales?

Although Erik Morales won a close unanimous decision against Manny Pacquiao in March in one of the most action-packed fights of 2005, Pacquiao believed there would have been a different outcome had he been allowed to wear the brand of gloves he normally dons.

He prefers Reyes gloves, the Mexican-made brand with a reputation as a puncher's glove because the padding is distributed in such a way that the fighter's fist is not nearly as padded as it is in other brands.

Pacquiao (40-3-2, 31 KOs) has suggested that, had he been allowed to wear them, he would have knocked out Morales.

Japanese-made Winning brand gloves have the bulk of their padding near the fist, and Morales (48-3, 34 KOs) -- with a history of brittle hands -- prefers them.

However, before their March fight, Pacquiao's former promoter, Murad Muhammad, negotiated away Pacquiao's right to pick the brand of gloves he wanted to wear and gave Morales the choice. He picked Winning, which Pacquiao and trainer Freddie Roach later called "pillows."

With the junior lightweight stars poised to meet in a 12-round rematch dubbed "The Battle" on Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET) at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, the question of which gloves the fighters will wear has been settled, right?

Sort of.

The rematch contract allows each fighter to pick his own brand, and Pacquiao is all set to return to Reyes gloves, which helped him become one of the most devastating punchers in the lighter weight divisions.

"It was a distraction, and it was my first time using Winning gloves," Pacquiao said of the first fight. "I am very happy right now that I can use Reyes."

Roach, too, is happy Pacquiao will be back in the brand he is comfortable wearing.

"The Winning gloves, they are like pillows," Roach said. "They are not puncher's gloves, so they definitely have some effect on the punching power. And you know I think we will be much more comfortable going into the fight with the gloves we choose, and you know it will be one less distraction."

"We don't care what gloves Pacquiao wears," said Fernando Beltran, Morales' co-promoter. "He can wear anything he likes."

Morales' glove situation is not as settled as Pacquiao's.

Although it would figure that Morales would opt for Winning again, he has been coy in the prefight buildup about which mitts he would wear. When asked directly which brand he would use, Morales was evasive.

"You know, I think the gloves are just a side issue," said Morales, who is coming off a shocking upset decision loss to Zahir Raheem, whom he met at lightweight in September.

"It is not really important. I am going to be wearing gloves when I go into the ring, whether it be Winning, whether it be Reyes. You know it doesn't matter. The thing is for me to be physically ready, technically sound and be ready to give everyone a good effort. As long as people see a lot of leather, I don't think they care which names is on the gloves."

Morales, who replaced his father, Jose, with trainer Jose Luis Lopez Sr. after the loss to Raheem, said he used several different kinds of gloves during camp.

"I have been using three types of gloves in training to see how I adapt my hands to it," Morales said. "I have been using the Winning gloves. I have also been using Reyes and another Mexican brand. I have been trying them out. The problem is that every time I use a different kind of glove, I have to do my wraps different so I don't hurt my hands. So that is an inconvenience. So you know I would rather use just one brand and be done with it."

The question is, however, which brand will it be?

Around the ring
"FNF" returns: After a five-month hiatus to make room for college football and basketball on the television schedule, "Friday Night Fights" (ESPN2, 8 ET) returns this week with broadcasters Joe Tessitore and Teddy Atlas back calling the action from ringside and Brian Kenny as host of the studio segments.

The first of 30 "FNF" cards this year will be headlined by Valdemir Pereira (22-0, 15 KOs) vs. Phafrakorb Rakkiatgym (52-3, 33 KOs), who will meet for a vacant featherweight belt at the Foxwoods resort in Ledyard, Conn. They'll be vying for the title inexplicably stripped from division king Juan Manuel Marquez.

Joining Kenny in the studio will be lightweight contender Raheem, who will help preview the Morales-Pacquiao fight, a match he should be able to provide keen insight into, given that he pulled off a major upset in September when he defeated Morales.

Other "FNF" main events already scheduled include: Jan. 27, former junior middleweight titlist Kassim Ouma vs. Francisco Mora at Tucson, Ariz.; Feb. 3, junior lightweight Antonio Davis vs. Koba Gogoladze at Detroit; Feb. 10, junior welterweight Paulie Malignaggi vs. Donald Camerena at Ledyard, Conn.; Feb. 17, lightweight Delvin Rodriguez vs. Gilberto Reyes at Memphis, Tenn.; Feb. 24, junior welterweight Kendall Holt vs. TBA at Verona, N.Y.; March 3, junior welterweight Demetrius Hopkins vs. Julio Aquino at Philadelphia; March 17, welterweight Neil Sinclair vs. TBA at Boston; March 24, cruiserweight Dale Brown vs. Felix Cora Jr. at Hollywood, Fla.

ESPN2's "Wednesday Night Fights" -- which used to be "Tuesday Night Fights" -- premieres April 5 with the first of 18 cards in 2006.

However, although boxing will be back regularly on ESPN2, plans for an April ESPN pay-per-view event have been scrapped.

Artie Pelullo's Banner Promotions was prepared to move forward with a four-fight card that was to have included lightweight Acelino "Popo" Freitas vs. Julio Diaz, heavyweight Samuel Peter vs. Shannon Briggs and Israel Vazquez meeting Mahyar Monshipour for the undisputed junior featherweight title. However, just before finalizing the deal, ESPN decided against spending the roughly $2.25 million it had earmarked for the card, leaving its future in pay-per-view boxing up in the air.

Castillo's new opponent: Although Jose Luis Castillo's lightweight title rubber match with Diego Corrales was postponed until the spring last week when Corrales suffered a rib injury in training, Castillo still will fight Feb. 4 (Showtime, 9 ET/PT) in El Paso, Texas.

Castillo (53-7-1, 47 KOs) will take on Rolando Reyes (26-3-2, 16 KOs) in a bout with a contract weight of 137 pounds.

Showtime also has added a second bout to the telecast: lightweight Jose Armando Santa Cruz (21-1, 12 KOs) vs. Edner Cherry (19-3-2, 8 KOs) in a 12-rounder for Cruz's regional title.

Reyes, who has won 19 of his last 20 fights, is taking a big step up in competition when he faces the former two-time champion.

"This is as big, or bigger, than a world title fight, and I am going to win it," Reyes said. "This is a great opportunity for me, the kind I have been looking for my whole career. Castillo is a great champion, but this is my chance to shine."

Castillo said that although he is disappointed the Corrales fight has been delayed, he won't underestimate Reyes.

"Any time you fight a young, hungry opponent, you know it is not going to be an easy fight," Castillo said. "He is fighting for everything and has nothing to lose. I cannot afford to take anyone lightly because my future fights depend on me winning. For those reasons, I will continue training with the same intensity. I was very disappointed when I heard that I would not be able to fight Corrales on Feb. 4, but I understand that injuries happen. There is nothing anybody can do about it. I am looking forward to fighting Corrales again."

Diaz-Sim II: Lightweight titlist Juan Diaz's in-limbo rematch with mandatory challenger and former titlist Lakva Sim finally is slated. They'll meet March 3 (Fox Sports Net) at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, according to promoters Dan Goossen and Main Events.

"We've come to an agreement with Main Events, and the fight will happen right smack dab in the heart of Hollywood," Goossen told ESPN.com.

The fight gives Fox Sports Net's "Best Damn Sports Show Period" an HBO- or Showtime-quality main event to kick off the first of at least seven boxing dates in 2006.

In the co-feature, junior middleweight Vernon Forrest, the former welterweight champ, will face an opponent to be announced. Heavyweight Kirk Johnson also will appear on the card, and his bout will be taped, then televised the next week on FSN's "Sunday Night Fights," Goossen said.

Diaz defeated Sim in an action-packed fight in July 2004 to win the title. They were supposed to meet in a rematch this past December, but Sim suffered a training injury and the fight was postponed.

Next for Taylor: With negotiations for middleweight champ Jermain Taylor to face Winky Wright this spring falling apart, Sam Soliman has emerged as the favorite to face Taylor next, according to promoter Lou DiBella.

DiBella said Soliman's strong showing in a close decision loss to Wright last month made him an attractive opponent for Taylor.

HBO still is finalizing its spring calendar, but Taylor's next fight probably will take place in May. DiBella said he hoped to take the fight to Taylor's hometown of Little Rock, Ark., or Memphis, which is just a couple of hours by car from Little Rock.

The HBO co-feature could be a junior middleweight fight between former welterweight champs Ike Quartey and Forrest, who would have to win a March 3 bout and emerge healthy. HBO loves the fight, and DiBella said he is negotiating money with the network.

Goossen, who promotes Soliman, is hopeful his man will get the Taylor fight.

"I thought Soliman came out a winner in the Wright fight even if he didn't get the decision," Goossen said.

"I felt he did what he had to do and came away with his head up high and the fans thinking he pulled it out. He deserves another shot, whether it's against Winky or Jermain. Whoever he fights, he will be out there throwing punches and trying to win. If he gets the shot at Taylor, we are ready for the task."

Jones fired: Roy Jones Jr. has been fired by HBO as the network's No. 1 ringside analyst, effective immediately.

Jones' lack of commitment to attending production meetings has long been an issue, and HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg finally had enough.

"Roy was not able to give us the commitment we needed as a broadcaster," Greenburg said. "It was an issue of time, effort and preparation. He is still an active fighter."

Jones had been HBO's analyst on "World Championship Boxing" since taking over for George Foreman in 2004. Jones will be replaced by Emanuel Steward, who is moving up from junior varsity series "Boxing After Dark." Eventually, HBO plans to hire a second analyst to share duties with Steward, who will work fights with partners Jim Lampley and Larry Merchant.

Greenburg and producer Rick Bernstein are putting together an all-new broadcast team for "BAD," which is being revamped as a lower-budget, monthly series beginning in April.

Cotto goes home: Junior welterweight titlist Miguel Cotto (25-0, 21 KOs) will defend his title at home in San Juan, Puerto Rico, against Gianluca Branco (36-1-1, 19 KOs) of Italy on March 11 (HBO), promoter Top Rank announced.

It will be Cotto's first fight since scoring a seventh-round knockout of Ricardo Torres in their sensational September brawl. Branco is best known for giving Arturo Gatti a tough fight in a decision loss for a vacant 140-pound title in January 2004. Since his only defeat, Branco has won four fights in a row in Italy, all by knockout.

"I don't know much about Branco, but at this point in my career, all of my challengers are tough, come very prepared and I'm expecting a tough fight," Cotto said.

A victory by Cotto could pave the way for an eventual fight later this year against Jose Luis Castillo.

PPV undercard: With middleweight contender Kelly Pavlik's hand injury forcing him out of a match with former Mexican Olympian Jose Luis Zertuche (17-2-2, 13 KOs) on the Saturday night Morales-Pacquiao II pay-per-view card, Top Rank went on the hunt for a new opponent for Zertuche.

First, it was going to be Fernando Zuniga, but he declined. Ditto for Anthony Thompson, who decided he needed more money to take the fight. Now, Zertuche will face Marcos Primera (19-12-2, 12 KOs), who has faced outstanding competition, including Taylor, Kingsley Ikeke, Kofi Jantuah and Joshua Clottey.

Stop the insanity: Picking on the WBC is almost too easy these days. Here's another example of the sanctioning organization's shenanigans: Felix Trinidad, who has reiterated his retirement many times since losing a lopsided decision to Wright in May 2005, is ranked sixth in the newest WBC middleweight rankings. If that's not bad enough, how about this: He actually moved up one spot from last month.

Sturm returns: German middleweight contender Felix Sturm, who had to pull out of a Nov. 26 bout against minor titlist Maselino Masoe because of an elbow injury, is now healthy, and the fight has been rescheduled.

Sturm (24-1, 11 KOs), a former titlist whose only loss is a disputed decision against Oscar De La Hoya, will face Masoe (26-2, 25 KOs) on March 11 in Hamburg.

Also on the card: bantamweight champion Wladimir Sidorenko (18-0, 6 KOs), who will defend against an opponent to be named; heavyweight prospect Ruslan Chagaev (18-0-1, 15 KOs); and junior welterweight contender Andreas Kotelnik (24-2, 11 KOs).

Witter mandatory: Flashy European junior welterweight champ Junior Witter of England has been installed as the mandatory challenger for titlist Floyd Mayweather Jr. Witter was supposed to meet Italy's Branco in an elimination bout, but when Branco opted instead to challenge Cotto for his version of the 140-pound title March 4, the WBC followed through on its promise to make Witter the mandatory if Branco bypassed the eliminator.

Witter said he hopes Mayweather stays around to defend his 140 title against him rather than continuing to pursue fights at 147.

"I've given up predicting what fighters are going to do, but I hope Mayweather sticks around," Witter said. "Even though he is the toughest fight out there, I want him and genuinely believe I can beat him. I think he is a brilliant fighter and has grown into the light welterweight division much better than I thought he would do, but his chin still hasn't been tested by a proper puncher at the weight like me. I have been a light welterweight since I was 16."

Quick hits:

• Having completed his shoot on the new "Rocky" movie, light heavyweight king Antonio Tarver is beginning to explore options for his next fight. But with no huge-money heavyweight fight in the offing -- despite persistent rumors of a match with Mike Tyson -- one possibility being discussed would be for Tarver to move to cruiserweight to face Vassiliy Jirov, the former champion who would come back to the division from heavyweight. The hook: Jirov defeated heavily favored Tarver in the 1996 Olympics on his way to winning a gold medal. Tarver ended up with a bronze. The fight probably would be easy to make if that is the direction Tarver decides to go because he and Jirov are both managed by Alan Haymon.

• Welterweight Joel Julio, the 2005 ESPN.com prospect of the year, will fight an opponent to be named in an eight-round bout on the Feb. 25 Vargas-Mosley undercard. However, HBO Sports' Greenburg is refusing to allow a fourth fight on the HBO PPV telecast, depriving viewers who will have anted up $44.95 from seeing one of the most exciting up-and-comers in the sport. Julio looked sensational in his 2006 debut, brutally knocking out Robert Kamya on Jan. 6 on Showtime.

• Two-time heavyweight title challenger Fres Oquendo (24-3, 15 KOs) will end a 22-month layoff Feb. 16 when he fights on promoter DiBella's "Broadway Boxing" card in New York. Oquendo, whose opponent will be determined, lost a razor-close decision to Chris Byrd in a 2003 title fight and was stopped in the 11th round by then-titlist John Ruiz on April 17, 2004. After the Ruiz bout, Oquendo split from promoter Don King and signed with DiBella.

• There will be many welterweights calling for a shot at new champion Carlos Baldomir, but Clottey (28-1, 18 KOs) was the first, and probably is one of the most deserving. Clottey has won nice consecutive bouts since his lone loss, a highly controversial 11th-round disqualification loss to Baldomir on Nov. 29, 1999. Without a previous warning, Clottey was DQ'd for a low blow in a fight he was dominating. DiBella, who promotes Clottey, wants to see him get an opportunity for revenge. "Since his loss to Baldomir, Joshua has come back with a vengeance," DiBella said. "His loss to Baldomir was a disputed disqualification. Joshua was disqualified in the eleventh round when he had not received a single warning for any infraction the entire fight, and he deserves a rematch."

• Former two-time junior middleweight champ Fernando Vargas, perhaps eyeing an acting career when his boxing days are over, makes his big-screen debut this month. Vargas plays the role of kidnapper Tiko "TKO" Martinez in the movie "Alpha Dog," which premieres Jan. 28 as the closing film of the 2006 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The movie stars Justin Timberlake, Bruce Willis and Sharon Stone and is based on the true story of Jesse James Hollywood, a drug dealer who became one of the youngest men to appear on the FBI's "Most Wanted" list. If you miss the movie, you also can catch Vargas in his Feb. 25 showdown against fellow former champ Sugar Shane Mosley.

• Former two-time heavyweight titlist Ruiz has petitioned the WBA for an immediate rematch with Nicolay Valuev, who won a majority decision and the title from Ruiz in December. "I enjoyed everything about our trip to Germany other than the decision," Ruiz said. "The German people were great to me. I deserve a rematch and would fight him again in Germany if I had to. I remember thinking midway through the fight that it was the easiest fight I'd had in a long time. I couldn't believe it when the decision was announced. The fans in Germany booed the decision. I felt I won the fight. You're supposed to take the title from the champion; they gave it to him. I'll continue fighting until I feel it's time for me to retire. I'll retire on my terms. Right now, I'm looking forward to my next fight and want it to be for the title against Valuev."

• Heavyweight contender David Tua won a legal victory in his ongoing battle with former managers Kevin Barry and Martin Pugh. A New Zealand court has ruled that Tua's contract with the duo ended in 2003 and that he does not have to pay them a share of any of his earnings since then, according to reports in the New Zealand media. Tua, who had two fights last year after a two-year layoff during which he was heavily involved in the legal proceedings, is due to fight again Feb. 24 on a Warriors Boxing pay-per-view card in Hollywood, Fla.

• One of Asian boxing's most heated recent rivalries will be renewed when bantamweight titlist Hozumi Hasegawa (19-2, 6 KOs) of Japan meets the man he took the title from, Veerapol Sahaprom (51-2-2, 36 KOs) of Thailand, on March 25 in Japan. Hasegawa ended Veerapol's nine-plus year, 45-fight unbeaten streak when he won the title via unanimous decision in April. Hasegawa feels he needs to repeat his victory to prove he is a real champion. "I feel like I've rented the championship belt for a while," he told a Japanese news agency. "It will be completely mine after winning this match."

Quotable: "He's going to go down. I'm going to put the pain on him, that's what I'm going to do. I could win a decision, but I will knock him out." -- James Toney, bragging about what he will do when he challenges heavyweight titlist Hasim Rahman on March 18 in Atlantic City, N.J.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.