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If pair wins earlier fights, December rematch on tap

Junior lightweights Erik Morales and Manny Pacquiao, who waged a sensational brawl in March, are steamrolling toward a rematch.

The two action stars will fight separate 12-round bouts Sept. 10 on an HBO card to be followed by a December rematch, as long as they both win, Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said on Tuesday.

Morales (48-2, 34 KOs) will face 1996 U.S. Olympian Zahir Raheem (27-1, 16 KOs), who recently signed with Top Rank. Pacquiao (39-3-2, 30 KOs) will face Hector Velazquez (41-10-2, 30 KOs). Both matches have been approved by HBO.

Arum said the Sept. 10 card will take place at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. He said a press conference to make it official is being planned for Aug. 4 in Los Angeles.

There had been talk that Morales and Pacquiao would headline a second doubleheader on HBO PPV in December before staging a rematch in March 2006. However, HBO wanted the rematch this year and Arum agreed.

If Morales and Pacquiao both win, the rematch probably will be Dec. 10 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, which has an option on the fight after hosting their first bout on March 19. Morales won a close, unanimous decision -- 115-113 on all three scorecards.

Pacquiao co-manager Shelly Finkel said that he had worked out a deal with Top Rank for Pacquiao's participation on both cards, and that it was a go.

"We're happy with it," Finkel said.

Last week, Pacquiao gained an $800,000 settlement and his promotional freedom from Murad Muhammad while a jury was deliberating his claims that Muhammad had stolen money from his recent purses.

Velazquez's appearance on Sept. 10 depends upon him winning a fight Friday night, when he faces Aldo Valtierra (22-7, 12 KOs) in Chicago in the main event of a Telefutura card.

Raheem is scheduled for an eight-rounder on July 22 in Phoenix on the untelevised portion of a Telefutura card, but Arum said he would pull him off the show.

Arum defended the choice of Velazquez, a journeyman fighter who landed the bout with Pacquiao over other suggested opponents such as former junior lightweight title holder Yodsanan Nanthachai and shopworn former featherweight champ Kevin Kelley.

"He's had four straight wins and hasn't [been knocked out] in eight years," Arum said. "It'll be a good fight, two tough guys, a Filipino against a Mexican."

Velazquez's most notable victory was a 2002 split decision against former featherweight titlist Guty Espadas, who Morales has beaten twice.

Raheem's only loss came in his biggest fight last summer, a decision to top featherweight contender and 2000 U.S. Olympic silver medalist Rocky Juarez.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.