LAS VEGAS — The fact they're much bigger than when they first met eight years ago is undeniable. Both Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez have added bulk along with the pounds, and both have had to deal with those who suspect they didn't do it naturally.
The fighters aren't the only thing that's grown. So have the purses and the attention as they meet Saturday night for the fourth — and presumably last — time in the rivalry that has served both fighters so well.
Marquez will try once again to do what he hasn't been able to do in 36 evenly contested rounds against Pacquiao — get a decision from the ringside scorecards. At the age of 39, it's a fight that may mean more to his legacy than his future career, which is why it's a fight he seems almost desperate to win.
"All I ask is for the judges to be objective," Marquez said. "They need to really see what is happening in the ring instead of what they think might be happening in the ring."
Pacquiao is not as desperate, but he needs a win just as badly. He barely escaped with a majority decision over Marquez last November — a result that drew loud boos from the pro-Marquez crowd — and lost a widely panned decision to Timothy Bradley his last time out.
A loss to Marquez would not only confirm the whispers that he is slipping after 17 years as a pro, but perhaps derail for good any talk of a fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr. that would be boxing's richest ever.
"I have always been focused, but not like this fight," Pacquiao said. "There are no distractions in my mind. The family problems I had I don't have this time."
Neither fighter holds a title as they meet in a welterweight fight that will make both even richer. Pacquiao is expected to make more than $20 million by the time the pay-per-view receipts are totaled, while promoter Bob Arum said Marquez could make as much as $6 million.
It's a far cry from 2004, when Pacquiao and Marquez could barely fill half the arena, and the money they made would barely pay for one of their luxury cars today. The fight, though, was plenty intriguing, with Pacquiao coming off a win over Marco Antonio Barrera that announced his entry into boxing's elite and Marquez having stopped his last 11 opponents.
It seemed a mismatch when Pacquiao knocked his fellow 125-pounder down three times in the first round and Marquez barely survived to hear the bell. But the Mexican champion began a comeback in round 3, dominating the late rounds on his way to a disputed draw that foreshadowed what was to come in the years ahead.
All three fights — Pacquiao won the last two — were so close they could have gone either way. And had they gone the other way, boxing history may have changed.
Pacquiao might not have gotten the fight with Oscar De La Hoya that catapulted him to stardom in 2008 just nine months after beating Marquez in a split decision in their second fight. Marquez, meanwhile, might have become more than just an opponent getting rich off the names of fighters who will be judged better than him.
"My career maybe changed, and everything would be different," Marquez said. "But I feel great what happened in the past with Manny."
A fourth fight between two world class fighters is almost unheard of in a day when top fighters rarely enter the ring more than twice a year. Almost as astonishing is that they were spread out over eight years and five weight classes, yet Saturday night's fight will still be a pay-per-view event that will likely draw more than 1 million buys (HBO $59.95) across the country.
If the old rules of boxing applied, Pacquiao would be fighting a rematch with Bradley for the welterweight title he lost in June in what most watching thought was one of the worst decisions in recent years. But Bradley doesn't sell pay-per-views and Marquez does, so he's on the sidelines as Pacquiao and the Mexican opponent he knows so well battle for riches instead of a crown.
As is the norm in the sport, the fight needs some controversy to sell. This time it's about Marquez bulking up in ways a 39-year-old normally can't and the ties his strength coach has to steroid scandals of the past.
Angel Guillermo "Memo" Heredia provided track athletes like Marion Jones and Justin Gatlin with steroids and human growth hormone, only to escape prosecution in the BALCO case by agreeing to testify for the prosecution. He hotly denies using anything with Marquez, claiming his fighter has bulked up only because of an unorthodox strength and conditioning program he designed for him.
Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, said Marquez didn't look like a fighter who had naturally grown, prompting a threat of a lawsuit by Heredia and denials by Marquez himself.
"You can say anything you want but you have no proof," Marquez said. "Let's go together and I'll do any test you want."
Pacquiao, who himself was the target of suggestions by Mayweather's camp that he used something to grow, said he wasn't worried about it.
"Let's give him credit for hard work," Pacquiao said. "It's not about size, it's about how you function in the ring. I've been fighting bigger guys all my life."
TCU Jumps All Over Miss. State 71-61
Jarvis Ray scored Texas Christian's first two points on a pair of free throws with his shorts on backward.
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Wildcats Beat Ole Miss 61-58
Marcus Foster and Thomas Gipson scored 15 points each to lead Kansas State, and Marshall Henderson's go-ahead 3-point try with 2 seconds left missed everything, allowing the Wildcats to hang on for a 61-58 victory over Mississippi Thursday night.
Duke ready for FSU
David Cutcliffe learned under Bear Bryant, helped bring a national title to Tennessee and developed the Manning brothers into Super Bowl MVPs.
And his biggest coaching accomplishment might be guiding Duke — yes, Duke — to the ACC championship game.
No charges for Winston
Florida State quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Jameis Winston will not be charged with sexually assaulting a woman who accused him of raping her about a year ago, a prosecutor said Thursday.
Stephens calls 2013 defensive line ‘by far the best’
With all the talk centering around East Mississippi Community College’s prolific offense, which has averaged an eye-popping 63.2 points per game, it is easy to forget just how well its defense has played this season.
TSOUKALAS: Mindset crucial to EMCC run
The trip down I-45 to Scooba is one of the loneliest in the state. To get close to anything remotely resembling a big city requires at least a 40 minute drive — that’s if you count Meridian, Starkville and Columbus as big cities.
USM breaks losing streak, looks forward
Southern Mississippi's embarrassing losing streak that stretched more than 700 days, two head coaches and 23 excruciating games is finally history.
MHS sweeps past Wayne County
Two tradition rich hardwood rivals met Tuesday night in prep action, featuring the Meridian Wildcats and Wayne County War Eagles. However, it was Meridian coming away with a clean sweep on the night.
The Lady Wildcats beat the Lady War Eagles, 54-38, while the Wildcats whipped the Wayne County, 76-45.
Round up: Lady Tigers advance in East Central tourney
The Southeast Lauderdale girls basketball team advanced to semifinal in the East Central Tournament Tuesday night with a 69-36 win over Newton County.
Timarra Trussell led the way for the Lady Tigers with 28 points, while Shakira Shoemaker chipped in with 10 points. Caitlyn McCree led Newton County with 10 points.
Southeast improved to 5-1 on the season and will face Choctaw Central on Thursday at 4 p.m.
Fantasy forecast: It’s time for fantasy playoffs
The fantasy playoffs are finally here!
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