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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Manny Pacquiao could have the boxing market cornered

Reporting from Las Vegas -- Manny Pacquiao prides himself as a smart businessman who knows how to play poker. Let future opponents beware: He walked out of the MGM Grand casino-hotel this weekend with a stack of chips.

A record-tying world title in a sixth division. A fourth consecutive victory in a different weight class. And a one-sided performance in a major fight that, compared to the Tyson-Spinks mauling and George Foreman's "Down goes Frazier!" triumph, has given Pacquiao unprecedented power in mapping his immediate fighting future.

The best pound-for-pound fighter in the world coming off a second-round knockout victory like that in a lucrative junior-welterweight championship bout against Ricky Hatton? That creates perks.

After the first major bout of the post-Oscar De La Hoya era, Pacquiao is now the man. He is empowered to pick who he wants to fight, when he wants to fight them, and at what weight.

The handful of opponents before him includes Pomona's world welterweight champion Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto, unbeaten lightweight champion Edwin Valero, Mexico's popular Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and unbeaten and recently unretired Floyd Mayweather Jr.

The problem with Mayweather is that he signed Friday to fight Mexico's Juan Manuel Marquez on July 18. The move surprised the Pacquiao camp, who say they are unlikely to rest until the super-fight.

"A busy fighter is a good fighter, we're not going to wait around," Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach said. "Mayweather just had to wait one day and this fight could've happened. I think he's scared of Manny."

Privately, the Pacquiao camp said Mayweather Jr. harmed his leverage in future Pacquiao negotiations -- perhaps for a bout early next year -- by agreeing to fight Marquez in a bout expected to struggle for pay-per-view buys.

Meanwhile, the buzz around Pacquiao (49-3-2, 36 knockouts) intensified after he knocked down Hatton three times, including a highlight-reel left hook that flattened Hatton with one second left in the second round.

Pacquiao, 30, is in peak shape, showcasing ring smarts that have caught up to his speed and punching power. He's better than even those closest to him think. Pacquiao business manager Michael Koncz said before the fight that he bet at the sports book that his fighter would knock out Hatton in three to six rounds.

Roach, for the second consecutive fight, ended the night urging a Pacquiao victim to retire. De La Hoya did, and Hatton should, too, Roach said. "He had a great career, but knockouts like that aren't good for people."

Hatton's promoter Richard Schaefer said Hatton "never mentioned retirement" in a post-fight discussion.

Meanwhile, Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank said, "I have something special in history here, an athlete who's improving every fight. He's like a grand painting."

The next stroke, Arum said, is to have Pacquiao film a movie in the Philippines, then travel to New York in June to pick up his 2008 fighter-of-the-year award and watch Cotto's welterweight title defense against Joshua Clottey. The Pacquiao camp will then huddle to select a new foe.

"Manny will fight anybody. He says, 'Whoever, whatever, no problem, I just do what my coach [Roach] wants me to do,' " Arum's matchmaker, Bruce Trampler, said. "Freddie knows. He thinks about this stuff all the time."

So it's noteworthy that Roach first mentioned Mosley as a future opponent. "As a fan, that's the fight I'd most want to see," Roach said.

Mosley congratulated Pacquiao late Saturday, then quickly lobbied to get that fight while knowing Top Rank could be tempted business-wise to match Pacquiao against Cotto, a Top Rank fighter. Trampler said assuredly there's no such conspiracy theory in play.

"Let's get it done," Mosley said. "I don't see a reason they'd want to fight Cotto when I'm the champion who beat [Antonio] Margarito, who beat Cotto. It'd be a classic fight [against Pacquiao]. We both have good hand speed and power and I think that fans want to see the best fight the best."

Team Pacquiao, however, doesn't want to fight either Mosley or Cotto at the welterweight limit of 147 pounds, and would demand that either move down to a catch-weight bout of 143 pounds, said Roach.

"We can talk," Mosley said.

First, it'll be up to Team Pacquiao to make the call.


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