Pacquiao, Marquez set for third go-round

A smile. A wave. A kiss blown into the crowd.

This is how Manny Pacquiao does it. He may fight for a living, but he is every bit the charmer, every ounce a showman.

He loves what he does, which is one reason so many people flock to him and to his bouts like fawning children — to see him raise his arms in triumph. They always come for that.

He’s back in Las Vegas, and so are his countless fans, who have come with great expectations. Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez will collide for the third, and presumably last, time in their careers after two earlier slugfests provided controversial decisions.

Pacquiao is a lopsided 9:1 betting favorite, although no one would foolishly call him a slam dunk to win. Filipino money is undoubtedly in his corner, but Marquez is bigger and stronger this time around, and he’s buoyed by his belief that he should have won the first two fights, one of which was ruled a draw and the other a Pacquiao victory by one point.

At Friday’s weigh-in, witnessed by several thousand fans who entered the arena for free, Marquez (53-5-1, 39 knockouts) was an impressively ripped 142 pounds, two pounds under the contracted limit. Pacquiao (53-3-2, 38 KOs) weighed 143, but looked smaller and not as broad as his opponent.

Pacquiao’s corner is fine with that. Earlier this week, trainer Freddie Roach said he hoped Marquez would be bigger because it means he will be eager to mix it up with the quicker, explosive Pacquiao.

"Let’s face it, when you put muscle on, you put it on for one reason and that’s to exchange (punches)," Roach said. "I like that. If he wants to exchange with us, I think that’s great."

But the added bulk comes with controversy. Marquez’s strength and conditioning coach during his training camp was Angel "Memo" Heredia, who has acknowledged providing performance-enhancing drugs to a number of elite athletes from 1997 to 2004. Heredia, who was previously known as Angel Hernandez, was given immunity from prosecution for his alleged drug distribution by cooperating with the feds.

Heredia’s work with Marquez wasn’t discovered until Victor Conte, the man at the center of the BALCO controversy, saw Heredia on a recent broadcast of HBO’s "24/7" program.

Marquez’s attitude about Heredia: So what?

"I knew that he trained many elite athletes before I met him," Marquez said. "We talked about what I needed to do, and I was very happy about what he told me I needed to do. He’s a very professional guy, and we work well together."

Marquez, a noted counter-puncher, put on about 10 pounds for this fight, but there’s no guarantee it will make him better in the ring. He has fought at more than 140 only once, and that turned out to be a one-sided unanimous-decision loss to Floyd Mayweather, Jr. in 2009.

"I think this fight Marquez will fight me toe-to-toe," Pacquiao said this week. "We know the style Marquez likes to fight and that’s his style."

The first time they met, in 2004, the weight limit was 126 pounds. Four years later, they were up to 130. While Pacquiao has had no trouble moving up and has fought at 144 or higher in each of his past four bouts, Marquez looked slow and plodding against Mayweather.

"That fight with Mayweather, obviously he was a defensive fighter with long arms — a difficult guy to fight," Marquez said. "He doesn’t really exchange, and you have to take the fight for what it was."

He insists a third bout with Pacquiao is what he has always wanted. He even wore a T-shirt with the words "We were robbed" stenciled across the front when he traveled to the Philippines recently to promote the fight, implying there was unfinished business.

Roach said Pacquiao felt slighted by the stunt, but he shouldn’t have. He has his adoring fans and his guaranteed $22 million for the pay-per-view show. Marquez will receive a guaranteed $5 million.

If Marquez believes he won the first two fights, he can put an exclamation point on the trilogy Saturday night by winning. It’s that simple.

"That’s why we are doing this third fight," he said. "The first two were very close, and this fight should end all doubt. We’re not the only ones saying we won the fights. There are a lot of fans and media out there saying the same thing."

Well, not the fans who attended the weigh-in. They were overwhelmingly in Pacquiao’s corner. When he smiled and blew them a kiss, they swooned as one.

He seemed to be enjoying himself. Asked afterward what he enjoyed about stripping down to his boxer shorts and standing on a scale in front of thousands, he motioned to the crowd.

"I like the fans screaming," he said.

Now all he has to do is give them what they want. That’s the hard part.