Marquez an appetizer for fans who want Pacquiao-Mayweather

From Las Vegas — Boxing will give its fans another nice appetizer Saturday night. Promoter Bob Arum, a master of such things, has kept hamburger sliders as a mainstay on his fight menu.

Manny Pacquiao, the world’s current top fighter, both in the ring and in fans’ perception, will take on Juan Manuel Marquez at the MGM Grand Garden. They will fight at 144 pounds, a catchweight and a concept that is becoming the norm in making big fights. The WBO welterweight title is at stake, but the only people who care about that are the WBO sanctioning people, who are here on expense accounts.

This has been an easy promotion for Arum. There are multiple story lines.


PHOTOS: Pacquiao vs. Marquez weigh-in

This will be the third fight between Pacquiao and Marquez. Boxing loves trilogies. Rubber matches seem to bring with them a finality that speaks to sports fans.

This one isn’t exactly a rubber match, but it’s close. Pacquiao fought Marquez to a draw in 2004, then won a close decision in 2008. After the second fight, Marquez, a Mexican, flew to Pacquiao’s country, the Philippines, and walked around wearing and passing out T-shirts that read: “We Were Robbed,” and “Marquez Beat Manny Pacquiao Twice.”

Pacquiao never said so publicly, but those close to him say he was offended. His trainer, Freddie Roach, said Pacquiao considered Marquez’s actions “a slap in the face.” When Pacquiao got to Roach’s Wild Card Gym in West Hollywood to begin his training, Roach pasted a picture behind the speed bag of Marquez wearing the T-shirt.

Marquez shrugs off any view of that as bulletin-board inspirational material for Pacquiao.

“Our goal was to get him to give us a third fight,” Marquez said. “And here we are.”

There are other story lines, such as Marquez’s apparent attempt to sacrifice speed for strength by bulking up under the direction of a new strength coach, who, unfortunately for the image of Marquez, has been involved in documented distribution of performance-enhancing drugs to a dozen or so athletes, most of them in track and field.

The Pacquiao camp, which has undergone similar scrutiny over the apparent ease with which Pacquiao has gone from a 106-pound fighter at the start of his career to somebody who also fights effectively against opponents at 150, has taken the high road on the Marquez drug story.

Asked to comment, Roach said, “I’m tired of that crap. You work hard, you get in shape, you fight well, and then all you hear is that. I won’t do that to them.”

Other pre-fight discussion has centered on the assessment that Pacquiao was essentially a one-handed boxer both times he faced Marquez. Now, with ensuing victories against bigger, stronger fighters the likes of, in order, David Diaz, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Joshua Clottey, Antonio Margarito and Shane Mosley, there seems little doubt that only a big left hand would not have been enough. He knocked out Hatton, won on TKO’s against Diaz, De La Hoya, and Cotto and demolished Clottey, Margarito and Mosley in 12-round decisions.

The people who set the gambling lines here, and who cannot afford to be swayed by hype, had Pacquiao an 8-1 favorite. The financial split also says a lot. Pacquiao will get $22 million, Marquez $5 million. Plus, each will get a percentage of the ever-lucrative HBO pay-per-view deal, which costs mom and pop at home $54.95.

The fight sold out in two weeks, and this one — unlike most in which attendance figures are the figment of a promoter’s imagination — seems like a real paid packed house. The New York Times quoted one ticket broker as estimating the average ticket price as $1,044.

There is the ever-present parade of Pacquiao promotions: He has his own line of perfume (Scent of the Champion), his own line of produce (Feeding Our Future Champions), his own musical recordings (“Sometimes When We Touch”). He sings on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and even does a long interview for a CNN segment with Piers Morgan. Arum added to that with a four-page pullout section in Friday’s USA Today that spoofed the Manila Bulletin, splashing Pacquiao stories all over.

At fight time in Las Vegas, Pacquiao is as omnipresent as slot machines.

But not to be lost in all this is the reality that this is still a lot of wine tasting. The main course lives right down the road, but so far, Floyd Mayweather Jr., is not coming to dinner. That is the fight everybody wants to see, a match for which boxing wouldn’t have to pay for four-page sections, because every newspaper would want to do its own.

Arum likes Mayweather and his people the way Rick Perry likes presidential debates.

Arum wants the fight for all the obvious reasons, including money. But he also knows that it may never happen, that deals like that come hard. So he always has a lurking alternative for Pacquiao. This time, it is unbeaten Tim Bradley, a new member of Top Rank’s stable. He will fight an aging, crafty Joel Casamayor in the main undercard bout, and a Bradley victory, especially an impressive one, could validate a sales pitch for a Pacquiao fight in the spring.

In the midst of all this, Mayweather advisor Leonard Ellerbe announced that May 5 would bring a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight. Nobody was quite sure where that came from.

Roach responded, “Ellerbe’s a gofer. What does he know?”

Arum said, “There can’t be a fight until they pick up the phone and ask to negotiate. That hasn’t happened.”

So, until such time as Pacquiao-Mayweather actually takes place, boxing fans will keep on nibbling.

PHOTOS: Pacquiao vs. Marquez weigh-in