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Marquez an appetizer to Pretty Boy-Pacquiao main dish
Lyle Fitzsimmons


By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - He's a reigning WBA and WBO world champion at lightweight.

Previously, he's held WBC hardware at 130 pounds and both WBA and IBF jewelry at 126 pounds.

But Juan Manuel Marquez became something else entirely on Saturday.

A tune-up fighter.

With the midday announcement of Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s return from a brief retirement and the evening's concussive crowning of Manny Pacquiao as the IBO's junior welterweight champion, the 35-year-old Mexican - a pro since 1993 - instantly became an afterthought.

Oh sure, he'll face Mayweather in the "Pretty Boy's" comeback bout somewhere between 140 and 147 pounds, but he'll enter that fight as the last inconvenient obstacle to the event the sport is suddenly salivating over - a pound-for-pound summit between Mayweather and Pacquiao.


Floyd Mayweather Jr. announced his return from a brief retirement.
And as I wrote here last week...I couldn't be happier about it.

No offense to ol' JMM. He's obviously been a quality pro and I'm happy that he'll finally be getting a chance to ring the cash register a few times by stepping in with Floyd. But anything short of a cut-free, injury-free win for Mayweather is the last thing anyone needs.

I know the first two matches with Pacquiao have been classics. I know some very credible people believe Marquez won at least one - if not both - of them. And I know that if they were to get together again, he would have a real chance at toppling the Filipino phenomenon.

But the only truth that matters is that no one else would care.

Outside of hardcore fans on this site and others like it, it takes something more than a simple boxing match with two quality principals to generate the interest needed to drive pay-per-view buzz from merely pedestrian to certifiably stratospheric.

Sorry folks, but Marquez doesn't provide that against Pacquiao.

Love him or loathe him, Mayweather does.

Much like the New York Yankees in baseball, Notre Dame in football and Jeff Gordon in stock car racing, the charmingly villainous Mayweather provides an instant element of polarity that will separate one fan from another in a match against the sport's newest superstar.

And while hardcores will tune in without prejudice to see the sublime elements of Mayweather's defense and the "Pacman's" multi-layered violence, the remaining masses may watch just to see the "Pretty Boy" - like the Yankees, the Fighting Irish and No. 24 car - get what's coming to him.

To me, it's in roles like these where Mayweather truly shines.

Aside from being the top fighter in the world upon his exit - having dispensed with reigning/recent champions Hatton, De La Hoya, Baldomir and Judah in his last four fights - Mayweather also shows a knack for crowd incitement that puts him on another level of villainy.

His regal entrance amid thousands of jeering fans in Arturo Gatti's seaside backyard a few years back was the stuff of genius, preceding a six-round beatdown that he'd promised all along while referring to his popular foe as a club fighter and the product of preferential TV coverage.

Add to it a mariachi-playing, sombrero-wearing ring walk against Baldomir and a series of money-tossing "make it rain" scenes during 24/7 run-ups to the De La Hoya and Hatton wins, and you've got exactly the stuff that made old-school pro wrestlers like Ric Flair and Roddy Piper rich men.

The more they hate you, the more they'll pay to see you.

And the more they hate him - in Mayweather's case - the better he fights.

But lest we forget, the "Pretty Boy" has a good side as well. He portrayed himself as a champion of battered women before a KO of later-convicted domestic abuser Diego Corrales in 2001, and has since crossed over to mainstream with a turn on "Dancing With the Stars" and an AT&T commercial.

In fact, it wasn't all that long ago when Bob Arum - who dared Mayweather on Saturday night to accept a fight with Pacquiao - was instead singing his praises, claiming he was "better than Sugar Ray Leonard" and, in the words of Sports Illustrated, "a meal ticket more nourishing than De La Hoya."

Now Manny, it seems, has become that flavor of the month.

Not surprisingly, resident HBO codger Larry Merchant had a spot at Pacquiao's banquet table, too.

Showing Arum's flair for revisionist history, Merchant unleashed a signature anti-Mayweather tangent during Saturday's broadcast, choosing to dismiss an 18-0 record in championship fights and title belts in five divisions as merely the product of a "smart" fighter.

Smart, that is, in knowing whom to fight and when, as opposed to the rugged, "I can lick any man in the house" boasts of Merchant's late 19th century contemporary - John L. Sullivan.

Of course, the pithy jab falls short of target when it's recalled that Merchant's Saturday example - Shane Mosley - actually pulled back from a fight with Floyd in 2006, and said recently that he'd prefer a match with the Pacquiao-Hatton winner to meeting Mayweather right away.

Not sure what Larry thinks, but to me that's pretty, ummm...smart.

Meanwhile, after sitting for what'll be more than 18 months, Floyd comes back not to meet a bottom feeder or a fringe contender as an appetizer - but a reigning world champion who's a three-division belt-holder and the consensus choice as No. 2 pound-for-pound in the world.

And if he wins, all that follows for an entree is No. 1 P4P'er Pacquiao, who twice struggled to digest that same appetizer before picking more stylistically tasty - read: smart - dishes in David Diaz, Oscar De La Hoya and Hatton.

As I'll gladly point out to Merchant and his "Mayweather Hate Squad" pals, Floyd's not Diaz or Hatton.

He, too, left Ricky's carcass in an overmatched heap 18 months ago.

And the last two times Manny was in against an elite guy not coming right at him, three of six judges said he didn't win.

If Larry and Co. can reason out of those realties, I'd love to hear it.

And while I'll concede that Pacquiao's rare combination of speed and power present a challenge unique to any Mayweather's faced, it's far less daunting than what Merchant figures to endure while summoning the nerve to do the post- fight interview with a victorious arch enemy.

"So Floyd" nice win, but why exactly are you ducking Klitschko?"

* * * * * * * * *

This week's title-fight schedule:

IBF/IBO light heavyweight title - Las Vegas, Nev.

Chad Dawson (champion) vs. Antonio Tarver (No. 4 IBF/No. 4 IBO contender)

Dawson (27-0, 17 KO): First dual title defense; Beat Tarver by decision in October

Tarver (27-5, 19 KO): Former IBF/IBO/WBC/WBA champion; Seven wins in 11 title fights (7-4)

FitzHitz says: Dawson by decision

Last week's picks: 2-1 (66.7%) Overall picks record: 89-35 (71.8%)

Lyle Fitzsimmons is a 20-year veteran of sports journalism, a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a periodic contributor to "The Drive with Dave Smith" on KLAA radio (am830klaa.com) and "Cold Hard Sports" on the MVN network (coldhardsports.com). Reach him via e-mail at fitzbitz@msn.com.

Jabs, hooks or knockouts, Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com.

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