MANILA, December 31, 2003  (BULLETIN) By Nick Giongco And Dennis Principe - A DEAL is currently in the works for the staging of a Manny Pacquiao-Marco Antonio Barrera rematch at the historic Araneta Coliseum in a sure-fire fight card that – if it pushes through — could be worthy of the stature of ‘Thrilla in Manila Part II.’

Sportsman Rudy Salud met with the Asian representative of Transcontinental Entertainment Inc. chairman Louis J. Pearlman Saturday at the EDSA Shangri-La Plaza Hotel in initial negotiations for the match tentatively set on the first week of April.

According to Salud, Pearlman is the architect behind celebrated boy bands ‘NSYNC, Backstreet Boys and teen sensation Britney Spears and wants to venture into boxing, not so much to make money as to prop up a tarnished image in the US.

The group approached Salud to handle the local end of the promotion on the recommendation of Freddie Roach, the American trainer who worked Pacquiao’s corner in the Filipino lefty’s five fights in the US. Roach is reportedly a close friend of Pearlman.

Pacquiao’s impressive 11-round demolition of Barrera has put him at the top of the list among the best featherweights in the world, and a rematch with the Mexican icon is one of the big-money fights being tossed on the Filipino’s camp.

There is an offer for Pacquiao to meet Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez, the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation featherweight champion, for $1 million.

Not to be outdone, another group associated with Roach is reportedly willing to cough up $1.5 million for a bout with Johnny Tapia.

“Kahit sino ang itapat mo sa akin lalabanan ko. Hindi ako namimili ng kalaban,” said Pacquiao, who along with business manager Rod Nazario is set to leave on Jan. 4 to begin separate negotiations for a match with the dangerous Marquez.

The GenSan native also is ready for a rematch with Barrera – regardless where it will be staged.

“Walang problema sa akin na makaharap ulit si Barrera. Kung gusto niya ay kahit doon sa lugar niya ay pupuntahan ko siya. Hindi ko siya aatrasan,” he said.

A Manila fight, though, would have several advantages for Pacquiao, since it would not only give him a chance to fight once more before his adoring countrymen – an opportunity the champ relishes — but would also have him earning more.

Salud said Murad Muhammad, Pacquiao’s American promoter, won’t be entitled to his usual hefty cut on the Filipino’s purse in a fight staged in Manila since Muhammad’s promotional rights is confined only in the United States.

Also, Philippine laws, particularly the Serafin Salvador law, exempts fight purses of world championship matches held in the Philippines from taxes.

Salud’s group has offered Pacquiao a tax-free purse of $800,000 – a figure Nazario is amenable to since his ward may end up with a smaller pay, after taxes and Muhammad’s cut, in a fight versus Marquez, even for a guaranteed $1 million windfall.

Still, insiders said the deal is a long way from being done. Salud’s group has reportedly asked Nazario for an extension.

A bigger challenge would be on putting up the money for the bout. The promoters may need R60 million for the purses of the two fights alone, assuming Barrera settles for half of Pacquiao’s guaranteed prize.

Pearlman has also been labeled a “scam artist” by the New York State Consumer Protection Board late this year after being accused of conning hopeful kids and their parents into spending up to $2,000 for a photo and email contact on his agency.

To protect Pacquiao’s rights, Salud has laid down a precondition asking Pearlman to deposit 10 percent of Pacquiao’s agreed fight purse of $800,000 to the boxer’s account. The $80,000 earnest money would be forfeited if the deal fails to push through.

Salud has given the group until morning today to agree to their terms before tackling concrete matters regarding the planned Pacquiao-Barrera rematch, which is penciled to take place 28 years after the epic Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier battle at the Big Dome.

In an apparent effort to tie up the planned card with the ‘Thrilla in Manila,’ Salud is reportedly trying to lure Laila Ali and Jacqui Frazier-Lyde to clash in a rematch in the same card.

The 26-year old Ali defeated Frazier-Lyde via an 8-round majority decision on June 8, 2001 in New York.

Even Roach prefers Pacquiao to fight a Barrera or a Tapia first before battling Marquez, said it would be foolhardly for Pacquiao to have two tough fights in a row when he can have an easy match and earn almost the same fight purse.

Roach also apparently wants Muhammad out of Pacquiao’s career and even threatened to quit as the Filipino’s trainer if the American promoter remains involved in Pacquiao’s future fights.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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