MANILA, January 3, 2004  (STAR) By Dante Navarro - With his dream million-dollar bout against Juan Manuel Marquez remaining just like that — a dream — and brilliant trainer-coach Freddie Roach deciding to step out of his prized fighter’s way, 2004 seems not to be too encouraging for Manny Pacquiao after a superb campaign last year.

In fact, he found himself beaten by James Toney, the man who blitzed the world’s best cruiserweight – Vassiliy Jirov – before humbling aged heavyweight legend Evander Holyfield, for the SecondsOut’s Fighter of the Year award.

Sure, Pacquiao’s a cinch to cop HBO’s own Fighter of the Year and Upset of the Year titles for his stunning, if impressive 11th round demolition of Mexican legend Marco Antonio Barrera at the Alamodome last November. But the chain of events leading to the new year has somehow hinted at the coming of a struggling year for the Filipino boxing champion.

After announcing, with pride and excitement, his upcoming fight with Marquez, where he is supposedly assured of $1 million in prize money, in Subic three weeks ago, the 25-year-old General Santos native now found himself out in the cold when it was reported that Top Rank chief Bob Arum told Marquez to first fight Armenian William Abelyan in February.

It was this Marquez bout which Roach resented, forcing the latter to abandon Pacquiao, whom he transformed into one devastating, fighting machine.

Roach also cited his disappointment with how handlers have handled Pacquiao’s career, particularly US agent Murad Muhammad, who he said had been taking advantage of the Filipino fighter.

"The thing is, when Manny found out what he was making in his last fight, he was really upset. He came to me and asked me if I could help him. He said, ‘coach can you help me because they’re stealing all my money?’ quoted Roach as saying.

Adding to Pacquiao’s woes is the decision of former WBC secretary-general and boxing patron Rudy Salud to withdraw from the ongoing negotiations to stage Pacquiao’s next fight here in Manila.

"In view of suspicions surrounding the recent fights of (Manny) Pacquiao, we have deemed it prudent to disengage from on-going negotiations to stage Pacquiao’s next fight in Manila which was anchored on our desire to help our country overcome its negative international image which we believe is unfair to our people and also to give Pacquiao’s countrymen a chance to see their hero in action," Salud said.

He added: "I wish to thank Mr. Louis Pearlman, (Freddie) Roach and Rod Nazario (business manager of Pacquiao) for their trust and confidence in me."

Salud indicated he would be "willing to resume discussions provided all parties concerned first settle their differences."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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