MANILA, February 14, 2004  (STAR) By Dante Navarro - Manny Pacquiao is just a signature away from formalizing his million-dollar clash against Juan Manuel Marquez as handlers of both fighters finally struck a deal for the staging of the keenly-awaited bout between two men boasting of some great boxing skills and solid power.

"Murad Muhammad (who promotes Pacquiao) and I made a deal subject to Pacquiao signing off on it and he’s coming into New York to sit down with Murad and the HBO guys," said Bob Arum, big boss of the controversial Top Rank Promotions Inc., in an interview with

Top Rank is the handler of Marquez, who owns the IBF and WBA 126-lb. titles.

Pacquiao, in his fifth – and highest-profile – bout in the United States, shocked Mexican featherweight king Marco Antonio Barrera with an 11th-round technical knockout last November in San Antonio, Texas in a stirring victory that instantly catapulted him to worldwide stardom.

He is set to leave for the US on Feb. 20 together with his business manager Rod Nazario to meet with top HBO officials and Muhammad of the New Jersey-based M&M Sports at HBO’s New York headquarters the next day to discuss the Filipino boxing superstar’s next bout.

The target date is on May 22 at a still undetermined venue.

Noted for his sturdy chin, Marquez boasts of a 42-2 win-loss record with 33 knockouts, while Pacquiao packs a 38-2-1 (win-loss-draw) mark with 30 KOs.

Arum also confirmed he is planning to put up a card to be headlined by the Barrera and one-time Ring Magazine "Fighter of the Year" Paulie Ayala this summer, with the winner likely to challenge next Pacquiao.

Before their US trip, Pacquiao and Nazario will grace the blessing and inauguration of RP’s counterpart of the famous Hollywood, California-based Wild Card Gym tomorrow. The state-of-the-art training facility, equipped with imported boxing equipment, is situated along President’s Avenue in BF Homes, Parańaque City.

The 24-year-old Pacquiao himself will take centerstage in the grand opening as the General Santos City native topbills an array of exhibition bouts, which will also feature the rising fighters from Antonio Aldeguer’s famed ALA Boxing Club in Cebu.

Pacquiao will spar with RP lightweight titleholder Fernando Montilla, while super flyweight prodigy Z Gorres, who is booked to fight former WBC International flyweight champion Randy Mangubat on Feb. 20 at the Makati Coliseum, will take on newly-crowned Philippine bantamweight champion Joel Bauya.

Mangubat will clash with Rey Bautista of the ALA Boys 4R, while the newest member of the New Generation ALA Boys, three-time national amateur champion Caesar Amonsot, will strut his wares against Pacquiao’s younger brother, Philippine super featherweight titlist Bobby Pacquiao.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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