MANILA, February 28, 2004  (STAR) By Joaquin Henson - Fresh from negotiating a Home Box Office (HBO) multi-fight package deal in New York City, uncrowned world featherweight boxing champion Manny Pacquiao and business manager Rod Nazario arrived here yesterday morning on board a Philippine Airlines flight from San Francisco.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed but Pacquiao’s US promoter Murad Muhammad said the agreement was in seven figures, making the Filipino southpaw a millionaire.

No contract was signed when Pacquiao, Nazario and Muhammad met for two hours with HBO president for sports Ross Greenburg, vice president for sports Kery Davis and vice president for programming Xavier James in the network’s New York City office last Monday.

But Nazario said HBO pledged to support Pacquiao’s quest to become a marquee fighter on the network. The commitment from HBO guarantees a spot for Pacquiao in its calendar starting May 22 against International Boxing Federation (IBF) and World Boxing Association (WBA) featherweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez of Mexico. Nazario said the HBO agreement may extend up to three fights depending on Pacquiao’s progress.

Muhammad said his goal is to turn Pacquiao into another Oscar de la Hoya whose pay-per-view status is a sure ticket to a multi-million dollar purse in each fight.

After the two-hour meeting in Davis’ ninth floor office, the group continued the conference during a 1 1/2 hour lunch on the 14th floor of the HBO building. In all, the HBO visit took 3 1/2 hours. Pacquiao proudly walked out of the office in an HBO Sports black leather jacket with the glittering inscription–"Building Legends, One Round At A Time"–on the back. The jacket was among a bagful of merchandise he was given by the HBO hosts.

From the HBO office, Muhammad brought Pacquiao and Nazario to pay a courtesy call on IBF president Marian Muhammad at the 6,000 square foot IBF headquarters in East Orange, New Jersey. They drove in a sleek white stretch limousine.

Pacquiao was warmly received by the IBF president who said she toured Manila and listened to former First Lady Imelda Marcos sing during a Malacañang visit in 1985. The IBF chief executive said she will send Pacquiao his diamond-studded championship ring via express mail in a week. The ring is given to an IBF champion with a record of at least four successful title defenses. Since dethroning Lehlo Ledwaba as IBF superbantamweight champion in 2001, Pacquiao repulsed challengers Agapito Sanchez, Jorge Eliecer Julio, Fahprakorb Rakkiat-gym and Emmanuel Lucero. He went on to stop Marco Antonio Barrera for the people’s world featherweight title then relinquished the IBF 122-pound championship.

Muhammad told the IBF president that Pacquiao’s exit from the IBF was only temporary as on May 22, he will be back as the new IBF featherweight champion with a WBA belt, too. "We’re looking forward to it," said Marian Muhammad. "We love Manny. We love the way he fights. He brings honor to his country and the Filipino people."

Pacquiao autographed a huge golden boxing glove at the IBF office and posed for pictures with Marian Muhammad, her assistant Mahasin Scott and Championships Committee chairman Lindsey Tucker.

It was Tucker who told Nazario that Pacquiao would be approved as a challenger for Marquez in their proposed May 22 fight on HBO. Muhammad said he would seal the deal with Marquez’ manager Bob Arum by Monday.

Tucker said he recently spoke to Arum who assured him a contract with Pacquiao would be signed. There was talk in several unofficial boxing websites that Marquez would not agree to face Pacquiao unless he receives an equal purse since after all, he is the defending two-title champion. But Arum has reportedly said the fight will go on as Pacquiao is recognized as the consensus people’s world champion and stands in the way of Marquez gaining star status.

From the visit to the IBF office, Muhammad took Pacquiao and Nazario to the Newark airport for their 5:30 p.m. flight to Orlando. They spent two days in Orlando where Nazario’s son Roderick, a doctor, lives then flew to San Francisco via Houston for the flight back to Manila.

Nazario said Pacquiao will begin training soon at the Wild Card gym in B. F. Parañaque and log at least 10 rounds of sparring before leaving for Los Angeles late next month. Pacquiao will attend the annual Elorde Boxing Awards Night on March 25 and take off a few days later to report to trainer Freddie Roach in his Hollywood gym. Pacquiao will stay in the US until after his May 22 bout.

Nazario said when Pacquiao leaves for Los Angeles, he should be ready to spar against the toughest brawlers in Roach’s gym. Pacquiao vowed to be in the best shape of his life–better than when he fought Barrera–against Marquez because a victory will mean not only two titles but also the distinction of being the first Asian fighter ever to win world championships in three different divisions.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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