MANILA, March 26, 2004  (STAR) Like the power his punches generate, Manny Pacquiao unleashed a verbal sortie on Mexican rival the first time they came face-to-face Wednesday and it didn’t sit well with Juan Manuel Marquez.

"Marquez is a great fighter and I respect him as the champ. But I am a champ too!," said Pacquiao. "This is a big important fight and I have to win if I want to fight (Erik) Morales."

That was Pacquiao’s retort to Marquez’s statement that "there will be fire in the ring on May 8" and that it took him a lot of hardwork to become a world champion and "only in death will he relinquish his belts."

It was the press launching of the May 8 fight between the two hard-hitting fighters at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles with Marquez, the IBF/WBA featherweight champion, staking his twin 126-lb belts against the Filipino champion, who moved up to featherweight and destroyed Marco Barrera last November.

Pacquiao’s rejoinder took Marquez’s camp and the press by surprise since Morales, who is reportedly being lined up for the winner of the Pacquiao-Marquez bout, will actually slug it out with Carlos Hernandez on July 31.

"What was he thinking....that I’m going to roll over? Pacquiao just gave me all the motivation I need. Wait until you see me in training camp," said Marquez.

Whatever, it’s go for the 12-round HBO-televised clash expected to generate so much interest not only from the Mexican and Filipino fans but also from the US enthusiasts who will be treated to a world-class boxing action between two fighters of contrasting styles.

The MGM Grand sports book plans to open Pacquiao (38-2-1 with 29 KOs), as a 7-to-5 favorite over Marquez (42-2 with 33 KOs). Tickets priced at $300, $200, $150, $75 and $50 will go on sale Thursday, 10 a.m. at the MGM Grand Garden Arena box office.

"Pacquiao is a great fighter," said Marquez. "But I am fighting not only for myself but for my wife, my children, my parents and all of my country."

"This fight is going to be one of the marquee fights of the year because it is so competitive," said Top Rank promoter Bob Arum.

This early, Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach is confident of his ward’s chances and said Marquez will not only have to deal with Pacquiao’s blazing speed but his powerful punches as well.

"Each Pacquiao punch carries a KO power — plus, he has quick feet, moving to the left and right, good balance, and a high work rate," said Roach.

In fact, fans who watched Pacquiao train at Roach’s Wild Card gym were impressed upon seeing the Filipino southpaw throw every punch at the mitts. even reported that "Pacquiao’s punches didn’t land but detonated."

It added: "You saw a man a shade over 126 pounds; but that sound from the mitts couldn’t come from anybody but Earnie Shavers. For three rounds, Pacquiao’s barrage continued like a battleship pounding shore positions; until the hooks, crosses and uppercuts were a drum solo, and there were no longer beats, just concussion for 30 seconds until the bell sounded.

"Fighters and trainers and ringsiders were on their feet applauding. It was watching Barry Bonds hit home runs, Jordan dunk, and Pavarotti hit the high note. At the pace Roach had to work to keep up with Pacquiao’s hand speed, by the time this training camp is over, he’ll be ready for another crack at Bobby Chacon himself."

Marquez had earlier warned of a major disaster for Pacquiao, whom he said has been dreaming too much after demolishing Barrera in a virtually one-sided fight last year.

But Roach remains unfazed.

"We’ll be ready for whatever Marquez brings to the table. If he wants to fight, we’ll fight. If he wants to box, we’ll be ready for that, too. Pacquiao’s a complete fighter. He’ll handle whatever happens in there," stressed Roach. — Dante Navarro

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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