LAS VEGAS, NEVADA,  May 5, 2004
By Lito Tacujan  — The place of battle was festooned with posters and billboards for what has long been dubbed as the year’s biggest fight the day Filipino ring champ Manny Pacquiao returned to the scene of one of his greatest triumphs in this gambling capital.

Pacquiao, the 25-year old people’s champion, arrived with his entourage at mid-afternoon after a five-hour drive from Los Angeles where he had broken camp Sunday and were given VIP treatment by top officials of the MGM Grand Arena, the venue of his forthcoming fight with Mexican titlist Juan Manuel Marquez.

The reigning champ, who will put on the block his International Boxing Federation (IBF) and World Boxing Association (WBA) featherweight crowns in a scheduled 12-round, has engaged boxing officials to some sort of guessing game.

He was reportedly set to arrive also yesterday but later sent word he would plane in Wednesday from Mexico where he had undergone more than two months of high altitude training against the slugger from General Santos.

"Handang handa na ako," said Pacquiao, exuding confidence even as his handlers have called for light workout in the next few days in a private gym owned by a friend of trainer Freddie Roach.

Odds remained constant in favor of the power-hitting Filipino, placed at 3-2 with five days to go before what has been shaping up as the fight of the year. In fact, the tallyboards on the MGM race/sports book section at the casinos have given the Filipino minus 165 odds and the Mexican right hander a plus 145.

In gambling lingo, a $165 bet on Manny would win $100 while a $100 bet on Marquez would fetch $145 purse. Fightnews.com had made Pacquiao a slim 7-5 favorite but fancied the Filipino champ to wrest the two titles from the Mexican.

Promoters of the fight–M&M Sports and Top Rank, Inc. — have released the names of the three judges who would work the fight–Canada’s Guy Jutras, Rhode Island’s Bart Clemmons and Clark Samartino of Reno, the nominee of the Nevada Sports Commission.

" I don’t see any problems with the judges," said Murad Muhammed, one of the promoters and Pacquiao’s business agent in the US.

The third man in the ring is Joe Cortez, who worked one of Pacquiao’s sensational victories, a sixth round demolition of South African Lehlo Ledhaba to win the IBF super bantamweight crown in June 2001 on the same venue.

The Filipino champ, meanwhile, will work out for the first time in this desert city today, doing roadwork in the morning and light workout in the afternoon. He is scheduled to undergo MRI ( Magnetic Resonance Imaging) test at 4 p.m. at a nearby hospital as mandated by the commission. All other medical tests were done earlier in Los Angeles.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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