, September 12, 2005 
(STAR) By Joaquin Henson - For a change, Manny Pacquiao didn’t come out smoking in his fight against Hector Velazquez at the Staples Center in Los Angeles last Saturday night (yesterday morning, Manila) and it appeared to throw off the Mexican.

Known as a strong starter, Pacquiao seemed slow and lacked rhythm in the first two rounds which Velazquez took with relative ease. The early lead probably lulled Velazquez into a false sense of security because he never won a round again.

Whether the slow start was deliberate or not is a mystery. Pacquiao came into the ring without a single bead of sweat and didn’t seem to be warmed up for a jackrabbit attack.

In the third round, Velazquez got cocky and began to engage Pacquiao. He probably thought the fight was his for the taking. It was a mistake he would later regret. As the bout progressed, Pacquiao found his range and regained his timing. When Velazquez started to feel Pacquiao’s power, the tide turned and it was just a matter of time before the heavily-favored Pacman gobbled up his prey.

More than Pacquiao’s vaunted power, what was impressive was his defense. He showed nifty footwork in circling away from Velazquez’ killer left hook to the body after landing shots from close range. Pacquiao didn’t allow the bigger Velazquez to overpower him.

Pacquiao also blocked Velazquez’ blows easily with his gloves and arms, moved his head around like a swivel to avoid jabs and kept the Mexican off-balance by swaying from side to side. Trainer Freddie Roach taught him all those tricks in the gym and they’ll come in handy when Pacquiao meets Erik Morales in their much-awaited rematch on Jan. 21.

On offense, Pacquiao kept Velazquez guessing by mixing his punches, throwing lefts and rights from all angles. In the end, Velazquez just couldn’t stave off the rampaging Pacman.

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Morales only has himself to blame in losing to Zahir Raheem on points in the nightcap of promoter Bob Arum’s "Double Trouble’ card.

Boxing News reported that Morales preferred to face Raheem than International Boxing Federation lightweight champion Leavander Johnson "because it is an easier fight and because a big-money rematch with Pacquiao looms in January."

The consensus in Morales’ camp was Raheem was a "safe" (meaning, highly beatable) opponent.

Not too many fans remember that in October 2002, former two-time world titlist Luisito Espinosa floored Raheem with a counter left hook to the jaw in the second round of a fight in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Espinosa, who is 10 years older than Raheem, couldn’t finish off the 1996 US Olympian and ran out of steam in the homestretch. Referee Greg Ritter stepped in after Espinosa got up on shaky legs from a knockdown and was helpless on the ropes in the eighth.

Raheem arrived at the fight site for Espinosa in a helicopter that landed in the outdoor arena. Displaying a flair for the dramatic, he entered the ring to battle Morales wearing a crown and a robe fit for a king. Raheem compiled a 215-3 amateur record but was stopped at 2:15 of the first round by Cuba’s Arnaldo Mesa in the bantamweight division of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Mesa went on to claim the silver medal while Raheem returned home empty-handed.

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There was a late switch in the judges panel for the Pacquiao-Velazquez fight. Scratched was Pat Russell and in his place was assigned Steve English whose only world title experience was as a judge in an insignificant International Boxing Association championship bout.

Last April, English turned in a disputed scorecard when he saw it 95-93 for Eric Regan while the other two judges Jon Schorle and Steve Morrow had it 96-92 and 95-93 for Daniel Castillo in a Sacramento tenner.

English, another controversial judge Marty Sammon and Velazquez’ countryman Alejandro Rochin would’ve decided the outcome if the fight went the distance. Luckily, Pacquiao made it academic.

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Over 3,000 fans — some holding up placards and streamers to express their support for Pacquiao — jammed three SM Megamall movie theaters for a live feed of the "Double Trouble’ card without commercial breaks. Tickets were sold for P200 apiece.

Solar Sports initially reserved just one theater for the closed-circuit coverage. Last Thursday, tickets were sold out, prompting Solar to book another theater. Then a day before the fights, a third theater was reserved because of the huge demand for tickets.

The partitions separating the three adjoining theaters were taken out to make room for standing patrons.

Solar’s Rico Arce said it was a festive atmosphere at Megamall. Fans lined up for first-come-first-served seats as early as 6 a.m. And the theaters were packed when the telecast started at 8 a.m.

At the Crowne Palaza Galleria, Solar hosted over 300 guests and paying customers (P1,000 a ticket, including brunch) for a live feed of the Staples Center fights. Two giant screens were mounted side by side for the fans to watch the action.

Solar’s top executives Wilson Tieng, William Tieng, Peter Chan Liong, Ronald Tieng, Luke Pasiliao, Nitoy Nocos and Jude Turcuato welcomed the big crowd that included Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye, Sen. Richard Gordon, Rep. Mikey Arroyo, Rep. Mat Defensor, Mayor Lito Atienza and son Kim, Quezon City Councilor Joseph Juico, Jun Bernardino, Bobong Velez, Ricky Palou, Moying Martelino, Vince Hizon and wife Patricia Bermudez, Accel’s Willie Ortiz, actor Eddie Gutierrez, Salvador Vaca, Jose Mari Ojeda, Beth Celis, Recah Trinidad and Hermie Rivera.

Turcuato said in the next Pacquiao fight, he’ll recommend turning the Araneta Coliseum into a closed-circuit theater to accommodate the thousands eager to watch the live feed without commercial interruptions.

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In a TV message from Malacanang, President Arroyo paid tribute to the three Filipinos who won at the Staples Center — Pacquiao, newly-crowned World Boxing Council lightflyweight champion Brian Viloria and bantamweight sensation Rey (Boom Boom) Bautista whom she mistakenly said is from Cebu (he hails from Bohol).

Viloria was introduced to the Chief Executive at a White House function hosted by President Bush during her State visit a few years ago. Viloria was among prominent Fil-Ams assembled to meet President Arroyo.

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In the crowd at the Staples Center were former world champion Carlos (Famoso) Hernandez of El Salvador and Pacquiao’s younger brother Bobby who’ll face off in Las Vegas on Oct. 8.

Bobby arrived in Los Angeles last Aug. 27 and is staying with Bautista, fighter Diosdado Gabi and trainer Edito Villamor in US agent Mike Koncz’ home.

"My involvement with Filipino boxers is about them and their achievements after my involvement and not about me," said Koncz who added that Gabi is set to make his US debut on Sept. 23.

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Bautista and Viloria dismantled their opponents in similar devastating fashion. Bautista dropped Felix Flores with a single right straight to the nose and the Colombian got up only to stagger like a drunk before collapsing. It was over at 1:12 of the third.

Viloria’s victim Eric Ortiz suffered the same fate. Ortiz was dropped by a barrage, got up, stood on rubbery legs and fell down again, prompting referee Raul Caiz to stop it at 2:59 of the first.

Filipinos made a clean sweep at the Staples Center while three Mexicans — Ortiz, Velazquez and Morales — stumbled to defeat.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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