MANILA, December 24, 2005 
(STAR) By Joaquin Henson - Boxing scholar and soothsayer Graham Houston has picked Manny Pacquiao to beat Erik Morales by a close decision in their epic 12-round showdown, called "The Battle," at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas on Jan. 21.

Houston, writing in his "Previews" column in the Dec. 10 issue of Professional Boxing Update, said all the ingredients are in place for another closely fought and exciting fight but "after weighing it all up, I am leaning just a little towards Pacquiao to win this time (because) I have a feeling he can make the adjustments that are necessary and be a little more consistent with just enough improvement to edge the decision."

However, Houston admitted "this is one of those fights where guesswork comes into play when we try to pick a winner."

In their first meeting last March, Morales pounded out a unanimous 12-round decision on identical scores of 115-113 in the three judges’ cards. But Pacquiao was handicapped by a cut over the right eye starting the fifth round and bothered by off-the-ring distractions. The cut was opened by an accidental headbutt. Morales was not penalized for inflicting the wound by referee Joe Cortez.

Houston pointed out that despite the obstacles, Pacquiao mounted a blistering attack in the last round and nearly decked Morales "but it came too late."

Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach said because of the cut, the Filipino deviated from his gameplan of banging the body and tried too hard to land big shots upstairs. There was a sense of urgency in Pacquiao’s change in tactics as blood spewed out from his gash.

But Houston said Roach expects a more focused, more disciplined fight from Pacquiao in the rematch.

As for Morales, Houston said the Mexican is out for redemption after losing to Zahir Raheem last September. "With his great pride and the feeling that honor is at stake, I think Morales will be very hard to beat," said Houston. "One thing that concerns me about Morales is that he might be showing wear and tear at the age of 29. Pacquiao has a fresher look."

Houston said Pacquiao’s vaunted power won’t be a factor because Morales can take his best shots.

"Pacquiao is perceived as the bigger puncher and in his last fight, the sixth-round destruction of solid journeyman Hector Velazquez, he was punching with both hands, not just loading up on the big lefts from his southpaw stance and in fact, it was a right hook that had Velazquez going in round six," wrote Houston. "But that was against Velazquez. It will not be so easy to look dominant against Morales."

Houston said Morales has as much chance of hurting Pacquiao as the other way around.

"The punching power aspect seems to balance out," continued Houston. "Morales seems the naturally bigger man and he has the height and reach advantages but Pacquiao, once a flyweight, looked more physically imposing at the weigh-in for the last fight. Pacquiao has the speed advantage but Morales seems the better boxer in the purely technical sense."

Both fighters are now deep in training. Pacquiao is working out at the Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles while Morales is training in Queretaro, some 90 miles north of Mexico City.

Morales has trained almost exclusively in the Otomi Mountains for his fights in the last eight years but shifted to Queretaro because of the snowy conditions in the high-altitude terrain.

Top Rank publicist Ricardo Jimenez said the wintry weather in Queretaro is more bearable than at the Otomi where the rain and cold would be a hindrance to his preparations. Morales made another major change in training for Pacquiao. He fired his own father Jose and hired Jose Luis (Maestro) Lopez to supervise his training. His father was blamed for the loss to Raheem.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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