MANILA, January 11, 2006
(STAR) By Joaquin Henson - Four experts, including two international referees, yesterday picked Manny Pacquiao to win over Erik Morales by knockout in their scheduled 12-round bout at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas on Jan. 21.

World Boxing Council referee Bruce McTavish predicted Pacquiao will stop Morales in the seventh round while World Boxing Association arbiter Ferdie Estrella said the Filipino will dispose of the Mexican between the fifth and eighth.

Boxing analyst Ramon (Moy) Lainez and noted trainer Lito Mondejar, who co-own the L&M gym in Sampaloc, agreed Pacquiao would score a late stoppage like he did against Marco Antonio Barrera.

Early in his pro career, Pacquiao trained at L&M gym and even slept there at night, usually in the ring. Before he leaves for a fight abroad, Pacquiao never fails to stop by the gym for good luck.

But international matchmaker Jun Sarreal had a dissenting opinion. He said Morales would eke out a close decision in an action-packed contest.

Estrella said Pacquiao will turn the tables on Morales in their rematch because he’s trained long and hard for it.

"I saw Manny on TV with (broadcaster) Dyan Castillejo last night and he looked in good condition," noted Estrella. "He was being interviewed after an early morning run. If his training is up to par or even more than par, he’ll knock out Morales this time. In the first fight, Manny couldn’t put his punches together. But if Manny hits him three in a row, Morales will go down. Manny hits too hard and he’s too fast for Morales."

McTavish had no hesitation in choosing the round where Morales will fall.

"Manny looks like he’s in great shape," said McTavish. "Morales will be weak by the fifth round because of losing weight. Manny will step up his attack and put him away. Morales is a better boxer and makes good use of his brains but the weight problem will hurt him. His size advantage won’t be a factor because Manny’s speed will negate it. It may be a wishful dream but I think Manny will knock him out in seven."

Lainez said it will be a close fight and could be decided by the "breaks," like in the first bout where an accidental headbutt inflicted a nasty cut over Pacquiao’s right eye in the fifth round and clouded the Filipino’s focus.

What Lainez is wary of is Morales’ Las Vegas connection through Top Rank promoter Bob Arum.

"If it’s a close fight and it goes to the scorecards, Morales will probably win unless Manny mauls him in the ring," said Lainez in Filipino. "It’s hard to win in Vegas by decision if your opponent is the promoter’s ward so Manny must knock out Morales."

Lainez said both fighters are equally prepared to wage an all-out war for 12 rounds, if necessary.

"Manny’s in good condition ," said Lainez. " He has no distractions and sacrificed a lot with no birthday, Christmas and New Year celebrations. But since beating Barrera, Manny’s body has deteriorated."

Lainez said if Pacquiao is in the same shape he was in beating Barrera, he’ll trounce Morales easily.

But Lainez said Morales is a different fighter from Barrera. "Barrera loved to mix it up and was made-to-order for Manny," pointed out Lainez. "But Morales, is a counterpuncher and hard to hit. He goes side to side which doesn’t fit Manny’s style."

Lainez said he hopes no untoward incidents, like an accidental headbutt, happen to prevent a fair outcome.

Like in the Barrera fight, Lainez said Pacquiao will win by a late knockout. If the fight goes the full route, he said Morales will win by decision.

Sarreal said Morales has never been knocked out and that’s a factor. In contrast, Pacquiao has been stopped twice and was decked by Nedal Hussein, Serik Yeshmangbetov and Barrera.

"I’m for Manny all the way, 100 percent but if the fight goes 12 rounds, Morales will win," said Sarreal. "Morales is a tough fighter. I don’t think making the weight will be a problem. Remember the fight is in Vegas and Arum is the promoter. Morales is Arum’s boy. Vegas relies on Mexicans to keep boxing alive. Still, if Manny hits him hard, Morales could be stopped. The problem is it’s not that easy to hit or hurt Morales."

Sarreal said he expects an exciting fight and pegged the odds at 50-50.

"If Manny loses, it won’t be the end for him because he can still earn big bucks by fighting either Barrera or (Juan Manuel) Marquez in a rematch," added Sarreal.

Mondejar, who will be in Pacquiao’s corner, said he anticipates a huge win for the Filipino. He singled out three factors in Pacquiao’s favor-power, speed and conditioning.

Mondejar said at 29, Morales has reached his peak and can’t get any better.

"Ang tendency ay bababa na ‘yan," said Mondejar. "May edad na rin siya. Si Manny, paakyat at bata pa. Malaking panalo ito. Aayaw na lang si Morales kagaya ni Barrera. Sa totoo lang, mas magaling si Barrera kay Morales at mas malakas. Madulas lang si Morales. Hindi kakapusin si Manny. Ang kondisyon niya sa last round parang first round."

Mondejar said Morales is slower than Pacquiao and doesn’t hit as hard.

"Sa first round, pagaaralan muna ni Manny kung anong gagawin niya," said Mondejar. "Sisilipin niya kung anong uubra-kung kaliwa o kanan. Tapos, unti-unti niyang uubusin si Morales."

If Pacquiao beats Morales, his next opponent will likely be Barrera in a showdown that could decide who’s the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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