[PHOTO  AT  LEFT  -  SOLID FAVORITE: Filipino boxing sensation Manny Pacquiao (right) and Mexican challenger Oscar Larios show their fighting stance during their weigh-in at the Discovery Suites in Mandaluyong City yesterday, the eve of their scheduled 12-round WBC super featherweight bout dubbed ‘Mano-A-Mano’ at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City. Photo By JOEY MENDOZA]

MANILA, July 2, 2006 (STAR) By Abac Cordero - Once again, the entire Filipino nation will hold its collective breath as Manny Pacquiao climbs into the ring at the Araneta Coliseum today against a formidable Mexican opponent.

While thousands will flock to the historic Big Dome to experience the action up-close, millions more will watch the fight on TV screens, each one of them hoping and praying for another Pacquiao win.

Pacquiao steps into the Everlast ring again, in a contest worth $1 million, at around 11 a.m. In the opposite corner will be Oscar Larios, a former world champion with big dreams of beating the Filipino slugger right in his own turf.

Pacquiao’s last fight was in January this year, crossing the Pacific to Las Vegas, Nevada, where he destroyed a Mexican legend, Erik Morales, before a sell-out crowd at the Thomas and Mack Center.

Pacquiao trained long and hard for the fight with Larios — four weeks at the Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles and another two at the Amateur Boxing Association Gym in the heart of Manila.

But Larios claims to have trained longer and harder, doing 40 rounds of sparring in his hometown in Guadalajara and logging another 50 in Japan where he wrapped up his training.

Although Pacquiao will earn $1 million for the bout, Larios’ $450,000 purse, the biggest in his career, is enough to motivate the Mexican. Bigger paychecks will surely come if he wins this bout.

The fight is scheduled for 12 rounds with a weight limit of 130 pounds (58.97 kilos). The two fighters were officially weighed yesterday at the Discovery Suites. They both made the cut: Larios at 129 pounds (58.5 kgs) and Pacquiao at 129.5 pounds (58.74 kgs).

In a room packed with reporters, Larios tipped the scales ahead of the Filipino who took his turn a few minutes later clad only in black underwear.

As Pacquiao held his breath, somebody close to the scale shouted "one-thirty-one," raising some speculation that he was over the limit. But shortly after his official weight was announced at 129.5 pounds.

The two fighters then posed for the media, tapping one another’s shoulders, smiling and flexing their muscles before putting their shirts back on and heading to the stage.

Larios retreated back to his room while Pacquiao stayed an hour inside one of the function rooms. There he had an early lunch, and was later escorted to his own suite.

He didn’t say a word.

The world super-featherweight crown is not at stake in this fight. It’s safely in the hands of another Mexican, Marco Antonio Barrera, who’ll probably watch the fight from Mexico via pay-per-view.

Barrera is aching to avenge an 11th-round knockout loss to Pacquiao in 2003. But before he gets that chance, Pacquiao will first face Morales in a deciding third match in November.

"The world title is not on the line right now because it’s with Barrera. But Pacquiao is the people’s champion right now and a lot of people consider him as the best fighter at 130 pounds right now," said Pacquiao’s American trainer Freddie Roach.

"But Manny is the best 130-pounder in the world right now. That’s why to me it’s a title fight," said Roach who bared the other day his wish that Pacquiao end the fight in 30 seconds.

Pacquiao, the stronger puncher, will certainly go for the knockout.

But Larios, through his manager Rafael Mendoza, has said he’s ready for anything.

"Larios may win or he may lose. But he will not quit," he manager said.

That, of course, remains to be seen.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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