(STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson  – Just a few minutes ago, Manny Pacquiao phoned long distance from Los Angeles to catch up. I was surprised to get a call. It was 1 a.m., London time, or 9 a.m., Manila, and 6 p.m., Los Angeles. I was awake in the hotel room writing for The STAR on my laptop.

Manny is in the thick of preparations for his March 15 rematch against WBC superfeatherweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez in Las Vegas.

I asked him how his training has gone. “Super” was his reply. Manny sounded in good spirits and was upbeat. You could tell from the tone of his voice he’s confident of his chances because he’ll be coming in well-prepared and fully-armed.

I can’t remember Manny ever calling long distance while training for a fight at the Wild Card Gym. I think he’d done it only once before and that was a while back.

Those close to Manny swear he’s a changed man, admitting at the same time, he wouldn’t resist distractions in the past. Now, he’s totally focused on working himself into the best shape of his career. Manny knows what’s at stake in the fight and he’s entering the ring with everything he’s got.

Manny’s former business manager Rod Nazario used to say only Manny can beat Manny and if he’s in condition, there’s no fighter alive who can defeat him.

Manny asked if I would do the TV commentary for the Las Vegas rematch, dubbed “Unfinished Business.” He said he made a special request for me to be on the panel. I told him Chino Trinidad will anchor the TV coverage with IBF flyweight champion Nonito Donaire as guest analyst and myself as color commentator.

I’ve been a fixture as a TV panelist on Manny’s fights since his early “Blow By Blow” days. I was at ringside when he knocked out Chokchai Chokwiwat to win the OPBF flyweight title in Mandaluyong in 1997, when he stopped Chatchai Sasakul to wrest the WBC flyweight crown in Bangkok in 1998, when he flattened Fahprakob Rakkiatgym in one round to retain his IBF superbantamweight championship in Davao City in 2002, when he lifted Fahsang 3-Battery’s feet off the canvas with a single punch in Taguig in 2004 and when he blasted Erik Morales into submission twice in 2006.

I’ve done the commentary in Manny’s last three fights against Marco Antonio Barrera, Jorge Solis and Morales and five of his last eight, missing out only on the Oscar Larios and Hector Velazquez outings and the loss to El Terrible.

I told Manny he’s the talk of the English boxing cognoscenti. Even Evander Holyfield, who’s here to promote his new book, had something to say about Manny. Claude Abrams, editor of the world’s oldest ring publication Boxing News, shared his insights on the rematch in an e-mail and I promised to forward the letter to Manny. And former WBC flyweight champion Charlie Magri, in his own book, singled out Manny as one of his favorite fighters.

Magri, an Englishman, won the WBC crown on a seventh round stoppage of Eleoncio Mercedes in London on the so-called Ides of March – March 15, 1983 – commemorating Julius Caesar’s assassination. The indication is it’s a good day for a dethronement. That was also the day when Flash Elorde took the world junior lightweight title away from Harold Gomes at the Araneta Coliseum in 1960. Will it also be the day when Manny defrocks Marquez in Las Vegas?

In Magri’s first defense, he was knocked out by Filipino underdog Frank Cedeno in London six months later. Cedeno lost the crown to his first challenger Koji Kobayashi in Tokyo before the year ended.

Magri earned the biggest purse of his career, the equivalent of P4.8 million (in current terms), for facing Cedeno. He blamed a pain in the ear and difficulty in making the 112-pound limit for the loss, refusing to give credit to the Talisay, Cebu, brawler.

“If I had been well enough, I would have beaten him,” wrote Magri in his book Champagne Charlie. “He was a tough bloke and a southpaw but I just wasn’t in the right condition to be fighting that night. It made losing the title even worse to think that I’d had to fight this guy with one arm tied behind my back. I’m sure I’d have beaten Cedeno if I’d been in proper shape for the fight but instead I was suddenly an ex-champion.”

Magri said Cedeno’s left hook did the trick.

“The first really big punch he hit me with, a left hook, in the sixth, I just went over,” he recalled. “I got up but I was completely gone. The next round, he just piled in and finished me off. The result was that I was beaten in what should have been a nice easy homecoming fight. I lost to a guy I normally could have beaten hands down. My reign as champion was over because I’d gone into the fight in piss – poor condition, in no state to fight.”

Manny clearly won’t be in the same condition Magri was when he fought Cedeno.

Magri said in his book, Pacquiao is the best fighter in the world today.

“It’s not just that he’s won a lot of big fights; it’s the way he’s done it,” said Magri. “He goes out there to take his opponents apart and I like to see that in a fighter because that’s what I always wanted to do in the ring, get in there and do the business.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved