LAS VEGAS – Juan Manuel Marquez is one of the world's great fighters and holds the WBC super featherweight championship, but there is no question the star of the show on the fight card Saturday at Mandalay Bay is Manny Pacquiao.
Pacquiao is guaranteed big money whenever and wherever he fights. Marquez needs a 'B' side to generate money and, on Saturday, is clearly second fiddle to Pacquiao.
Much of the reason for that traces to a 2005 decision by his trainer/manager Nacho Beristain, who is the Bill Belichick of trainers but who's repeatedly proven he's out of his element as a manager.
Never was that more evident than when Marquez was offered a rematch with Pacquiao after the two fought to a magnificent draw on May 8, 2004.
Top Rank's Bob Arum, who was promoting Marquez at the time, said HBO offered a license fee of $1.5 million for the fight. Arum said he and Pacquiao's then-promoter, Murad Muhammad, agreed to split the money and offer $750,000 to Pacquiao and $750,000 to Marquez.
"It was more than (Marquez) had ever made before," Arum huffed.
In boxing, it's the ticket sellers who make the most money, not necessarily the best fighters. That's why Oscar De La Hoya – whose company, Golden Boy Promotions, now promotes Marquez – makes more money than anyone he fights.
But the first fight was extraordinary and it was Marquez who had both titles that were at stake, so Arum and Muhammad agreed a 50-50 split was the fair thing to do.
Pacquiao, who even then was the bigger name in the industry, quickly accepted. HBO became enamored of Pacquiao in 2001, so much so that it put him in a prime undercard spot on the Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis pay-per-view broadcast in 2002.
After Pacquiao stopped Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003, he became the second-biggest draw in the lighter weight classes behind Erik Morales.
"Manny was a guy we really liked and wanted to have on our air," HBO senior vice president of sports programming Kery Davis said.
What Pacquiao saw as a good deal, though, Marquez saw as suspect. Through Beristain, he declined the $750,000.
Beristain demanded $1.5 million and wouldn't come off the figure. Arum was incredulous then, and remains no less so today.
"There was nowhere else he could go to get $750,000, from anybody to fight anybody," Arum said. "It was craziness. It's one thing to be a hard negotiator. I'll give you that. In 40 years in this business, I've dealt with a lot of guys you might say were hard negotiators, but I've never seen anything like this. It was an absolute amateur hour. You have to have a basis in reality for what you ask for. He had zero."
It wasn't like Marquez had options. After winning a meaningless undercard fight on May 7, 2005, against Victor Polo, he wound up going to Indonesia to face Chris John, a very difficult opponent, for only $30,000.
He lost a unanimous decision and, it seemed, any momentum the stirring fight with Pacquiao had given him.
A win over Pacquiao in the rematch would have made Marquez a star of the highest order in the lighter weight classes. Arum surmises he would have instantly doubled his earning potential.
Instead, Marquez was relegated to a series of low-paying, out-of-the-spotlight fights against guys like Terdsak Jandaeng and Jimrex Jaca while Pacquiao was emerging as one of the sport's superstars.
But Marquez never wavered and still insists the decision was correct.
"I don't regret anything," said Marquez, a superb and slick boxer who is rated No. 5 on Yahoo! Sports' list of the world's 10 best fighters. "It was a great experience (going to Indonesia). And I have a saying: Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
But it doesn't necessarily make you more popular or more money. And in a sport like boxing, where the risks are so great, it makes little sense to accept $30,000 and fight in front of a hostile crowd in someone else's home instead of in the boxing capital of the world on pay-per-view in what would have been a significant event.
Beristain, though, doesn't see it that way.
"It was a decision made of principle and if you don't have your principles, you have nothing," he says.
But those principles cost Marquez $720,000 and a loss, not to mention the momentum his career would have gained from the bout.
Marquez insists the decision to turn down the $750,000 was his and says he's glad to be rid of Arum and Top Rank. Arum, though, is convinced Marquez had nothing to do with it, which he said still gnaws even though they no longer work together.
"It's totally this guy (Beristain) and Marquez had nothing to do with it," Arum said. "It's obscene what happened here. But the bottom line in all of this is, it was the wrong decision and nothing anybody can say is going to change it."