LAS VEGAS – Less than an hour after Juan Manuel Marquez had stopped Michael Katsidis with an electrifying ninth-round technical knockout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday in a bout destined to become the 2010 Fight of the Year, Marquez was deluged with questions at the post-fight news conference …
About Manny Pacquiao.
And about 20 minutes before Marquez arrived, World Boxing Council welterweight champion Andre Berto met the media. He scored a devastating first-round stoppage of Freddy Hernandez to win his 27th fight without a loss.
He walked up to the podium and called out Pacquiao.
Robert Guerrero, the mandatory next challenger for one of Marquez's lightweight title belts, listened to both Marquez and Berto. Afterward, he felt compelled to discuss his future as well.
You guessed it. He wants to take on Pacquiao.
Of course, the fight that nearly everyone in the industry wants to see – Pacquiao against unbeaten Floyd Mayweather Jr. – appears to be the one that is most unlikely to happen, given Mayweather's tenuous legal situation, the bitter feelings between Mayweather and Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum and various other issues.
"As a sport, we have to give the fight fans the fight they want to see, and the fight they want is Mayweather against Pacquiao," said Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, following the news conference. "We have to do everything in our power to put that fight together. But if, for whatever reason, that fight cannot happen, then you have to move on. When you do move on, that's where this press conference comes in."
"You have to make a case, a strong case, for Juan Manuel Marquez to fight Manny Pacquiao. If you put up polls and there is a public outcry that everyone wants to see Pacquiao and [Shane] Mosley, OK, go and make that fight. But if they say they want Pacquiao against I don't know who, OK, then go do that one. The fact is, though, everyone wants Pacquiao-Mayweather. And if that doesn't happen, the fight people want is Pacquiao-Marquez. I've seen polls, I've read blogs, I've talked to media, I've talked to fans and I've done my research and the people want to see Manny Pacquiao against Juan Manuel Marquez."
Marquez was typically brilliant Saturday despite being decked in the third by a huge counter left hook from Katsidis. The Australian star is one of the sport's most entertaining fighters, but he lacks a quality defense and against an accurate puncher like Marquez, that's a death wish. He was picked apart round after round by Marquez, and it was like a mercy killing when referee Kenny Bayless finally stopped it.
Marquez tattooed Katsidis with hooks, uppercuts, jabs, head shots, body shots and just about every other kind of legal blow in yet another vintage performance. It wasn't two minutes after Bayless halted it at 2:14 in the ninth round that the drumbeat began for a third Pacquiao-Marquez fight.
Marquez attended the post-fight news conference wearing a T-shirt that said on the front, "Juan Manuel Marquez beat Pacquiao twice." On the back, the shirt read, "Pacquiao, your next."
Alright, he's not a great grammarian, but he's one hell of a fighter.
"Juan Manuel Marquez is one of the great fighters who ever lived," Berto promoter Lou DiBella said in tribute.
The question is whether Marquez deserves the shot ahead of the numerous other contenders who are jockeying for the lucrative spot against the Filipino congressman.
Berto is managed by the powerful Al Haymon, which doesn't hurt his chances, and he's an unbeaten champion with the speed to at least cause Pacquiao problems. He's raised the ire of media and boxing fans for facing a largely creampuff slate of opponents, but he has the physical skills to make an entertaining fight with Pacquiao.
"Manny Pacquiao, his advantage in general is that he has a lot of speed and he has great legs," Berto said. "I think within these last few fights, he's fought a lot of guys who stood right in front of him, really flat-footed, really slow and he just takes advantage of that. I think there are a just a handful of guys who can keep up with him, guys like myself, Floyd Mayweather, maybe Shane Mosley. We're guys who can keep up with his speed and keep up with the footwork.
"I bring youth to the table. I'm young, I'm vibrant, I'm strong, I'm fast. It would set for an exciting fight."
DiBella couldn't say enough good things about Marquez, but he noted that the size difference between Marquez and Pacquiao is significant now. Marquez and Pacquiao drew at featherweight in one of 2004's best fights, then Pacquiao won a split decision in an outstanding super featherweight fight in 2008.
Pacquiao has managed to move up to welterweight successfully, but Marquez hasn't been able to do so. When he fought Mayweather in 2009, his attempt to put on weight failed miserably and he laid an egg, barely winning a second of the fight.
"I think Marquez is one of the great fighters who's ever lived, but at 135 pounds," DiBella said. "You can't argue the guy deserves an opportunity, but at 147, it's not a fair fight. If [Pacquiao] moves down to 140 pounds, no one is going to complain if he fights Marquez. Marquez is a great fighter.
"But if Manny is a welterweight, then fight a welterweight. And my guy showed you, he's a welterweight."
Berto has to be in the picture, and DiBella said he plans to speak with Arum and Top Rank president Todd DuBoef on Monday about a Pacquiao-Berto fight.
But beating Freddy Hernandez – who was about an 11-1 underdog – shouldn't qualify a fighter to take on the best in the world. Berto has far too many Hernandez-type opponents on his résumé to get the Pacquiao fight, given how many legitimate contenders are out there.
And with all due respect to Mosley, one of his generation's best but now a very-faded, nearly 40-year-old fighter, the man for the job is Marquez.
"Take a look at the résumés," HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant said, endorsing Marquez's candidacy. "Marquez is the only guy, since the first [Erik] Morales fight, to give Pacquiao problems. He actually gave him two great fights. He's earned it. He's not a welterweight, but he's still earned it, and maybe the fight's at 140, or 141 or 142, something like that. There's no question he's earned it."
"There's no question that Berto has a very thin résumé, for all the promise he has. I think you solve the whole thing by having Marquez fight Pacquiao and having Berto fight Mosley, who he was willing to fight earlier this year. Then have the winners fight and you settle it in the ring."
As usual in boxing, though, there may be courtrooms involved. Mosley is part-owner of Golden Boy and has been promoted by the company for the last six years. In the last few months, Mosley announced he's no longer promoted by the Oscar De La Hoya-owned company and is promoting himself.
He still contends he owns a piece of the company, but Schaefer intimated something may develop to change that.
"That's going to be something that will become clear in a short while what's going to happen there," Schaefer said when asked if Mosley still owned part of Golden Boy.
So there are going to be fights everywhere, inside and outside the ring.
But for the next big one in the ring, if it's not Floyd Mayweather Jr. standing across from Manny Pacquiao on the first Saturday in May, it had better be Juan Manuel Marquez.
With Mayweather out of the picture, it's the fight that makes the most sense.