Pacquiao is now the man |

Pacquiao is now the man

Appeal Sports Writer

The lightweight division has gone from an interesting to a downright relevant division and the reason for that has to do with a boxer who has never even competed at 135 pounds.

If you were watching HBO Pay Per View Saturday night, you know that boxer is Manny Pacquiao, who edged out the redoubtable Juan Manuel Marquez via 12-round split decision for the WBC super featherweight belt.

But the only place you will see that particular belt from here on out is at the home of the 29-year-old Pacquiao, who has made it clear his immediate future is at 135 pounds.

Rather than take a fat $6 million payday to grant the 34-year-old Marquez an immediate rematch, Pacquiao, who won his first world title at 112 pounds in 1998, will meet WBC “interim” lightweight beltholder David Diaz on June 28 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

And thanks to “Pac-Man,” David Diaz – or Juan Diaz or Julio Diaz or anyone else at 135 pounds – will now gain instant credibility and notoriety.

The reason is somewhat simple. In this fractured landscape that is professional boxing, one in which four different sanctioning bodies claim they have the world champion at each respective division, only a superstar can reflect his brilliant light onto his opponent.

The by-product of this is that in addition to the champion being well known to the public, his would-be opponent consequently attracts the public’s imagination and attention. This challenger, now that he shares the stage with the superstar, now has a back-story and some recognition, which makes for an attractive fight.

Take for example when Joe Louis was the heavyweight champion. Everyone knew who “The Brown Bomber” was and, when he defended his title, even a bartender suddenly became a household name. Take “Two-ton” Tony Galento for instance.

Although many will argue that Marquez won Saturday’s close, evenly contested bout, it is Pacquiao bathing in the limelight.

And that is an excellent thing for boxing.

The story lines will be jumping off the page when Pacquiao, 46-3-2 with 35 knockouts, and Diaz, 34-1-1 (17), get into the ring. For starters, can Pacquiao carry his bone-jarring knockout power with him up yet another weight division?

The great Wilfredo Gomez, who knocked out all 17 of the challengers to his 122-pound throne, never did bring that frightening punch up with him to 126, 130 and 135 pounds.

Pacquiao started his career as a 105-pound strawweight (boxing’s lightest division) and through the 108-pound ranks before winning – and losing by knockout – the flyweight belt.

Then he skipped not one, but two divisions (at 115 and 118 pounds) before he beat down the highly regarded Lehlo Ledwaba in 2001 for the IBF’s version of the 122-pound title.

Championships followed at 126 and now 130 pounds as “Pac-Man” devoured greats like Marco Antonio Barrera (twice) and Erik Morales (two out of three times).

And that other question: What about a rematch with the deserving Marquez, with whom Pacquiao has now drawn and narrowly defeated?

It will happen eventually, but only after Pacquiao’s promoter, Bob Arum, stokes the coals and whets the appetite, starting with the fight against Diaz.

If Pacquiao is successful, there will be other lucrative and attractive matches available to him – Juan Diaz, Julio Diaz, Nate Campbell (who owns three belts) and the winner of Saturday’s contest (to be shown on HBO) between WBC “regular” and The Ring magazine’s lightweight champion Joel Casamayor and challenger Michael Katsidis.

Make no mistake about it: Don King owns the rights to Campbell and Oscar De La Hoya promotes Marquez and Casamayor, but Arum has Pacquiao and everybody else in the 135-pound division needs him more than he does them.

Opponents will see Pacquiao is not invincible. He can be outboxed, as Marquez nearly showed. He could do a better job with his right hand. He could respond better when he gets cut, having struggled against Marquez and when he had a technical draw with Agapito Sanchez in a 122-pound unification bout.

And now, at 135 pounds, this piece of human artillery may not be able to stand up to the bigger punchers in the division or track down the slick Casamayor.

Nobody knows this better than Arum, his matchmaker Bruce Trampler and trainer Freddie Roach, and the “Pac-Man” will accordingly be fed the opponents that offer the largest payday and potential for a crowd-pleasing fight at the least amount of risk.

And it will all start with David Diaz, a fellow southpaw who, like Pacquiao, also beat up Morales (albeit via decision).

It promises to be an exciting fight, one that should begin to eliminate those question marks.

I think Pacquiao will get by David Diaz first, then possibly take a match with the exciting, all-action – but beatable Juan Diaz – before Arum chooses the time and place to deal with rivals King and De La Hoya.

Marquez will get his rematch – possibly after the bout with David Diaz and because of the large payday – but as with everybody else at 135 pounds, he’ll be afforded the opportunity only when Arum says it’s time.

And don’t worry, in spite of the promotional machinations, Pacquiao will engage in neither boring nor insignificant bouts along the way.

Pacquiao is a proud fighter who carries the Filpino nation on his shoulders. Pound for pound, he is the most exciting boxer in the sport. And he knows it will be how he performs at 135 pounds that will determine his ultimate legacy.

It’s now Pacquiao’s show: All we have to do is sit back and enjoy the fireworks.