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Rest -- and a rematch -- might be best options for pair

3/24/2005

LAS VEGAS -- Following the enthralling, 12-round battle staged by Erik Morales and Manny Pacquiao on March 19, several issues were answered.

First, the 28-year-old Morales still has 'it'. Doubters questioned whether the punishing trio of fights with Marco Antonio Barerra had taken too much out of the Tijuana native, that over the course his 49 previous pro fights, he had left too much between the ropes. Obviously, such was not the case.

Morales (48-2) edged Pacquiao to win a close but unanimous decision in their 130-pound showdown.

As for Pacquiao (39-3-2), he proved his mettle fighting for the first time at that weight. Despite a nasty gash over his right eye and the appearance on at least two occasions he had been hurt by Morales's right hand, the 26-year-old continued to press the action.

Secondly, both men remain charismatic, albeit for different reasons. With an infectious, boyish smile both in and out of the ring,
Pacquiao generally wears the expression of a teenager on the first day of spring break. Morales, on the other hand, possesses the stoicism of the
classic Mexican warrior, cold, collected, and exactly the type of guy you'll pay $44.95 to watch fight.

Finally, the two proved that the lighter weight classes are providing bouts that are as exciting as any of the past 20 years. Consider the thrills provided over 36 minutes by these lightweights to the moribund heavyweight division, and there's no contest.

But as soon as the final bell at the MGM Grand Garden rang, one major question loomed. What next?

The most pressing requirement for the two fighters might be rest.

Morales jumped into the Pacquiao fray immediately following his harrowing November brawl with Barrera (which he narrowly lost), while the high-energy
Filipino fought Fahsan (3K Battery) Por Thawatchai in December. After this recent battle royale, both Morales and Pacquiao need not just a physical
break, but a mental and emotional rest. Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach has even complained that promoter Murad Muhammad has jeopardized his
fighter's career by throwing him in with a steady stream of top opponents.

Yet neither seems willing to take a much-needed respite. Like cock-fighting roosters
(of which Pacquiao has hundreds), both are programmed to constantly fight at an elite level, and anything less would be an affront to their very
beings.

That being the case, their futures will also be dictated by the all-mighty dollar. Neither man has as ever backed away from a
challenge, and the first three minutes alone from their MGM Grand Garden duel warrants a bigger payday for each.

The bad news? Outside of the boxing community, neither man is a name of any renown (most folks in Las Vegas I spoke to weren't even aware there was a major PPV event).

The good news? Their respective promoters, Muhammad and Bob Arum, could make a buck selling
raincoats in the desert.

Ideally, both promoters would like their fighters to move from the junior
lightweight division (130 pounds) to the talent-rich 140-pound class, which features marquee names like Floyd Mayweather and Arturo Gatti. But both
Morales and Pacquiao have moved up from 122 pounds, and another jump in weight class would mean compromising power (that already might be the case). Pacquiao began his career fighting at 106 pounds.

So their options are limited.

Immediately following the decision, Morales declared from ringside he'd 'let the fans decide' if his future holds a
Pacquiao rematch or a fourth encounter with Barerra. Either match would earn him the biggest payday of his career, and no fan in his right mind would
complain either way.

Pacquiao might have fewer choices. He's already decisively beaten Barerra. He
could try to avenge his controversial draw with Marquez, but considering the ratings of the fight (not very good, a factor that resulted
in the rematch falling through), the real money and exposure lies solely in
Morales redux.

When asked at the post-fight press conference about the possibility of a rematch, PacMan's trainer Roach emphatically replied, 'Yes, let's do it again. We'd
like to."

And undoubtedly, every single soul who watched the fight would agree.

Tim Struby covers boxing for ESPN The Magazine.