- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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It didn't take long for Erik Morales to make up his mind. He wants a third fight with Manny Pacquiao and has exercised his contractual option, handlers for both fighters told ESPN.com. Pacquiao, however, will have an interim bout first.
After Morales suffered a 10th-round TKO against Pacquiao on Jan. 21 -- the first stoppage loss of his career -- Morales said he was tired of boxing and planned to take a long rest before considering his ring future.
But barely two weeks removed from the overwhelming defeat, which included the first two legitimate knockdowns of his career in the 10th round, Morales decided he wanted a rubber match with the man he defeated on a unanimous decision in their first exciting fight in March 2005.
"He has exercised his option," Top Rank's Bob Arum, Morales' promoter, told ESPN.com. "He didn't want to take the time off. He said, 'I want to fight him again. I know what I did wrong.' What he did wrong was he blew himself up [in weight] and then in going down he expended all of his energy losing the weight."
Arum is planning the pay-per-view fight for Sept. 16 in Las Vegas, and already has requested the date from the Nevada State Athletic Commission, according to executive director Marc Ratner. But Arum wants to put on the fight with a twist.
Instead of taking place at one of the city's traditional boxing venues, Arum said he is making arrangements to have the fight outside at Sam Boyd Stadium, which is eight miles from the Las Vegas Strip and home to the UNLV football team.
Arum said the stadium, which has never been host to a fight, would be configured for about 26,000 fans.
"We're going to do a sensational event," Arum said. "We'll have huge hospitality tents and bands and fireworks. It's going to be a real festival."
Another possibility would be for one of the host casinos, Caesars Palace and Wynn Las Vegas, to erect an outdoor stadium for the event.
Pacquiao (41-3-2, 33 KOs) is hugely popular in his home country of the Philippines and Morales (48-4, 34 KOs) is a star in Mexico, and their first two fights drew huge contingents from both nations.
Arum said Wynn Las Vegas and Caesars Palace executives were enthusiastic about the idea of the festival atmosphere and outdoor venue.
Arum and Pacquiao co-manager Shelly Finkel met earlier this week in New York and hashed out the plan for the rubber match, which included some tweaks to the original option, although the prenegotiated financial terms remain unchanged.
Morales' option called for the third fight to take place within six months of the Jan. 21 rematch, which would have meant by the end of July. However, Finkel agreed to wait until September (a far more lucrative month to stage a pay-per-view than July, when TV viewing levels are much lower) in return for Pacquiao being allowed to take an interim bout.
Finkel said Pacquiao most likely would fight in May in the Philippines, a bout HBO is making plans to televise live and one that figures to draw a tremendous crowd.
"We'll have an interim first before the third fight with Morales, and we're going to probably go to the Philippines," Finkel told ESPN.com. "Manny will face someone who is viable. The main thing is that Manny doesn't get lax about the third fight with Morales just because he knocked him out. Morales will come ready and it won't be easy. It will never be easy to beat Morales. The first five rounds [of the rematch] proved that because Manny was clearly behind."
The TV situation for the bout is unclear because Arum has no deal yet with HBO PPV, which produced and distributed the first two fights. HBO PPV quietly has penciled in an Oscar De La Hoya fight for Sept. 16, although that certainly is not set in stone.
De La Hoya, who used to be promoted by Arum and is now his bitter rival, faces Ricardo Mayorga on May 6 and has said he wants to finish his career on Sept. 16, a key date because it is on Mexican independence day weekend.
"We'll give HBO the first crack at the fight because they did a great job on the first two fights, but we are not wed to HBO," Arum said. "They have no rights to the fight. If they don't want it, we will go elsewhere."
Because of Morales' difficulties making weight, Arum said the rubber match would be at 132 pounds, not at the junior lightweight limit of 130 pounds. The option language contained no specifics on the weight, Arum said.
Finkel said he didn't think the weight would be an issue.
"Bob would like to do the fight at 132 and we'll be able to figure something out to make it happen," he said. "It's not going to be a deal breaker."
There is good reason for the sides to want to do a third fight.
The first two were action-packed brawls and the rematch easily outperformed their first fight, generating at least 350,000 pay-per-view buys, more than 10,000 more than the first fight, according to HBO's Mark Taffet.
It also generated about $16 million in revenue, an amazing figure considering the fighters are only 130 pounds and speak limited English. It is the highest-grossing fight in the history of the weight class.
The pay-per-view numbers are expected to rise once a full accounting of sales is complete.
Around the ring
Taylor-Wright on track: The much-discussed middleweight championship fight between Jermain Taylor and mandatory challenger Winky Wright appears close to being on after it was left for dead a couple of weeks ago.
Although negotiations have been difficult -- and at one time they were called off -- the sides are nearing a deal that would have the two best 160-pounders meet in a live HBO fight. The network is holding June 17 and the fight probably would take place in Las Vegas, although no site deal has been completed.
Taylor hoped to fight in either his hometown of Little Rock, Ark., or in nearby Memphis, Tenn., but Wright refused to fight in either city because of the large pro-Taylor contingent, so they are looking for a new venue.
"The fight continues to look like it is headed in the right direction, but it is not done yet," Taylor promoter Lou DiBella told ESPN.com. "It will be done when there is a signed piece of paper."
Added Gary Shaw, who promotes Wright, "I have no comment other than I am still having discussions with DiBella."
The first sign that the fight was getting closer came earlier this week, when DiBella and Shaw agreed to extend the deadline for a purse bid by 10 days in order to continue working on a deal.
When the fight appeared dead, Taylor, armed with a lucrative HBO contract, considered giving up one of his belts and fighting on April 15 against Sam Soliman, who lost a close fight to Wright in December.
Wright was asking for a 50-50 purse split, which Taylor would not entertain. Had the fight gone to a WBC purse bid, Taylor would have been entitled to 60 percent of the winning bid. The deal DiBella and Shaw are working on will give Wright more than 40 percent but less than 50 percent.
Although Taylor would move to June 17 to face Wright, the undercard fight being planned for the proposed April 15 Taylor-Soliman card is expected to remain on the date and still be televised on HBO. It pits former welterweight champs Vernon Forrest and Ike Quartey in a junior middleweight bout. The winner figures to advance to a major fight in the division.
Gatti update: Action star Arturo Gatti will undergo surgery on his right hand Thursday, according to promoter Main Events. Gatti will have the tendon that connects his knuckle to his middle finger repaired.
In his move up to welterweight Saturday, Gatti, a former junior welterweight and junior lightweight titlist, notched an impressive 11th-round TKO of tough Thomas Damgaard of Denmark. However, like in many of his recent bouts, Gatti injured the hand early. This time, Gatti hurt it in the fourth round and fought with the injury until stopping Damgaard with -- what else? -- a right hand that he threw despite the injury.
Gatti is expected back in the ring in late June or July, possibly to challenge welterweight champ Carlos Baldomir.
Hatton-Cotto? It's preliminary, but promoters for junior welterweight champ Ricky Hatton of England and titlist Miguel Cotto of Puerto Rico have discussed the prospect of a unification bout between the exciting fighters.
Top Rank's Arum, who promotes Cotto, said he and Hatton co-promoter Artie Pelullo have discussed the potentially explosive fight.
"We're in discussions," Arum said. "Nothing is done yet, but we have had discussions. It's a class fight. According to Artie, Hatton is interested in fighting Cotto and I know Cotto is interested in fighting Hatton."
Arum said he hoped to stage the fight June 10 at New York's Madison Square Garden, which is available on that date. The fight happening then, however, is very doubtful.
The reason is because the fight would amount to an afterthought in England because June 10 is the same day that England plays its opening match against Paraguay in soccer's World Cup. That would make it nearly impossible for organizers to generate any substantial revenue for the fight from British television.
"Hatton is interested in fighting Cotto because he wants to fight the best," Pelullo said. "That is the truth. But the fall would be more possible for a Cotto fight."
In the meantime, Cotto defends his belt against Italy's Gianluca Branco on March 4 (HBO) in Puerto Rico.
Hatton's promotional deal with Pelullo and England's Dennis Hobson is scheduled to be announced in England on Tuesday. Pelullo is also continuing to negotiate Hatton's American television deal with HBO and Showtime, which have both made offers, although Showtime appears to have the edge so far.
Arce-Alvarez: Arum, who knows he has a hard pay-per-view sell with the Floyd Mayweather-Zab Judah fight on April 8 because of Judah's shocking loss last month, is trying to beef up the undercard with a potentially all-action fight.
Arum said he will match exciting interim flyweight titlist Jorge Arce of Mexico -- a staple of Arum's recent PPV undercards who rarely disappoints -- with former junior flyweight and strawweight champ Rosendo Alvarez of Nicaragua.
"That fight will definitely be on," Arum said. "[Judah promoter Don] King also has Alvarez and we'll work together to get the fight on like we did for the main event. It is a great fight and the fighters want to do it. We need a fight like that to sell to the Hispanic audience."
The fighters gave fans a potential preview of their bout last weekend. After Arce (43-3-1, 33 KOs) stopped Adonis Rivas in their rematch in Cancun, Mexico, Alvarez (36-2-2, 23 KOs) was in the ring and engaged in trash talk with Arce. Then he slapped Arce, who responded by throwing a punch while he still had his gloves on. The brief scuffle, which aired live on Azteca America, was quickly quelled but it set the stage for a fiery fight.
Afterward, Arce bragged to the media that he could knock out Alvarez, 35, who recently moved up to flyweight.
"My message to Rosendo is sign the fight contract now," Arce, 26, told the reporters. "I'm hungry, and I'm going to knock [Alvarez] out. Right now, nobody can beat me, because I'm the best pound for pound. My strategy for Rosendo is to go for his body, because he's an old-timer. I'm young and he won't be able to keep up with the pace I'll fight him at. He's going to tire."
Arum said he was also planning to add Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. to the HBO PPV undercard as well as a lightweight fight involving Puerto Rico's Jose Cotto (27-0, 19 KOs), the brother of junior welterweight titlist Miguel Cotto, against "a good opponent."
Showtime for heavyweights: Longtime heavyweight contenders David Tua (44-3-1, 38 KOs) and Shannon Briggs (45-4-1, 39 KOs), both of whom lost world title fights to Lennox Lewis, are going to fight each other.
They will meet April 1 at the Mohegan Sun resort in Connecticut on Showtime on a one-fight that will be available for free to all cable subscribers because it is Showtime's free preview weekend. The fight has a later-than-usual start time of 11 p.m. ET because Showtime doesn't want to conflict with sister network CBS's NCAA Final Four coverage.
Tua and Briggs have both fought many top opponents during their careers, but not each other until now.
"I'd love to see the winner get a world championship opportunity or be in a big fight with Samuel Peter," promoter Cedric Kushner said. "I think the public would like to see these kinds of fights. But this match is a terrific matchup. In the old days, I was sure David would win. Now, to me, it is a coin toss. Both guys can win this fight."
Tua out, Casamayor in: Tua was supposed to be part of the Feb. 24 Warriors Boxing pay-per-view card, but the New Zealand-based heavyweight contender could not obtain a visa in time to enter the United States. So Tua is off the card and will be replaced by lightweight contender Joel Casamayor. Kushner said the visa problem will be taken care of in time for Tua to come to the U.S. for the Briggs bout.
Casamayor (31-3-1, 19 KOs), a former junior lightweight champ, will face Antonio Ramirez (24-10-6, 17 KOs) in a 10-rounder at the Seminole Hard Rock resort in Hollywood, Fla.
The card is headlined by former light heavyweight champ Glen Johnson (43-10-2, 29 KOs) against former title challenger Richard Hall (27-5, 25 KOs). Also on the card: heavyweight prospect Timor Ibragimov (20-0-1, 12 KOs) faces Billy Zumbrun (18-6-1, 10 KOs) and lightweight contender Ricky Quiles (38-6-3, 8 KOs) meets Jeremy Yelton (17-4, 8 KOs).
Darchinyan headed to U.S.: Flyweight titlist Vic Darchinyan, one of the most exciting champions in the world but unknown on these shores, is headed to the United States to defend his title on Showtime.
The Armenian-born, Australian-based Darchinyan (24-0, 19 KOs) will defend his belt March 3 against mandatory challenger Diosdado Gabi (26-2-1, 18 KOs) of the Philippines, said promoter Shaw, who says he is finalizing a promotional contract with Darchinyan.
"I've followed him for maybe eight months and every report I get back is 'what a hard worker he is,' or 'what a great fighter he is.' I want to be involved with fighters like that," Shaw said. "I'm excited to have Vic as part of my team."
The fight at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, Calif., will be televised on Showtime's "ShoBox: The New Generation" series, which is normally reserved for prospects as opposed to champions.
However, "ShoBox" has televised one previous world title fight when it aired featherweight titlist Scott Harrison's defense against Michael Brodie in June 2005.
"Though this does not necessarily fit the [ShoBox] profile, it was too good of a fight to pass up and we will have a nice 'ShoBox' fight on the undercard," said executive producer Gordon Hall. "Vic is one of the little biggest punchers in boxing."
Said Shaw: "Vic is a champion, but no one here knows him. But with 'ShoBox' you want to bring new faces to the screen. This fight will be a launching pad for both guys."
Darchinyan, nicknamed "The Raging Bull," has fought once previously in the United States, knocking out long-reigning champion Irene Pacheco in the 11th round on Dec. 16, 2004, at Hollywood, Fla.
Darchinyan, a southpaw like Gabi, made two defenses in 2005, knocking out Mzukisi Sikali in the eighth round and Jair Jimenez in the fifth round.
Bell staying put: Undisputed cruiserweight champ O'Neil Bell said he intends to remain in the cruiserweight division rather than move up to heavyweight -- unless something major comes along.
"I feel that there are a lot of options out there, especially the one that I really want to have: Mr. Antonio Tarver, if he would step up to the plate," Bell said of the light heavyweight king.
"If not, if there's an attractive fight at heavyweight, I'll do that and I will move up. But my primary goal is to bring the limelight and everything I can to the cruiserweight division. I believe this is a bona fide division that demands respect. We are heavyweights, but in a smaller fashion."
Bell became only the second fighter in cruiserweight division history to become undisputed champion -- joining Evander Holyfield -- when he scored a Jan. 7 upset in New York by knocking out Jean-Marc Mormeck to unify the division.
If Bell stays at cruiserweight, he has a mandatory due against top contender Steve Cunningham, who stepped aside in order to allow the Bell-Mormeck fight to happen. Cunningham won a fight on the undercard and is next in line for a title shot.
"I'm here to bring respect back to the division, so if possible, I'm going to fight all my mandatories, whether it's Steve Cunningham or whoever it may be," Bell said.
Bell, however, appears to be ducking another contender, Dale Brown of Canada. Bell outpointed Brown last May to win a vacant belt, but the decision was one of the most controversial of the year.
"As for Dale Brown, he's beneath me," Bell said. "I don't see why I have to go ahead and make a definitive statement when he should have been knocked out the first time, but he ran throughout the first fight. But if I'm antagonized into fighting him, I will definitely make it his last fight."
Groundhog picks Lacy: Inventive publicist Fred Sternburg reached deep into his PR magic bag this week, issuing a media release in which he swears that world famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil "emerged from his burrow at Gobbler's Knob wearing a Jeff 'Left Hook' Lacy T-shirt, and proclaimed that undefeated WBO super middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe's reign as world champion would last only four more weeks."
Sternburg reported that there was a brief debate as to whether Phil was holding up four fingers to symbolize his prediction or merely waving, since he only has four digits on his little paw.
"There isn't a shadow of a doubt that Jeff Lacy is going to knock out Joe Calzaghe when they meet on March 4," Sternburg quoted Phil as saying in his native Groundhogese. "I also predict a long world title reign for Jeff Lacy, not only as undisputed super middleweight, but as a light heavyweight champion and beyond!"
Lacy (21-0, 17 KOs), of St. Petersburg, Fla., meets Calzaghe (40-0, 31 KOs), of Wales, to unify 168-pound titles in Manchester, England. The fight, the biggest in the division since Roy Jones faced James Toney in 1994, will take place at 2 a.m. England time so Showtime can televise it live at 9 p.m. on the East Coast of the United States.
Lazcano headlines: Fight fans and media in Las Vegas for the junior middleweight showdown between former champs Shane Mosley and Fernando Vargas on Feb. 25 will get an added treat the night before the big fight.
Juan "The Hispanic Causing Panic" Lazcano (35-3-1, 27 KOs), a lightweight contender who will fight at junior welterweight, will headline Telefutura's "Solo Boxeo" (9 p.m. ET) against rugged Ben Tackie (27-5-1, 16 KOs) at Mandalay Bay.
Lazcano has won both of his bouts by knockout since a June 2004 decision loss to Jose Luis Castillo when they met for a vacant title, and is looking for another title shot in 2006.
Tackie, of Accra, Ghana, has never been stopped and is 3-0-1 since a three-fight losing streak from 2002-03. But the three losses came against the best the junior welterweight division had to offer at the time -- a title shot against then-champion Kostya Tszyu followed by losses to former champ Sharmba Mitchell and future champ Hatton.
Also on the card will be 2004 Mexican Olympian Abner Mares (7-0, 5 KOs), a junior featherweight and one of the sport's elite prospects.
Hopkins heads home: Former middleweight champ Bernard Hopkins, who plans to fight one more time before moving into a full-time role as a promoter with Golden Boy, is returning home to Philadelphia for his promotional debut.
Hopkins, the president of Golden Boy Promotions East, is putting on his first card in his hometown on March 3 at the New Alhambra Sports and Entertainment Center in South Philadelphia.
Headlining the ESPN2 "Friday Night Fights" card is Hopkins' nephew, junior welterweight Demetrius Hopkins (22-0-1, 14 KOs) against an opponent to be named.
"We have been trying hard to bring a fight to Philadelphia with the intentions of making it a great night for Philly fight fans," Hopkins said. "There is no better way to introduce our company to the area than to have a Philadelphia fighter like Demetrius to represent us on live national television."
In the co-feature, welterweight Larry Mosley (15-1, 6 KOs) faces Miguel Figueroa (24-5-1, 14 KOs).
Hopkins is enthusiastic about promoting in his hometown.
"I feel like I am preparing for one of the biggest fights of my life," he said. "Philly fight fans are no joke and if we don't give them a great night of boxing, they're going to knock me out."
Quick hits: Hopkins and Golden Boy's Richard Schaefer met with HBO on Monday to discuss Hopkins' next -- and final -- fight. With Hopkins' proposed rematch with Roy Jones in limbo while Jones talks about a deal with Showtime, Hopkins has turned his attention to light heavyweight king Antonio Tarver. The sides are talking about a June 10 HBO PPV. Hopkins, 41, who lost two close decisions and the middleweight title to Jermain Taylor last year, said his next fight will be his last. If he doesn't face Tarver or Jones, it is possible he could return to his native Philadelphia for a farewell bout against a lesser opponent.
• With HBO announcer Jim Lampley serving as a host for NBC's Winter Olympics coverage in Torino, Italy, he will be unavailable to work the Feb. 25 Fernando Vargas-Shane Mosley fight on HBO PPV. So the network is replacing him for the evening with James Brown. Brown, Fox's NFL studio host, has also been the emcee for numerous HBO PPV events but will join analysts Larry Merchant and Emanuel Steward ringside as the blow-by-blow man for the card. This is a one-time gig for Brown, who is not a candidate for the open blow-by-blow spot on the announce team for the revamped "Boxing After Dark" series, which returns April 29.
• The super fight Australia has been waiting for -- the showdown between former super middleweight titlist Anthony Mundine (25-3, 20 KOs) and former interim titlist Danny Green (21-2, 19 KOs) -- finally has a date. They will meet April 19 in Sydney, Australia, at an outdoor soccer stadium with a capacity of almost 50,000. Every seat is expected to be filled. However, there is such animosity between the two that when the fight officially was announced this week, the fighters held separate news conferences.
• Showtime announced that former CNN Headline News anchor Karyn Bryant will be part of the broadcast team as a reporter for the Feb. 4 and March 4 cards. She will work alongside blow-by-blow announcer Steve Albert, analyst Al Bernstein and reporter Jim Gray. "I am approaching this as a lifetime fight fan," Bryant said. "I grew up watching boxing on television with my father and I have a great deal of respect for the commitment that fighters have to make. I know that ringside, when two guys are in the thick of it, you can really feel that commitment. That is probably what I am looking forward to the most."
• Prospects John Duddy (14-0, 13 KOs), a middleweight, and junior middleweight Yuri Foreman (19-0, 7 KOs) will be headlining the "Super Brawl: The Battle of Boston" card Saturday night at The Castle at Park Plaza in downtown Boston. Duddy, an Ireland native who has emerged as a fan favorite in New England, faces Julio Jean (7-6-1, 3 KOs) in the 10-round main event. Foreman faces Jimmy LeBlanc (11-9-4, 3 KOs) in the 10-round co-feature. Also on the card is another prospect, four-time New York City Golden Gloves champion Jorge Teron (9-0, 7 KOs), a lightweight from Brooklyn.
• Former featherweight champ Kevin Kelley (57-6-2, 38 KOs), 38 and well past his prime, continues to fight on as a junior lightweight. Kelley, who was obliterated in his last meaningful bout against Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003, will face Juan Carlos "Ranchero" Ramirez (37-8, 16 KOs) in a 10-rounder in Cicero, Ill., on Telefutura (9 p.m. ET).
Quotable: "I cannot wait to ruin a designer blouse with the blood and sweat of a warrior during a postfight interview." -- broadcaster Karyn Bryant, who is excited about joining Showtime's announcing team for at least two cards, on Feb. 4 and March 4.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
Barely two weeks removed from his overwhelming loss to Manny Pacquiao, Erik Morales has decided he wants a rubber match, handlers for both fighters told ESPN.com.