Manny Pacquiao has made up his mind.
The Filipino star will remain at junior lightweight and challenge beltholder Juan Manuel Marquez for the 130-pound world title March 15 at Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay, Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank announced Thursday.
"This is the one everybody wanted to see," Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer said.
The bout, which will be televised by HBO PPV, is a much-anticipated rematch of their dramatic May 8, 2004 brawl. Pacquiao (45-3-2, 34 KOs) knocked Marquez (48-3-1, 35 KOs) down three times in the first round of the featherweight championship fight, but Marquez battled back and the slugfest was ruled a split draw.
Pacquiao, the star of the division, easily outpointed Marco Antonio Barrera in a rematch Oct. 6 and was considering either the Marquez rematch or moving up to challenge lightweight titlist David Diaz.
Ultimately, he decided to take the Marquez fight.
"Manny is going to knock him out," Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said. "Manny feels that he has really improved dramatically since that first fight with Marquez and that Marquez has gone backwards."
Diaz will defend his 135-pound belt on the undercard, Arum told ESPN.com. He said that if Diaz and Pacquiao both win, he would match them in July. A win by Pacquiao in July could lead to the ultimate showdown in September: A welterweight mega fight against Golden Boy Promotions boss Oscar De La Hoya in De La Hoya's career finale.
Arum said a news conference to bring Pacquiao and Marquez face to face was being scheduled for Dec. 20 in Los Angeles. Arum added that Pacquiao would remain in the U.S. after the press conference and begin training in Los Angeles in early January.
"Marquez-Pacquiao II will be one of those 'must-see' fights for boxing fans," HBO PPV's Mark Taffet said. "Kudos to the promoters and fighters for continuing to make the fights that boxing fans want to see and for continuing the sport's momentum well into 2008."
Pacquiao was supposed to meet with Arum at his Las Vegas home on Thanksgiving to discuss the options and then make a decision. However, Pacquiao didn't make it to Las Vegas and they ended up meeting a few days later in Los Angeles, where Arum laid out the scenarios for him.
"I really left it up to Manny," Arum said, noting that trainer Freddie Roach was on board with either Marquez or Diaz. "[At first] the money wasn't quite right on our side for Marquez as it was against Diaz. But then Schaefer really went to work and did a really great job with Marquez, and that enabled me to tell Manny that it was going to be virtually the same money for him to fight Marquez as it would be to fight Diaz with an upside on a Marquez fight that could be larger, because it would be trumpeted as a bigger fight."
Terms of the deal were not disclosed but Schaefer said that Marquez wanted the fight badly and took the short end to get it done.
"The credit really goes to Marquez because he really, really wanted this fight," Schaefer said. "He knows there is unfinished business between them. Manny, he wanted to fight the guy he could make the most money against. But Juan Manuel Marquez really did his part to make this fight. He agreed to accept the terms which really are heavily in favor of Pacquiao.
"For Marquez, this was not about money, no question about it," Schaefer said. "It was about him standing up there and showing all the Mexicans that, 'Hey, you know that this guy [Pacquiao] beat two legends, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales, but now I'm going to show Pacquiao what Mexican fighters are all about.' That is what motivates him. He knows with a victory over Pacquiao that his name will be considered right there with Morales and Barrera."
Pacquiao has defeated six Mexican fighters in a row, including Morales twice and Barrera, whom he sent into retirement last month. Diaz sent Morales into retirement in August.
Marquez, who defeated Barrera in March to win his belt, routed Rocky Juarez for a unanimous decision in his first defense Nov. 3.
Arum credited Schaefer for structuring a deal for Marquez that made the fight possible.
"He worked it out very cleverly with Marquez," Arum said of his one-time bitter rival. "He did a very good job. I commend him, otherwise the fight wouldn't happen."
After Schaefer and Arum closed the financial gap, Pacquiao had to decide on the weight. Marquez wanted the fight so badly that he was willing to fight a nontitle bout between 131 and 135 pounds.
Pacquiao struggled to make 130 pounds for the Barrera fight, but part of the reason for that was because he did most of his training in the Philippines before traveling the United States and had problems taking off the last couple pounds.
"I asked Manny, 'Do you really have trouble making 130?' He said no and that he would train here in the U.S. and that he wouldn't have trouble making it," Arum said. "So I said, 'Why don't you fight at 130 for the title?' He said he didn't want to pay the [WBC] sanction fee. I said, 'Twenty years from now when they talk about you beating every 130-pounder out there, wouldn't it be nice if you were 130-pound champion?' He agreed and will fight for the WBC title."
Although Marquez holds the WBC belt, the match will also be for the vacant Ring magazine title, which, in an era of four main organizations, recognizes the "real" champion in each division and doesn't require any sanctioning fees.
If Pacquiao defeats Marquez and then Diaz in July, the fight with De La Hoya, who says he will fight in May and then his career finale in September, is a serious possibility.
Arum said part of his discussions with Schaefer while making Marquez-Pacquiao II included talk about an eventual fight with De La Hoya.
"We all know it's a huge fight," Arum said.
Schaefer confirmed that they've discussed the match.
"That's certainly a possibility," Schaefer said. "Bob and me did discuss it. He's discussed it with Manny and I have discussed it with Oscar. At first they were both laughing but each guy said [of the other], 'Is he serious?' Then they stopped laughing when they found out that the other guy was serious. Both guys are open to it."
But first things first: Marquez-Pacquiao II.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.