Friday, Nov. 17, 2006 | 6:58 a.m.
Principals: Manny Pacquiao (42-3-2, 32 KOs) vs. Erik Morales (48-4, 34 KOs)
At stake: 12-round super featherweight bout; no major belts; rubber match between two of the world's best fighters
Time/site: Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center; doors open, 4 p.m; first fight, 4:30 p.m., pay-per-view begins, 6 p.m.
Tickets: A sellout is expected at prices of $50 to $500; some seats might remain at the box office or by calling 739-FANS
Closed circuit: Live at the Wynn Las Vegas and The Beach, $50
TV: HBO Pay-Per-View ($49.95)
Weigh-in: 2:30 p.m. toda y at the Thomas & Mack Center; open to the public
Undercard: Ricardo Torres (29-1, 27 KOs) vs. "Mighty" Mike Arnaoutis (17-0-1, 9 KOs), 12 rounds, WBO junior welterweight championship; Omar Nino (24-2-1, 10 KOs) vs. Brian Viloria (19-1, 12 KOs), 12 rounds, WBC light flyweight championship; Juan Carlos Salgado (16-0-1, 13 KOs) vs. Marcos Licona (23-8-1, 8 KOs), 8 rounds, super featherweights
Betting line: Pacquiao -240/Morales +200; will go 12 full rounds, -160/won't go 12 full rounds, +140
1. Making weight
Erik Morales' backers had to be concerned when they saw their man on HBO's fight preview show sporting a new puffy-faced look, a la the modern-day Roberto Duran, instead of his usual angular facial features. This was after Morales admittedly had trouble making 130 pounds for January's rematch, which Manny Pacquiao won by technical knockout in the 10th round. But in his first public Las Vegas appearance this week at the Top Rank Gym, Morales looked sleek and healthy, having regained his familiar "hawkish" appearance. He has an immediate financial incentive this time: For every pound Morales weighs above 130, he must pay Pacquiao $500,000, and Pacquiao won't fight if Morales weighs more than 132.
2. Fan favorites
The fight is shaping up as a box-office bonanza, promoter Bob Arum said, which makes sense considering the personalities involved. Morales, a hero in his native Mexico, is a rugged three-time world champ. Pacquiao ranks in the top two or three in most unofficial polls of the sport's best fighters pound-for-pound. More than $2.6 million worth of tickets have been sold, Arum said, already exceeding the gate of January's fight, which drew 14,618 to the Thomas & Mack Center. "People are tired of seeing one (crummy) fight after another," Arum said, but he didn't say "crummy." "Mayweather-Baldomir might have looked good on paper, but it was terrible; Barrera-Juarez was terrible. People know this is going to be a real fight."
3. What a lucky man?
Saturday's showdown looms as a pivotal bout for Morales, who is a certain Hall of Famer but has lost three of his past four fights - to hated rival Marco Antonio Barrera, Zahir Raheem and Pacquiao, with a victory against Pacquiao in March 2005 mixed in. Morales credits his work with the Velocity Sports Performance training program in Los Angeles for instilling a new-found confidence, and criticized Pacquiao as a one-dimensional fighter who got "lucky" last time. "He has no technique," Morales, 30, said. "He cannot adapt (to changes in an opponent's style). He's the same guy he's always been."
4. Calling for a reprise
Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, expects an outcome similar to the last fight, predicting a knockout by Pacquiao in the ninth, 10th or 11th round. Showing off his hyper-aggressive style, the left-handed Pacquiao took control of January's bout after the fifth round against a tiring Morales, who acknowledged, "My gas ran out in the second half of each round." Pacquiao prepared for the rubber match by sparring with seven fighters with physiques similar to Morales'. "I'm training hard to win and to fight every minute of every round," Pacquiao said. "Morales is training hard to make weight and training hard to win. That's a lot for a fighter to do."
5. Ali's image
Pacquiao, 27, is not just the most celebrated boxer from the Philippines. He's also flat-out the most famous person in his native land, using his boxing stardom to forge successful sidelines in singing and acting. "When I am in the ring I am also fighting for my people," Pacquiao said. Trainer Roach said his fighter, belying his low-key demeanor, thrives on the attention. "It's like Muhammad Ali, where he would enjoy it, and he was able to get energy from it," Roach said. "Manny's that kind of person, too. He likes the attention, he likes the glamor and he feeds off it."