Lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez, one of the top fighters in the world, has yearned for a third fight with pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao for three years.
They have fought to two controversial decisions: They drew in a 2004 featherweight title fight, and Pacquiao won a hotly contested split decision in their 2008 rematch for the junior lightweight championship. After three years of chasing Pacquiao since their last meeting, Marquez finally landed the fight.
They are scheduled to meet at a catchweight of 144 pounds for Pacquiao's welterweight title on Nov. 12 on pay-per-view at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. It's everything Marquez -- who will make a minimum of $5 million -- has wanted.
Yet Marquez (52-5-1, 38 KOs) has put himself in harm's way by taking a tuneup fight, knowing that a loss or major injury would shatter his dream.
He will face 25-year-old Likar Ramos (24-3, 18 KOs) of Colombia in a 10-rounder at 140 pounds at the Plaza de Toros bullring in Cancun, Mexico, on Saturday night.
"It is important for me that he is a left-hander, like Pacquiao, and this fight will give me the work I need to be ready for November," Marquez told ESPN.com through translator Ricardo Jimenez of Top Rank.
Ramos briefly held an interim junior lightweight title, losing it in his first defense when Jorge Solis knocked him out in the seventh round in February 2010. Ramos has won three in a row since, including one at 140 pounds.
The fight will headline a three-bout broadcast that will be will streamed live in the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada on Top Rank's website, www.toprank.tv, beginning at 9 p.m. ET.
Also scheduled to be shown: flyweight titlist Roman Gonzalez (28-0, 23 KOs) defending against Omar Salado (22-3-2, 13 KOs), and former bantamweight and junior featherweight champion Rafael Marquez (39-6, 35 KOs) -- Juan Manuel's younger brother -- facing Eduardo Becerril (12-7-2, 4 KOs) in a featherweight fight. Rafael Marquez will be fighting for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury in an eight-round TKO loss to then-featherweight titlist Juan Manuel Lopez on Nov. 6.
Juan Manuel Marquez, 37, is also coming off a long layoff, caused in part by the long process of working out his promotional situation with Golden Boy (whom he has parted ways with) before he could accept an offer from Top Rank to fight Pacquiao.
Marquez hasn't fought since Nov. 27, when he survived a hard knockdown in the third round but rallied to defend the lightweight title by stopping Michael Katsidis in the ninth round.
Besides wanting work against a southpaw, Marquez said he took the fight with Ramos because he didn't want to go into a fight with Pacquiao coming off a year of inactivity.
"I need the activity," said Marquez, a three-division champion. "Every fighter needs to be active and busy. I just felt I needed a fight. I know there are risks involved. But I knew I needed to take this fight to be OK for November. Of course, I understand the risk, but in every fight there is a risk.
"Anytime you go in the ring, there is risk. Anything can happen. But we are intelligent, and I have prepared well for this guy. I just felt like I needed a fight so I could be at my best for Pacquiao."
The fight with Ramos is also a homecoming for Marquez, who, although popular in Mexico, has fought almost all of his career in the United States -- especially in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
He hasn't fought in Mexico in nearly 17 years. The last time was in October 1994, when Marquez -- in just his seventh professional fight -- won a four-round decision against Israel Flores.
"It was very important to me to fight again in Mexico in front of my people," Marquez said. "It's been 17 years. That is a long time. So I am very happy to be here fighting again. We wanted to have the fight in Mexico City [where Marquez is from], but we couldn't do it. It was a better opportunity in Cancun. But I am just happy to be fighting again in Mexico."
He will also have the company of his little brother on the card. The Marquez brothers haven't shared a card since they were on a Showtime telecast in 2006.
Juan Manuel won a vacant interim featherweight belt by knocking out Terdsak Jandaeng in the seventh round, while Rafael stopped Silence Mabuza in defense of his bantamweight title on the undercard.
"It's been a while since we have fought together on the same card, and it is important to both of us," Juan Manuel said. "So why not do it when we are here in Mexico, which makes it even bigger?"
In Marquez's only fight above the 135-pound weight limit, he lost a lopsided decision to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a 2009 welterweight fight. Marquez fought at a career-high 142 pounds.
Instead of moving above junior welterweight to fight Ramos, Marquez said he wanted to get comfortable at 140 before going higher for the fall fight with Pacquiao.
"I felt I needed to do a fight at 140 pounds first," Marquez said. "I wanted to be smart about things before the fight with Pacquiao. I want to see how my body feels at 140 and then 144. One step at a time.
"I'm very excited and happy to get the fight with Pacquiao. It's been a long time that I have wanted this fight. But it is important for me to do well on Saturday night and to show people that I am ready for November."
While Top Rank promoter Bob Arum is still weighing proposals from HBO and Showtime as he decides which company will handle the Nov. 12 Pacquiao-Marquez III pay-per-view, he is making plans for the most elaborate promotional tour he has ever staged.
Arum said the four-city international press tour will kick off Sept. 3 in Manila, where he believes Pacquiao -- the national icon of the Philippines -- can draw a crowd of 500,000.
"We're doing it in a big public park," Arum said. "We have people on the ground making the arrangements for it. It is going to be spectacular."
Sept. 4 falls on a Sunday, and Arum said he is attempting to arrange for the Archbishop of the Philippines to give Holy Communion to Pacquiao and Marquez.
Arum said the tour would then travel to New York for a press conference on Sept. 6, and then another the next day in Los Angeles.
"Then, late Thursday afternoon we'll fly to Mexico City and do a press conference on Friday in a big square in the city," Arum said. "We think we can get 50,000 to come out. I'd like to get the president of Mexico to speak at that press conference. I'm doing this so elaborately because it makes a statement that Pacquiao is a worldwide figure, therefore you do it worldwide. It's the appropriate thing to do."
Arum said that in addition to lining up sponsors for the fight, Top Rank also has sponsors coming on board just for the press tour -- an unprecedented move.
Although middleweight titlist Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. hopes to defend his title for the first time in Mexico on Sept. 24, Arum doesn't want to go along with it.
"I'm doing my utmost to see that that doesn't happen," Arum told ESPN.com.
Arum said Chavez and some of his "yes men" are pushing for the September fight, even though Arum has a Nov. 19 date lined up for him on HBO. In addition, Arum said, if Chavez (43-0-1, 30 KOs) fights in September, trainer Freddie Roach won't be available to work with him because he also trains Pacquiao and would be on a weeklong media tour promoting the Nov. 12 pay-per-view fight with Marquez.
"Freddie wants to be on the tour, we want him on the tour and there's not enough time for him to be with Chavez," Arum said. "Even if Chavez fought a stiff opponent, that's not the point. We're trying to convince him to wait until Nov. 19 to fight Peter Manfredo on HBO. Besides, without Freddie and [strength coach] Alex Ariza, the kid will never make the weight. So I'm doing whatever I can to kill that September fight. The kid is the one putting pressure on me and everyone to do the fight in September. Freddie is the voice of reason. Nobody will step up and tell this kid no except me and Freddie, who said if he wants to do it, it's without him."
One opponent Chavez's handlers have reached out to in hopes of making a September fight is Ronald Hearns, the son of all-time great Thomas Hearns. Ronald Hearns (26-2, 20 KOs) is coming off a seventh-round knockout loss in his only title opportunity, a February shot against Felix Sturm in Germany.
Ramos-Rigondeaux coming soon
Newly crowned junior featherweight titlist Rico Ramos probably won't have a lot of time to enjoy his belt before he must face what figures to be a very tough mandatory fight against interim titlist Guillermo Rigondeaux.
Ramos (20-0, 11 KOs) won the 122-pound belt when, trailing widely on all three scorecards, he scored a one-punch knockout of Japan's Akifumi Shimoda (23-3-1, 10 KOs) in the seventh round last Saturday in Atlantic City, N.J., in his HBO debut. Part of the deal Rigondeaux (8-0, 6 KOs), the two-time Cuban Olympic gold medalist, worked out to allow Ramos-Shimoda to take place was that the winner would be contractually obligated to face him in his first defense.
"I stepped aside and let the fight go ahead, even though they ignored the fact that I was next in line," Rigondeaux said. "Ramos will soon regret that he won the title when we get it on. Ramos is a tough, aggressive fighter, but those types of fighters suit me. I promise he will not have enough time to enjoy this victory, because I will be taking that belt from him when we meet in the ring. My goal is to be the undisputed 122-pound world champion and I want to achieve this goal by the end of 2012."
Rigondeaux, considered one of the greatest amateurs ever, won an interim belt in only his seventh professional bout.
Rigondeaux was going to fight a nontitle bout on the season finale of ESPN2/ESPN3's "Friday Night Fights" on Aug. 19, but co-promoter Luis DeCubas Sr. could not secure a site that made financial sense. There is a slim possibility that Rigondeaux may instead fight on the Aug. 12 edition of FNF.
Molina looking for a shot
Junior middleweight Carlos Molina hopes he can land a significant fight after what he has accomplished of late.
On Saturday, Molina (19-4-2, 6 KOs) pulled a major upset when he easily outpointed former welterweight titlist Kermit Cintron in a Showtime undercard fight. Molina toyed with Cintron two bouts after fighting to a draw with Erislandy Lara, which many believed Molina deserved to win.
That controversial draw now looks even better for Molina, after Lara vaulted himself near the top of the 154-pound division with his strong performance against Williams on Saturday night, even though Lara lost the highly controversial majority decision.
"It's no longer a secret that Carlos Molina is the world's best 154-pound fighter," said Warriors Boxing promoter Leon Margules, perhaps laying it on a bit too thick. "This is an open call to all the champions -- Miguel Cotto, Canelo Alvarez, Austin Trout, [Cornelius] 'K9' Bundrage and Sergei Dzinziruk: Carlos Molina is ready and able to take any of you on."
Molina has had an impressive comeback after being idle for two years during a contract dispute with former promoter Don King.
Molina fought for the first time since 2009 when he drew with Lara on March 25. Four weeks later, he took a fight on short notice and knocked out Allen Conyers in the seventh round in an impressive performance, and then he worked over Cintron.
"If you think about it, Lara beat Paul Williams, and Cintron beat Alfredo Angulo, and Carlos beat both of them, so he could be considered the top challenger in the world," said Luis DeCubas Sr., Molina's adviser. "We hope the sanctioning bodies will recognize his amazing accomplishments and move him into a position where he can fight for a world championship."
Said Margules: "Once he's a champion, he'll finally stop being considered the underdog in every fight. That might take him some getting used to."
• Promoter Dan Goossen is looking to put together a card on Sept. 15 -- Mexican Independence Day -- from a site in California that would feature heavyweight contender (and Mexican-American) Cristobal Arreola, possibly against former title challenger Michael Grant, and featherweight titlist Jhonny Gonzalez of Mexico. Gonzalez would face Roinet Caballero, whom he was supposed to face last Saturday. (Caballero couldn't obtain a visa in time after the fight was moved from Mexico to Atlantic City, N.J., and the Erislandy Lara-Paul Williams undercard on short notice.) Instead, Gonzalez knocked out late substitute Tomas Villa in the fourth round. Arreola also won on the card, easily outpointing Friday Ahunanya. Goossen is talking to Epix about carrying the card, although the network hasn't made a decision yet.
• Featherweight titlist Orlando Salido (35-11-2, 23 KOs), who makes his first title defense in his hometown of Ciudad Obregon, Mexico, on "Top Rank Live" on July 23 (Fox Deportes), has a new opponent in Japan's Kenichi Yamaguchi (17-1-2, 4 KOs), a junior featherweight who is moving up in weight. Salido was originally scheduled to meet America Mike Oliver, but Oliver has a sternum injury, according to Sean Gibbons, Salido's manager. Gibbons said Oliver suffered the injury in his six-round decision win against Felipe Almanza in what was supposed to be a tuneup fight on June 25. Gibbons said Oliver "tried to work through it" but was unable to. Salido took the change in stride, saying, "Things like this happen in boxing all the time, and I will be ready to take on Yamaguchi in my first world title defense." Salido won the title by stopping Juan Manuel Lopez in the eighth round of a major upset in April. Top Rank hopes to make a Salido-Lopez rematch later in the year if Salido defeats Yamaguchi.
• Featherweight titlist Chris John (45-0-2, 22 KOs) of Indonesia, who has held his belt since 2003 and is boxing's longest active titleholder, will make his 15th defense on Oct. 8, adviser Sampson Lewkowicz told ESPN.com. John, 31, will fight an opponent to be determined in Singapore. Since back-to-back fights against Rocky Juarez in the United States, John has fought his last two fights in Indonesia. He's staying in Asia for his next bout because it is his most lucrative option, according to Lewkowicz. There had been some conversation about John returning to the U.S., possibly to fight Yuriorkis Gamboa, but Lewkowicz said the chances of John coming back to America are "very slim because he is getting much more money fighting in Indonesia or Singapore. He doesn't need HBO to make good money."
• Lightweight contender Michael Katsidis has shaken off a flu bug and returned to sparring and training in preparation for his homecoming fight in Australia against Michael Lozada (38-8-1, 30 KOs) on Aug. 13. Katsidis (27-4, 22 KOs) was bedridden last week, forcing him to cancel a media day. "It was always a concern, but we are happy with the way Michael has recovered after a good rest," said Brendon Smith, Katsidis' trainer and manager. "As much as he is on a great vitamin and immunity program, sometimes it just cannot be avoided. There is so much flu getting around this time of year, it's better to get it out of the way now, rather than come down with it closer to the fight." Katsidis is coming off back-to-back losses -- a decision to Robert Guerrero in April and a ninth-round knockout to champion Juan Manuel Marquez in November -- and will be fighting in Australia for the first time since 2006.
• The undercard for the Amir Khan-Zab Judah junior welterweight unification fight on July 23 (HBO) at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas suffered yet another hit when middleweight Tarvis Simms (27-1-1, 11 KOs) withdrew this week from his fight with rising prospect Peter "Kid Chocolate" Quillin (24-0, 18 KOs) because of a fractured rib. "He hurt his ribs last week during sparring, so he was still training but not sparring," Main Events matchmaker Jolene Mizzone told ESPN.com. "But it wasn't getting any better. So he went to the doctor and had a CT scan. We thought his ribs were just bruised. It turned out that he had a fractured rib." Golden Boy is now looking for a replacement to face Quillin. Two other notable fights had already fallen off the card. The junior welterweight title eliminator between Lamont Peterson (28-1-1, 14 KOs) and Victor Cayo (26-1, 18 KOs) was called off over issues between promoters Golden Boy and Warriors Boxing. (It has since been rescheduled to headline "Friday Night Fights" on July 29.) Welterweight Joel "Love Child" Julio (37-4, 31 KOs) withdrew from his bout against Antwone Smith (20-2-1, 12 KOs) when he had to break his Miami training camp to return home to Colombia to care for his mother and sister after they were involved in a car accident.
• While junior welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley Jr. sits on the sidelines and could be stripped of at least one of his alphabet belts (and while he also prepares for litigation with promoter Gary Shaw), Ajose Olusegun and Ali Chebah (35-1, 28 KOs) of France are getting ready to fight the title eliminator that will give the winner a mandatory shot at him. The fight will take place on a date to be determined in September and be televised on Showtime's "ShoBox: The New Generation," promoter Lou DiBella told ESPN.com. The fight was originally supposed to take place Aug. 12 in Santa Ynez, Calif., but it was delayed over miscommunication about the date with Showtime, DiBella said. The promoter signed Olusegun (29-0, 14 KOs), a native of Nigeria, in early July. Olusegun has fought mostly in the United Kingdom, but he is now based in New York, where DiBella is also based. "My guy is fun to watch and can really fight," DiBella said. "But Chebah, people tell me, should be very competitive with him and is also pretty good. I think it should be a competitive and fan-friendly fight."
• In the Jan. 7 season premiere of "Friday Night Fights," junior welterweight Mauricio Herrera (18-1, 7 KOs) upset top prospect Ruslan Provodnikov of Russia on a unanimous decision in a strong action fight. They will meet in a rematch at the Horseshoe Hotel and Casino in Hammond, Ind., to close out the season on Aug. 19 (ESPN2). Provodnikov (19-1, 13 KOs), who was heavily favored in the first bout, has won two fights since the upset. Herrera is on a five-fight winning streak. Two fights after beating Provodnikov, Herrera returned to "FNF" and upset Mike Dallas Jr. "I think we won the first fight and we didn't get the decision, and I think we're going to win the second one," said Artie Pelullo, Provodnikov's promoter. "The first fight was a very good fight, but Herrera was so durable that he took a lot of shots and just hung around, and the officials were surprised to see that and gave him the decision." In the co-feature, lightweight Hank Lundy (20-1-1, 10 KOs) is slated to face former titlist David Diaz (36-3-1, 17 KOs), who will get support from his hometown fans; Hammond is just a few minutes from Chicago, where Diaz is from.
• Super middleweight prospect Anthony Dirrell (22-0, 19 KOs), the younger brother of former Super Six participant Andre Dirrell, will headline ESPN2/ESPN3's "Friday Night Fights" at Morongo Casino Resort in Cabazon, Calif., on July 22. Dirrell will face Kevin Engel (18-4, 15 KOs) in a scheduled 10-rounder. Engel took the fight after former titleholder Alejandro Berrio dropped out due to a visa issue. In the opener, welterweight prospect Joseph Elegele (12-0, 10 KOs) will face
Lanard Lane (12-1, 7 KOs).
• Promoter Gary Shaw signed Indianapolis heavyweight Franklin Lawrence (15-2-2, 10 KOs), 35, who didn't turn professional until his late 20s. Lawrence, who has won three in a row, owns a 2010 win against former contender Lance Whitaker and last year's TKO of 2004 U.S. Olympian Jason Estrada. His losses came via decision to former titlist Oliver McCall in 2009 and via first-round knockout to fringe contender Bermane Stiverne in Lawrence's fifth pro fight, in 2006. "Franklin has all the momentum right now in the American heavyweight division, and we're proud to be working with him," Shaw said. "His quality of opposition is unmatched by any of the other prospects, and that shows his willingness to mix it up with anyone, anytime. That's the kind of hunger we are always looking for."
• Unable to agree on an opponent, HBO will not televise featherweight prospect Gary Russell Jr.'s bout on the Amir Khan-Zab Judah undercard on July 23, as was initially planned. Golden Boy plans to keep Russell (16-0, 10 KOs), who still doesn't have an opponent, on the card. HBO would show only highlights of the bout, according to Golden Boy. Junior welterweight Paul McCloskey (22-1, 12 KOs) will return to action at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Sept. 10. The fight will be McCloskey's first since losing a shutout six-round technical decision in a challenge of Amir Khan on April 16. McCloskey likely will face Breidis Prescott, who handed Khan his only loss, a first-round knockout. Former welterweight contender Antonio Diaz (45-6-1, 27 KOs) will face Ernesto Zepeda (39-14-4, 32 KOs) in a junior middleweight bout at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, Calif., on Aug. 12 on Telefutura's "Solo Boxeo Tecate." Diaz, from nearby Coachella, will be fighting at the casino for the 17th time. He's 16-0 there.
"Do I want the Pacquiao fight? Absolutely, if that is what the fans want. I want to give the fans what they want, but I have to take it one step at a time. I cannot overlook Victor Ortiz."
-- Floyd Mayweather Jr. on a possible megafight with Manny Pacquiao, during a recent press conference announcing his fight on Sept. 17 (HBO PPV) against welterweight titlist Ortiz
"I plan to be his worst nightmare. After this fight, I plan on Team Khan having a 62-hour watch on Amir Khan. I plan on being the Freddy Krueger of his dreams. I plan on being Freddy Krueger to Freddie Roach. I'm pretty sure, after this fight, Freddie Roach would never put his golden boy and marquee fighter, which is Manny Pacquiao, against me in the ring."
-- Junior welterweight titlist Zab Judah on his fight with Khan and on Roach, Khan's trainer
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at danrafaelespn.