LAS VEGAS -- By now the routine is a familiar one for Manny Pacquiao.
Twice a year he leaves his native Philippines – where he doubles as a congressman – to train with Freddie Roach in a Los Angeles gym. He goes on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" to croon a tune or two, then heads to this gambling city.
Come fight night, high rollers and celebrities will jostle for the best seats ringside on the glittering Las Vegas Strip. Back home, a nation will watch and wait.
And, as always, he'll fight someone not named Floyd Mayweather Jr.
The routine won't change this time. A week from Saturday, Pacquiao will get in the ring with Juan Manuel Marquez, a fine Mexican lightweight who is probably the closest thing to an actual rival that Pacquiao has faced.
Unlike Mayweather's last fight – a farce with Victor Ortiz – no one is going to get cheated out of the $59.95 they spend to buy the bout on pay-per-view. The two fighters have already gone 24 very close rounds together, and appear eager to do it again.
Still, it's not the fight that fans really want to see. It's not the fight fans deserve to see.
It's also not Pacquiao's fault.
He wants to match skills with the fighter who claims to be one of the best ever. He welcomes the opportunity to make $40 million or so in what would be boxing's richest fight ever.
When it comes to negotiations, though, no one is answering the phone at Money Mayweather's world headquarters.
"Why isn't that fight happening?" promoter Bob Arum asked Wednesday. "Because Floyd knows he's going to get beat."
That's the prevailing theory in the Pacquiao camp, anyway. No reason for Mayweather to fight Pacquiao, they believe, when he can make $25 million or so for fighting guys like Ortiz when his schedule permits.
Just what Mayweather thinks is hard to say. He couldn't be reached Wednesday and his manager, Leonard Ellerbe, promised to return a call but didn't.
Mayweather, though, claimed before fighting Ortiz in September that he was more than willing to fight Pacquiao, as long as there was Olympic-style drug testing for both fighters.
"I'm not ducking and dodging," Mayweather said. "I'm not hiding from any opponent. If you're the best, take the test and it will happen."
It's a line Mayweather keeps repeating. It's also a line he should retire.
Because Pacquiao is willing to take the test. Anytime and anywhere.
"Let me put it in the clearest terms possible," Arum said. "We're willing to agree to Olympic drug testing without any conditions. We're ready to make the fight – assuming Manny wins this one – without any conditions."
The first order of business for Pacquiao, of course, is beating Marquez, something that isn't exactly a lock. He knocked Marquez down three times in the first round when they met seven years ago at 125 pounds, only to barely escape with a controversial draw. In their rematch at 130 pounds in 2008, he won a split decision by the narrowest of margins on ringside scoring cards.
The rubber match will be at a catch weight of 144 pounds, which should be an advantage for Pacquiao because he has been campaigning as a welterweight in his last four fights while Marquez has fought only once above 140 pounds in a losing effort to Mayweather.
"I never underestimate Marquez, but it's a big difference in the last three years," Pacquiao said. "I changed a lot and I think I improved a lot. My right hand, my power, it's a big difference."
Pacquiao should be able to get by Marquez, but that doesn't mean a Mayweather fight will be any closer to happening. It may never happen, because Pacquiao's current plans are to fight into 2013 and retire after 18 years as a pro.
That leaves four more fights after Marquez, four chances to cap a remarkable career that began in 1995 when Pacquiao was a 16-year-old who weighed 106 pounds. After that he plans to give up his seat in congress and run for governor of Sarangani province in the Philippines.
If one of those four fights is against Mayweather, then great. Boxing would certainly be better for it. So would the bank accounts of both fighters.
In a sport where common sense doesn't always prevail, though, maybe it's time to stop worrying about who Pacquiao hasn't fought and appreciate who he is.____