Heading into the final hours before Erik Morales – Manny Pacquiao II, there was still no definite vibe as to which premier bruiser had an intangible edge. Both men appeared at the final press conference looking ready to resume their heated rivalry from where they left off last March, when Morales captured a unanimous decision after a bloody slugfest.

“This is going to be another great fight,” said both men, though in different tongues. “I had a great training camp and I’m very proud to represent my country. I know I will win.”

If the rematch scene is anything like the original, thousands of fans will be buzzing throughout the bright red seats of the Thomas and Mack Arena on the UNLV campus. Many national flags and personalized banners will fly and hang, from the VIP seats to the not so cheap rafters.

Thomas and Mack is the Big Room of Vegas arenas, coming in at over 19,000 seats for boxing, or around 5,000 more sellable tickets than casino properties like Mandalay Bay or the MGM Grand. Fight promoters have to be confident of their product to book an event there.

Even if the second go is only half as good as the original, it will still be a heck of a fight.

It only took a couple of frames in the initial encounter until it was obvious this was a case where styles would make for plenty of wild exchanges. Morales came out strong and never looked back. A controversial cut over Pacquiao’s right eye, that may have been caused by a punch and a butt, made it a long road back for Pacquiao, but he almost surged back by the finish line.

If Erik and Manny combine for another such rumble, it will mark the second year in a row they’ve set the early standard for Fight of the Year. Only the epic that followed between Jose Luis Castillo and Diego Corrales was clearly a more stirring spectacle. It’s safe to say Morales – Pacquaio is one of the top pairings of any fistic calendar. Hopefully the boys will offer further evidence toward an exceptional state of the game.

Repeats can be primetime.

After the first fight, some people pointed to managerial turmoil and displeasure with the choice of gloves as seeds for Pacquaio’s defeat. This time it may be Morales who has the distractions.

After losing a surprising, embarrassingly widespread unanimous decision to Zahir Rahim last September, Morales decided to change trainers. That might not be such a big deal, except in this case said trainer was Morales’s father, who’d trained him all his life. First time Morales head cornerman Jose Luis Lopez,Sr. is coming in to the Pacquiao affair under maximum pressure.

Morales insists there are “No problems” with his focus, but the subject of Pop’s critical quotes regarding his son’s previously poor preparation has been brought up constantly, and the repeated responses may get Morales just a tiny bit off-track in a contest where any slight deficiency could make a deciding difference.

It’s hard to judge how much a draining effort like the first Morales –Pacquiao mill has on a fighter until subsequent showings tell the tale. Maybe Morales’s subdued effort against Rahim was due to an off-night; maybe that’s as good as it gets from here on out. If the Morales who sleepwalked through the Rahim match shows up, Pacquiao will launch him into dreamland, pronto.

However, if Morales can recapture the precision fury that kept him winging in the face of Pacquiao’s assault before, Pacquiao’s legend could be over before it really began. If Pacquiao overwhelms Morales there could be a tiebreaker, but the more likely scenario involves a certain cash cow named Marco Antonio Barrera. Barrerra’s name could add plenty of substance to the bank account of Saturday’s winner.

It’s not hedging on a prediction to acknowledge the indisputable fact that Morales has proven to be a great fighter, easily capable of winning against Pacquiao again, even bigger than before. The humiliation to Rahim may be a Morales wake up call that puts Pacquaio to sleep.

“I feel better coming into this fight than I did the first time,” beamed Morales, looking very much like he meant it. “He is not so competent defensively. He depends too much on his power, and I never really felt his punches.”

Morales is about as close to a three division champion as you can get with all the titles these days, and a worthy Hall of Famer. But Pacquiao’s demolition of Morales archrival and fistic equal Barerra cannot be forgotten. That result was no fluke.

You should always see a weigh-in before picking the winner of a boxing match, and at press time the scale was still 24 hours away. That said, in the weeks leading up to their first fight I always had a distinct feeling Morales could pull off what was then considered an upset. This time it’s the opposite, with Pacquiao getting the gut feeling.

I’d never recommend betting big bucks on a fight this evenly matched, but like they say, high risk, high reward. That’s what it comes down to, Big Time, in Saturday’s main event.

If the first time around was scheduled for 15 rounds, Pacquiao may well have roared all the way back. We’re using a twisted old-school logic here. Despite Morales’s distinctly superior resume, it ain’t gonna be his night.

Morales’s awesome record of never having been dropped may stand, but we don’t see him finishing this fight. Pacquiao by TKO 11.

Styles make fights, but fights also make styles. Tonight, rock smashes scissors.

May the best man win.

With “El Terrible” and the “Pac-Man” the phrase, like the fighters, shows timeless quality and depth.