Juan Manuel Marquez had to walk through a mile of barb wire, and get off the canvas in the third, but the Mexican vet put himself in the front of the race in the Pacman sweepstakes, with a TKO9 win over Michael Katsidis Saturday night in Las Vegas.

The loser was impassioned in a brawl televised by HBO, and in the face of Marquez from the get go. But the victor countered masterfully, and Katsidis tired some after exterting constant pressure. His best chance came in the third, when he landed a left hook as Marquez started his own left hook. Down, and then up, with two minutes to go, Marquez cleared his head, and dished out his own hurt 30 seconds later. He may kiss the canvas, but the date never lasts long; Marquez chin isnt teflon, but it isnt china, either. Ref Kenny Bayless showed he has a heart and a fine set of eyes as he stepped in with Katsidis still on his feet, with only his cajones holding him up. Hed been getting battered for minute. The time of the stop was 2:14.

The lightweight champion said after that Pacquiao has been avoiding him. HBOs Larry Merchant said JMM is on the top, top of the list to meet Manny. He said he thinks Marquez could generate the most money in meeting Pacman, after Mayweather. He also said Pacman could meet Saul Alvarez later next year.

***Who didnt think Jason Litzau was going to have his behind handed to him by Panamanian Celestino Caballero in their featherweight clash on the Marquez-Katsidis undercard on Saturday night in Las Vegas?

Liar.

The 34 year-old Caballero supposedly looked past the American to bigger things down the line, and fans thought it would be a beatdown, probably not to reach the midway point.

Thats why we fight these things. The judges spoke, instead of conventional wisdom, and us pundits, and saw it 96-94 for Cabbie, 96-94 for Litzau, 97-93, Litzau. The split decision win for the American, who didnt land as much as Cabbie (197 to 130), but threw more, 514 to 446.

The 27 year old Minnesota fighter looked like he belonged against the champion from the start, and things looked even better than that for the American midway through the bout.

Almost a head taller than Litzau, Cabbie got the memo that he was flirting with disaster in the sixth. A round after LItzau raked Cabbie with hooks, and power rights, the champion stepped up his game. He hurled those slingshot rights of his, but Litzau wasnt put off. The raging underdog, who has cleaned up his act, and stopped partying in between fights, cleaning up his act for a fiancee, looked more confident than he ever has. He also had to be happy that a slice opened up on Cabbies left eye midway through.

His stamina held up, and so did his focus. Would the judges reward the American, and get it right?

***Freddy Hernandez had to be extra amped when the underdog in the first TV fight, Jason Litzau, came away with a decision win. But Andre Berto showed that he wasnt in the mood to let another dog have his day. He delivered a right cross that had Hernandez on his butt and in such bad shape that ref Russ Mora halted the bout at 2:07 of the first.

Berto retained his WBC welterwight crown and almost certainly will have his career signature fight next. He called out Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto and of course, Manny Pacquiao. He labeled himself the best fight out there for Pacquiao. What do you think?

In the first, Bertos jab looked fierce. Freddys didnt. A right hand had Freddy down a minute in, and he got up, but on shaky legs. The ref didnt want to let Berto do any more damage.

When a victory comes that easily, Im sorry, that aint him, thats the other guy, Larry Merchant said right after the finish.

Come back for David Avilas ringside report.