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Pacquiao Marquez final PC 121205 002a

They respect each other, but a Ward-Gatti type friendship? Probably not gonna happen. (Chris Farina-Top Rank)

Juan Manuel Marquez pondered the question for a moment, an odd look on his face before he answered.

He had just been asked if he felt it likely he and his long-time nemesis, Manny Pacquiao, might one day become blood brothers in the way Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti had after their three epic battles on HBO became a boxing trilogy that will live on long after they have both faded away.

Marquez and Pacquiao understand that their names have become enjoined in a way that happens sometimes in boxing. Robinson-LaMotta. Saddler-Pep. Bowe-Holyfield. Most of all, Ali-Frazier.

In boxing circles you cannot say Ali without thinking Joe Frazier and you can’t say Frazier without immediately recalling Muhammad Ali. It is as if they became one, soldered together in the boiling cauldron that is a boxing ring.

Now there is Pacquiao-Marquez. Or, if you’d like, Marquez-Pacquiao. Two fighters so tightly entwined after 36 rounds of boxing so closely contested that a change of merely one point in each fight would have it 2-0-1 for Marquez rather than the other way around.

Respect is born from such a string of confrontations. Sometimes friendship blooms in that hard ground as well, as it did with Ward and Gatti, who became so close they said they felt more like brothers than friends.

Yet when this possibility is broached with Marquez he looks up with astonishment on his face.

“We are professionals,’’ Marquez (54-6-1, 39 KO) said. “We have respect for each other as professional boxers but after what’s gone on in the first three fights I doubt we can have a relationship.’’

It is suggested that perhaps after this fourth fight is over they might reach an accommodation, each conceding that regardless of what judges at ringside may have said they know each other as well as any two men can. They have measured each other in the most harrowing of sporting circumstances and neither has relented and from that a bond will form.

Marquez fervently believes he has won at least two of those fights and very likely all three while Pacquiao has at times felt there has been too much talk of the judges’ mistakes by Marquez and his lifelong trainer, Nacho Beristain. This perhaps has caused a stain as well as an obvious strain on each man that is difficult to remove.

Yet the idea is still floated that one day they might look past all the pain and the frustrations and from a friendship normally reserved only for combat veterans. They will have become two men who have survived something together that they can share with no one else.

Pacquiao has gone so far as to say they are already friends outside the ring, although frankly this has never manifested itself in any way. The respect they have for each other as boxers is clear but friendship requires more than grudging acknowledgment of another man’s skills.

It requires a sense of empathy for what the other has gone through and a sense of understanding of what he has felt both in victory and defeat while never once crossing a line from which there is no return.

While each has done that the idea of one day being friends with Pacquiao seems to Marquez as odd an idea as suggesting to Pep that Saddler, with whom he engaged in several fights so foul they could have used two referees, might one day have come over for a barbecue.

“Inside the ring is a respect that will always be there,’’ Marquez said of Pacquiao several days before he will face him again at the MGM Grand Garden Arena for no belt more than the one that will declare them champion of each other. That is belt enough to fight fiercely over.

“Outside the ring?’’ Marquez adds. “Who knows?’’

Juan Manuel Marquez’s body language answered that question. He knows.

Had the outcomes been different, had he been awarded at least one of the victories he and many others believe he earned, he might feel differently about Pacquiao but Marquez is no Thomas Hearns. He cannot befriend his personal version of Sugar Ray Leonard, at least not yet.

Not until the fire that burns inside him is quelled and he has the only thing that has driven him through months of preparation and eight years of bitterness.

“My motivation is to win,’’ he said. “Everyone knows I won (the last fight) but I want him to raise my hand.’’

Nothing friendly about that. Nothing at all.

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