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MEXICO CITY - While boxing sensation Manny Pacquiao was enjoying his 29th birthday celebrations in the Philippines last week, his next opponent, Mexican champion Juan Manuel Marquez, began a gruelling three-month training regimen.
World Boxing Council (WBC) super featherweight champion Marquez, 34, is running 13km a day and hitting the gym in workouts through Christmas and New Year in a long countdown to their much-anticipated rematch in Las Vegas on March 15.
Marquez's plans include running each weekend among extinct volcanoes perched above the Otomi high-altitude training centre in Mexico.
Marquez, who last defended his WBC title on November 3, by comprehensively outpointing American Rocky Juarez, already looks toned, lean and hungry.
"This is such a crucial fight for me, my family, the Mexican people and all my fans everywhere," Marquez said.
Marquez was limbering up and gracefully shadow boxing at the small Romanza gym in Mexico City, where photographs of greats such as Julio Cesar Chavez, Ricardo "Finito" Lopez, Daniel Zaragoza and Humberto Chiquita Gonzalez frown, grin and leer down on to the spit buckets, sweat-smeared punchbags and ring.
Marquez says he is only 2,27kg over his fighting weight and is determined to be in the best shape of his life to win what he terms "the most important fight of my life".
"On a scale of one to 10, the rematch with Manny is a 10-plus," he said.
Pacquiao is widely regarded as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world and enhanced his reputation with a one-sided victory over Marco Antonio Barerra of Mexico in October.
Both Marquez (who has a record of 48 wins, three losses and one draw) and Pacquiao (45-3-2) see the bout at Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino as overdue unfinished business.
When they first clashed in May 2004 for Marquez's then WBA and IBF featherweight titles, southpaw Pacquiao sent Marquez to the canvas three times in a brutal first round, courtesy of his jackhammer left hand. Marquez, who suffered a broken nose, bravely got back up each time, reverted to his natural counter-punching style and boxed brilliantly to salvage a savage 12-round draw. -Reuters