LAS VEGAS — Juan Manuel Marquez was trying his hardest not to break into a disbelieving grin.
Wasn't he the fighter holding not one but two world title belts?
Wasn't he the one who was continually ducked by his division's brightest stars as he fought his way up the rankings?
And hadn't he won his last 13 fights, 11 by knockout?
In a word -- absolutely.
So the International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Assn. featherweight champion had reason to be bemused Friday that his opponent, Manny Pacquiao, had become not only the media darling but also the betting favorite for tonight's title fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Marquez brings a 42-2 record with 33 knockouts into the fight. Pacquiao is 38-2-1 with 29 knockouts, and each has a high-energy style.
"It's going to be a hard fight, a difficult fight, a strong fight," Marquez said in Spanish before weighing in at 125 pounds, one pound under the limit. "I don't think it really matters. He can be the favorite and the people's choice, but none of that will matter in the ring."
What goads Marquez most is the trail that has been blazed for Pacquiao should he take Marquez's titles, meaning a move up in weight and a July 31 bout between Pacquiao and World Boxing Council 130-pound champion Erik Morales.
A contingency plan -- meaning Marquez holds onto his belts -- does not include the Mexico City-born Marquez. Instead, Morales would fight IBF super-featherweight champion Carlos Hernandez.
The main reason for Marquez's being left in the shadows: his friendship with Morales; both boxers are managed by Fernando Beltran.
"He can talk all he wants about his next fight," Marquez said of Pacquiao, who also weighed in at 125. "I'm just concentrating and being serious about this one."
Pacquiao, a household name in his native Philippines, became a U.S. fight-fan favorite with his demolition of Marco Antonio Barrera in November. Pacquiao, a former two-time world champion at junior-featherweight and flyweight, was then making his debut at 126, a weight class in which Barrera was considered the people's champion.
That was until Barrera was dropped twice in the fight and his corner stopped it at 2:56 of the 11th round, sending shock waves through the division.
"I knew I was going to beat Barrera by a decision," Pacquiao said through an interpreter. "But I surprised myself when I beat Barrera that bad, with a knockout."
Said Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer: "If he doesn't win this fight, people will say [beating] Barrera was a fluke, that Barrera had a bad day or something like that, it was a one-time deal. But I don't think it's going to happen.
"When this guy hits a heavy bag, people in the gym stop and watch him. He's just so explosive."
As is Marquez's thinning patience.
In the semi-main event, unbeaten Miguel Cotto (19-0, 16) defends his WBC international super-lightweight championship against Lovemore N'Dou (38-6-1, 24). ... In a scene befitting a reality series, former WBC 130-pound champion Jesus Chavez married Lt. Aunisa Stroklund, a member of the Texas National Guard, Friday at the MGM chapel. Her unit has been called to active duty, and she will report to Ft. Hood, Texas, on Monday for deployment.
Who: Juan Manuel Marquez (42-2, 33 knockouts) of Mexico City vs. Manny Pacquiao (38-2-1, 29) of General Santos City, Philippines.
What's at stake: Marquez's IBF and WBA featherweight titles.
Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena.
When: 6:45 tonight, undercard begins.