By Keith Idec

The numbers-crunchers fear Juan Manuel Marquez’s second welterweight fight will mirror his disappointing debut in that division.

They’re concerned that Marquez just can’t compete with top opponents above the junior welterweight limit, even if his fight Saturday night in Las Vegas will be contested at a contracted catch weight of 144 pounds, three beneath the welterweight limit.

Many of those involved in this WBO welterweight title fight disagree. They think Marquez’s third fight against Manny Pacquiao will be much more competitive and compelling than his one-sided, 12-round defeat to undefeated Floyd Mayweather Jr. two years ago in Las Vegas.

“Mayweather is a defensive fighter,” said Bob Arum, whose company, Top Rank Inc., promotes Pacquiao and Marquez. “If you’re a counter-puncher, you lose your advantage against a defensive fighter because, as a counter-puncher, you need somebody to make the fight against you. And so I am looking forward to this fight [being] another classic.”

Mexico’s Marquez (53-5-1, 39 KOs) insists that fighting at the highest weight of his 18-year pro had “nothing” to do with his pedestrian performance in the Mayweather mismatch.

“I think it had everything to do with his style,” Marquez said. “He’s a defensive fighter, who doesn’t like to engage. He’ll never fight and it’s difficult to make him fight, [because] he’s so good. The styles, with Manny, it’ll make for a great fight.”

Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer, doesn’t think the 38-year-old Marquez’s skills have deteriorated all that much, certainly not to the degree the wide odds suggest. He obviously expects Pacquiao (53-3-2, 38 KOs) to win, but he doesn’t anticipate an easy fight.

“I’m not so sure how much he’s slipped,” Roach said. “He didn’t look great against Mayweather, but Mayweather’s a talented guy. You have to take that into consideration.”

Pacquiao is about an 8-1 favorite as the HBO Pay-Per-View main event approaches, but Roach added, “We won’t underestimate him at all.”

Keith Idec covers boxing for the Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, N.J., and