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Associated Press
Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney and wife Ann sit near the ring for Saturday’s welterweight fight between Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas.

Romney still in fighting mood

Made appearance at prize fight between Marquez, Pacquiao

For sheer happy weirdness, nothing rivals the surreal encounters that occur at a major boxing match.

Saturday night, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, as Manny Pacquiao readied himself in a dressing room for his fourth mega-fight with legendary Mexican foe Juan Manuel Marquez, Mitt Romney appeared.

A guest of the Nevada Athletic Commission, Romney had dropped by the dressing room to wish the Filipino superstar good luck.

A seated Pacquiao was having his hands taped, in preparation for putting on his boxing gloves. An aide introduced him to Romney, who expanded on the introduction: “Hi, Manny. I ran for president and lost.”

The dressing room “exploded in laughter,” said longtime Pacquiao publicist, Fred Sternburg, in an e-mail Sunday morning. Pacquiao replied that it was nice to meet Romney, Sternburg added.

Romney chatted a little more before wishing Pacquiao a good night. Their brief meeting apparently ended without any discussion about their shared passion – politics – or Pacquiao’s work as a Filipino congressman.

Romney left and joined his wife, Ann, in the sold-out arena, where their arrival elicited neither roars or boos but simply a few handshakes from passers-by. They took their seats near ringside and close to Pacquiao’s corner, seated in the proximity of former champions Mike Tyson and Sugar Ray Leonard and basketball Hall of Famer Magic Johnson.

It had been just 32 days since Romney’s loss to President Obama, and he found himself in yet another battleground state that, in the end, had rejected him. Over the next couple of hours, he embraced the weirdness of Vegas and the evening: he greeted a well-heeled entrepreneur and part-time boxing promoter named Curtis James Jackson III – more commonly known, among his legions of fans, as the rapper 50 Cent.

And he had a chance to watch how his new acquaintance coped with a profound setback of his own. Late in the sixth round, just a round after he had knocked down Marquez, Pacquiao ran into a short, devastating Marquez counter right-hand that knocked him out cold.

Afterward in the ring, a graceful Pacquiao tapped Marquez and congratulated him on waging a “good fight.” Later, in a moment that no one in the arena understood perhaps as well as Romney, a sad but philosophical Pacquiao reflected on what he felt only seconds before the fight’s sudden and fateful turn: “I was just starting to feel confident.”