As befits the pantomime buffoonery that attends professional fisticuffs, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather made their “grand entrances” in Las Vegas on Tuesday in separate casinos, a mile and several hours apart, an appropriate metaphor for the lingering distance between them.
With any luck, this will not be an omen for their engagement in the ring in the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday night. Fight fans are hoping for a slightly more intimate collision, as do the suits who are banking on this being the Fight Of The Century, a bout to determine, at least, the best welterweight of this generation.
Mayweather, of course, would like victory to seal the coronation of his self-awarded crown as The Best Ever, a view driven as much by ego as the available evidence. Pacquiao has no such appellation, although he would gladly play the part of a pesky insurrectionist, and there is increasing regard for him in the city’s gaming houses.
As it stands, Mayweather, who holds the WBC and WBA belts, is favoured with slightly more enthusiasm than is the WBO champion, but there is little between them in the judgment of most reasonable judges. If it is not Cameron v Miliband, it is at least no foregone conclusion.
“This is for boxing fans,” Pacquiao said, plainly pleased to see several hundred of them turn out to welcome him. “We have to prove something. It’s personal.”
After singing a song he had composed “for all the people”, as he described it, he added: “I believe this is the right time to fight Floyd Mayweather. Even people who are not boxing fans want to watch this fight. When I started in America in 2001 nobody knew me, but I’ve noticed really big changes.
“I’m not only working for myself. I’m helping other people, families, the way they live, to be an inspiration for everybody. The song is about the desire to help people. It is really touching because when we made it, they were lonely, sad times. It’s from the heart.”
As for the fight, he said of his vaunted opponent, “We’re not focusing on one strategy – more than three. If he wants to fight me, that’s good for me. But we are prepared for him to be running around the ring. I can’t say he’s the most dangerous fighter I’ve faced. I’ve got to say he’s a difficult opponent, but my confidence is different. I have no nerves. I feel excited. This is it. I have to prove that every time I’m an underdog, I like that. My killer instinct, my focus, is there.”
Pacquiao, as gentle a soul as he is, has every bad intention of knocking 38-year-old Mayweather out, a scenario that would ignite boxing like no other event of recent memory. The sophistication of accumulating points over 12 rounds for his fistic endeavours in front of judges who have become accustomed to nodding in the direction of the unbeaten Mayweather might not be the smartest game plan.
They remain wildly contrasting in every way. Manny is the more spiritual of the two, less narcissistic, to borrow the judgment of Sugar Ray Leonard. But Pacquiao’s coach, Freddie Roach, is happiest when mixing it a couple of clouds of righteousness closer to the ground.
“We wanted it five years ago but we’ve wanted it every minute of every day,” his trainer said. “It’s bigger than ever. It is definitely the right time. Manny’s ready. This is the first time that he’s asked me to watch a tape of Mayweather with him. I liked what he showed me and we worked hard on it.
“We just built a new gym downstairs for privacy [in Los Angeles], with about five people a day [allowed in]. I really blocked the gym off this time. We got more work done than ever. Manny wasn’t performing for an audience; he was performing for himself. One of the guys in there worked for Mayweather, so we had to change that very quickly. Floyd’s doing his thing, we’re doing ours. I feel very comfortable with that, in our separate hotel.”
The reception was warm, loud and lighthearted. For all his brilliance, Mayweather struggles for love; Pacquiao generates it like a child, a smiling ingenu, albeit performing in an echoing, cement-floored room that resembled an aeroplane hangar.
For all his mildly disturbing sense of calm, Pacquiao has a flint-eyed appreciation of his trade, and he does not think Amir Khan, his old training friend, will ever get the fight he craves against Mayweather.
If Saturday’s contest lives up to expectations, he argues, there is no way Mayweather could earn close to the $200m he is likely to bank here if he fights Khan in September, which is scheduled as his 49th and final appearance in a ring. The only fight that does that, Pacquiao says, is a rematch with him. Neither of them, he said, had anywhere else to go.
Leonard – the nearest fight face to a doppelganger that Mayweather has – voiced a consensus opinion when he told us earlier this is, “about legacies”. And it is. Yet there are complications: Mayweather has never properly embraced the concept of testing himself against the best in the way Leonard did in an era in which he ad to deal with Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler.
Although Mayweather numbers De Oscar La Hoya, Juan Manuel Márquez, Saúl Álvarez and Miguel Cotto among his victims, it is Pacquiao who has been waiting too long for his chance. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the delay has been inspired by the American rather than the Filipino.
Told that Mayweather was selling T-shirts at the nearby MGM Grand with the Filipino flag in the background, he observed, to considerable mirth, “That’s good. He wants to join our team – The Manny Team.”
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