LAS VEGAS—Manny Pacquiao worried about the punching power of Miguel Cotto. He knew Juan Manuel Marquez was a slick counter puncher, and wondered how he’d fare against a fighter the caliber of Oscar De La Hoya.
He’s got no such worries about Floyd Mayweather Jr. on the eve of boxing’s richest fight ever.
“I cannot say he is that difficult an opponent,” Pacquiao said Tuesday. “My confidence right now is different than the other fights I had. I feel excited, this is it. I have to prove something.”
Just hours after arriving in this boxing capital in a motorhome from Los Angeles, Pacquiao oozed confidence at a rally attended by about 1,000 people at the Mandalay Bay hotel. The mostly Filipino crowd watched Pacquiao’s latest music video and was entertained by dancers and singers before the fighter himself made a brief appearance.
“I know I’m going to win the fight in the ring,” Pacquiao told the crowd. “So relax.”
Oddsmakers aren’t so convinced, with Pacquiao remaining about a 2-1 underdog for a fight expected to earn him more than $100 million. But Pacquiao didn’t even have to break a sweat to win over the crowd that came to the hastily arranged pep rally in a convention area at the hotel.
“You’re excited,” Pacquiao said to the cheering crowd. “I’m very excited.”
Mayweather was greeted by a much bigger crowd at the MGM Grand hotel, where Saturday’s night welterweight title fight will play out. The Southern University marching band entertained and a mariachi band played outside before Mayweather arrived 20 minutes early.
For many, it was their only chance to see the two fighters without reaching deep in their pockets. Tickets for the fight itself were being offered online starting at $3,800 and going over $100,000 near ringside, while even the $10 tickets for Friday’s weigh-in were being offered for $100 or more.
“Five years ago this was a $50 million fight for me and $20 million for him,” said Mayweather, who is expected to make $180 million or more to $120 million for Pacquiao’s camp.
With the real work already done, both fighters were going over game plans for a bout that was five years in the making. Pacquiao said he had two or three different strategies for the fight, depending on whether Mayweather wants to try to win with his defense or comes out attacking.
“If he wants to fight me, good for me,” Pacquiao said. “If he’s running and moving around the ring we’re prepared for that, too.”
Mayweather said that Pacquiao will be trying the same game plan that 47 others have failed to implement.
“Everybody’s game plan is to come forward and throw lots of punches,” Mayweather said. “It hasn’t worked in 19 years and 47 fights.”
It didn’t work for De La Hoya, who lost to both men while helping make them the pay-per-view stars they are today. Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, was in De La Hoya’s corner in 2007 when De La Hoya won most of the early rounds before fading and dropping a decision to Mayweather.
It’s a fight Roach believes De La Hoya could have won had he kept jabbing. More importantly, Roach said it was a fight he learned a lot about how to take on Mayweather.
“I really did learn from the Oscar fight. It was a good lesson to me,” Roach said. “Floyd is tricky but not very complicated. But if you get behind him and start following him around the ring he will set a trap. I have trained Manny not to let that happen. When he sets a trap, Manny will walk away.”
De La Hoya said his head tells him Mayweather will win the fight, but his heart is with Pacquiao. He said the Filipino has an advantage with Roach in the corner, and will have a strategy to counter Mayweather’s defensive moves.
“I believe this fight is going to be more exciting today than five years ago because both guys are not as agile on their feet,” De La Hoya said. “Mayweather has lost a step or two with his legs and so has Pacquiao. Pacquiao will have a chance to connect a few punches on Mayweather and vice versa.”
What he doesn’t want to see, De La Hoya said, is Mayweather fighting just to win the fight. That strategy has helped Mayweather win all 47 of his fights, but fans are often unenthused about his performances because he thinks safety first.
In the most anticipated fight in recent times, that is not enough to stand the test of history, De La Hoya said.
“It’s sometimes unfortunate that his mentality is I’m undefeated and I’m going to think I’m the greatest because nobody has beaten me,” he said. “It just doesn’t work that way. You have to dare to be great and when you are to be great you’re going to face the toughest challenges. People are going to see that and people are going to respect that.”