From Manila to Vegas, the world awaits
After half a decade of machinations and manoeuvres, of screaming hoopla and lavish excess that would make a billionaire blush, it all comes down to this. The fight of the century, the biggest bout in history, the Super Bowl squared.
Roll up, roll up, shriek the ringmasters at Las Vegas' Circus Circus Hotel, but the only big top in town lies three miles further down the Strip, deep within the guts of the sprawling MGM Grand. For it is here, as the desert sun slips behind the Spring Mountains, that Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao will tonight face off for a duel to define not simply their reputations but an entire era of their sport.
Two boxers whose career trajectories have been telegraphed towards this elusive moment wake up this morning to find that it is vividly, ominously real.
Mayweather, the master of self-aggrandisement, appears oddly nervous and on edge. Pacquiao, by contrast, is staying true to his sunny if inscrutable self, referring everything back to God and settling down today for his favourite pre-fight meal of beef broth and a glass of warm milk. In every Vegas casino, the walls of odds are arrayed heavily in Mayweather's favour, and yet an exhilarating uncertainty remains.
With both fighters in the autumn of their own pre-eminence, contemplating retirement and needing one last prize to cement their bodies of work, there is no telling what tonight's unparalleled stakes could do.
Nobody has fought over a £330m purse before. Perhaps not even Mayweather, fond of distributing pictures of himself in bed with bundles of dollar bills, has any conception of what such a loot looks like. The amount of pay-per-view purchases, at $100 a time for the TV audience in the US, is predicted to pass three million for the first time.
The lodgings of Las Vegas, a city possessing 10 of the 15 largest hotels on Earth, is operating at an unheard-of 98pc occupancy rate. A sage of the trade like Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer, is not being disingenuous when he says he has "never seen anything like this".
All week Mayweather has reminded us of his status as the world's highest-earning athlete. He says his pay cheque is more significant to his record than his 19-year unbeaten record of 47-0, declaring: "My daughter can't eat no zero." We are supposed to interpret from this that he is playing the astute businessman, that he truly intends his Croesus levels of wealth to safeguard the futures of his "children's children". Perhaps he does, but even his father wonders whether his fondness for Bugattis and bling will render him bankrupt sooner than he might think.
"You can get through any amount in two years spending on possessions, trips, cars, women," Floyd Snr cautions. "Most fighters go down that hole. It's the way of life, man."
This fight fascinates because it is built upon such fundamental contradictions. In the blue corner stands Mayweather, worshipper at the altar of materialism, and in the red is Pacquiao, whose devout Christian faith and scrupulous humility have propelled him to a political career in the Philippines.
Where Mayweather - or maybe we should just call him The Best Ever, as per the T.B.E. embroidery on his cap - boasted here about his "big-boy mansion" and his "14-passenger private jet", Pacquiao emerged as a diplomat, credited by promoter Bob Arum with writing a letter to the president of Indonesia that helped save the life of a Filipino woman due to be executed for her part in a drug-smuggling ring.
The fight that looked as if it would never come to pass, and which for five years Mayweather used every pretext to dance around, has finally been made. Here it is: 12 rounds to decide, indubitably, the finest pound-for-pound boxer of the generation. (Daily Telegraph, London)