FROM LAS VEGAS — Boxing's current theater of the absurd ended Friday, and now they can fight.
Saturday, shortly after 8 p.m., 2-1 favorite Manny Pacquiao, the pride of the Philippines, will take on Ricky Hatton, the pride of the pubs of Manchester, England.
One of the pitches of the promotion, billed as the Battle of the East and West, is that the fighters have come from opposite ends of the earth to meet in the center of a ring in Las Vegas. Stated less dramatically, they have come from opposite ends of the earth because each is guaranteed around $12 million.
The roughly 16,000 seats in MGM's Grand Garden are sold out.
"This is a real sellout, not one of those sellouts where we still have tickets left," said one boxing official. That brought to mind the boxing promotion axiom uttered by Top Rank's Bob Arum, who once said, when pressed on a statement, "I was lying to you yesterday. Today, I'm telling you the truth."
The economics of the fight revolve around much more than the live gate. Promoters are hoping to sell as many as 1 million HBO pay-per-views in the United States at $49.95 each, and maybe even more than that in Britain. They also are selling tickets for closed-circuit viewing at one of seven other Las Vegas hotels, which have a total of 20,000 seats available for $50 each. Pacquiao will get 52% of the additional action after his $12-million guarantee.
So the cash should flow as freely as the fun did Friday, when boxing once again made a huge show out of two guys standing on a scale in their underwear. Hatton weighed the limit of 140, Pacquiao 138, and everything that preceded that 20 seconds of action was showbiz.
An estimated 25,000 Brits have flown over the pond, as well as the prairies, to be here, and perhaps 5,000 of them got into the arena for the free-of-charge weigh-in. Of those 5,000, a good guess is that 500 had tickets for the fight. Another good guess is that they will challenge the Las Vegas beer consumption record established the last time Hatton fought here.
Question: When does a Brit fight fan lose his membership in the club? Answer: When he is caught without a bottle in his hand.
Besides the Brits singing and booing and having a grand old time, the weigh-in featured an alleged Hollywood celebrity named Mario Lopez, asking various ex-fighters dumb questions that nobody could hear over the din of the crowd anyway.
Lopez to Oscar De La Hoya: "When is the last time you saw this kind of crowd at a weigh-in?"
Correct answer, which De La Hoya didn't give: "Oh, Mario, maybe for my last 10 fights."
There was also Arum, Pacquiao's promoter, telling the crowd, "My philosophy is that every Mexican boxing fan is rooting for Manny Pacquiao."
(Philosophy? Every Mexican boxing fan?)
And Richard Schaefer, Hatton's promoter for Golden Boy, responding by leading the crowd in yet another verse of "There's only one Ricky Hatton."
(Headline in tomorrow's Geneva newspaper: "Former Swiss Banker Goes Goofy.")
Mercifully, there is always a fight at the end of all this, and Pacquiao-Hatton should be a decent one.
The sense here is that 30-year-old Pacquiao, even though he is only two months younger than Hatton, is a boxer on the rise and Hatton is one who, deservedly, is cashing in on a few last big paychecks before settling down to Wednesday night dart-throwing.
Both have fought a lot, Pacquiao with a 48-3-2 record that includes 36 knockouts, Hatton with 45-1 and 32 KOs. Hatton's one loss was to undefeated and about-to-come-out-of-retirement Floyd Mayweather Jr., who sent him into the ring turnbuckle and then down in a spectacular knockout.
Expect Hatton to charge out early and try to establish a barge-and-bully pace. Expect lots of quick flurries from him, followed by some grabbing and wrestling, followed by some punches out of breaks that he initiates before the referee can, making them legal.
And expect that, if that works, Pacquiao could be in trouble, even get caught and put down early, or at best have to fight a different kind of fight than his trainer, Freddie Roach, wants.
If it doesn't work, if Pacquiao scores well in the early rounds and is the one establishing the rhythm of the fight, as he did against De La Hoya, then look for a frustrated Hatton to eventually walk into a left hook and come to rest somewhere near the same turnbuckle where Mayweather Jr. left him.
Do not expect this one to be jab-and-dance, poke-and-run, let the judges decide. That could happen, but it would disappoint fans from opposite ends of the earth.
As well as those right here in Las Vegas, on boxing's axis.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Tale of the tape
*--* PACQUIAO HATTON Philippines Country England 48-3-2 Record 45-1 36 Knockouts 32 138 Weight 140 5'-6" Height 5'-7" 67" Reach 65" 38" Chest (normal) 37" 41" (expanded) 39" 13" Biceps 13" 12" Forearms 9.5" 28" Waist 30" 20" Thigh 20 1/2 " 15" Calf 14 1/2 " 16" Neck 15" 8" Wrist 7" 10" Fist 11 1/2 " *--*
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
BILL DWYRE'S PREDICTION
Manny Pacquiao by knockout in the ninth round
LANCE PUGMIRE'S PREDICTION
Manny Pacquiao by knockout in the 10th round