FROM LAS VEGAS — The quest to have you part with $54.95 to see the Pacquiao-Cotto fight Saturday night on HBO pay-per-view was in its homestretch here Wednesday.
If this is a tough sell, it is only because slugfests are not high priority in sluggish economies. Or because the stars, Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto, seem to be decent people who speak with respect and are about as controversial as a table napkin.
Most boxers are mush-mouths who play smash mouth. These two are courteous, yes-sir and no-sir people. They leave the hyperbole to the pros, such as promoter Bob Arum, who has never met a fight he didn't like, as long as it was his.
At Wednesday's press conference, nobody cursed, nobody threatened to disembowel anybody, nobody knocked over a lectern or a microphone in a phony attempt to get on "SportsCenter," and nobody strutted like a peacock and talked trash. Bernard Hopkins must have been out of town.
Of course, there is always Arum to spice things up at least a little. He has been promoting big-time fights for so long that Joe Louis probably called him Bobbie, and he had his usual press-conference moment, just shortly after apologizing for a previous press-conference moment.
In the previous one, Arum had introduced one of Pacquiao's entourage as Governor What's-his-name. Turns out that Chavit Singson was a very important man in Pacquiao's Philippines, and Arum now calls him "a close friend." This time, Arum introduced somebody from a History Channel show called "Pawn Stars," but after several attempts and audience laughter, Arum gave up and apologized for his "Brooklyn accent," which had turned the "awn" into "orn."
The publicity for this fight is needed only for those who have just recently found an interest in boxing. For those in the know, Pacquiao-Cotto has had a ring of excellence since the day the fight was made.
They will fight at a welterweight catch-weight of 145 pounds. That means that, while the true welterweight of 147 is in play, the contract calls for both to make 145 pounds at Friday's weigh-in or face fines.
It also means that boxing, to its credit and in order to get the best matchups, is abandoning the usual weight categories and making up the rules as it goes along. There is a sanctioned title at stake here, but nobody cares.
What fans do care about is that this matchup is especially compelling.
Pacquiao, pride of the Philippines, is 49-3-2, with 37 knockouts. Cotto, a hero in Puerto Rico, is 34-1, with 27 KOs. Pacquiao turns 31 next month. Cotto is 29.
Pacquiao has made his way up the weight-class ladder from 106 pounds 14 years ago to his stunning technical knockout of legendary Oscar De La Hoya a year ago at 142 pounds. That's the highest weight he has gone for a fight, and the 145 catch-weight is in place because Cotto, a natural welterweight, has never fought below 138 and has been at either 146 or 147 in his last eight fights.
There will be much chatter about Cotto being the natural bigger man and having a huge advantage because of that. There will also be much chatter about Pacquiao having an advantage because Cotto has to get down to 145.
The real chatter is about the D-word in each boxer's career.
Cotto's one loss was to Antonio Margarito in July of 2008, in the same MGM Grand Garden Arena ring where he will face Pacquiao. That was a brutal brawl that had the boxing world wondering about the previously invincible Cotto. That brutal beating, of course, took on another dimension when Margarito, about to fight Shane Mosley at Staples Center in January, was found with plaster of Paris in his gloves.
It was taken out, Mosley turned in the most-impressive win of his career -- and he beat De La Hoya twice -- and questions were immediately raised about whether Cotto had lost to Margarito or to plaster of Paris. That remains unanswered, but Cotto lives now with his D-word question: Is he damaged goods?
He said recently, "I'm pretty recovered from the Margarito defeat."
Pacquiao's D-word is distractions.
He has been spectacular in winning his last two fights against credible opponents, De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton. But he has also run for a Congressional seat (and lost) in the Philippines and will make another political run in May. During the recent storms in the Philippines, he left training camp to travel to the affected areas and help out.
As he becomes more a person of the people of the Philippines, boxing experts say that he will become less of a fighter.
Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, the last honest man in boxing, says the only distraction he is focused on is Cotto's lethal left hook. Roach says he knows how to neutralize that, and Pacquiao will do so. He also says that, as in the De La Hoya fight, Pacquiao will not allow Cotto to get him on the ropes. "He has promised me, he'll fight this one in the center of the ring," Roach says.
As in all fights then, what is rabble distracts from what is real. Wednesday's press gathering ended with Pacquiao and Cotto posing face-to-face and photographers yelling for them to "get closer."
Which proves that cliches are not only written.