Filipino boxing champ Manny ‘Pacman’ Pacquiao and Oscar ‘Golden Boy’ de la Hoya (left) take the scale during their weigh-in Friday in Las Vegas. AP]

LAS VEGAS, DECEMBER 7, 2008 (STAR)  By Abac Cordero - The fight that started as a dream becomes a reality Saturday evening (Sunday noon in Manila) when Manny Pacquiao goes up against the bigger, older and more experienced Oscar de la Hoya at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

It’s the fight that’s been much talked about this year, one that’s been labeled a mismatch or a farce. But soon all the talking stops because the fight people want to see may be remembered in history as the greatest one pitting two superstars at least two weight classes apart.

On the eve of the fight, amid questions about the accuracy of the official weighing scale that was used, and allegations of illegal hand-wrapping by the De la Hoya camp, Pacquiao said he’s ready to fight and slug it out with his opponent.

He’s unfazed.

“Fight tayo. Ako pa masisindak nila. Kahit mag-suntukan kami na walang gloves (We will fight. I cannot be cowed. We can fight even with no gloves),” said Pacquiao after dinner of tinolang manok, chicken kebab, steak cubes and rice.

He said it no longer matters if there were unseen hands that manipulated the results of the official weigh-in in the afternoon, or De la Hoya’s hands would be wrapped the way he wanted them to, and as contested by his trainer Freddie Roach.

“I was just puzzled because one hour before the weigh-in I was at 146, and suddenly I was 142 without eating or drinking anything. But it’s been done. I don’t want to use it as an excuse,” he said.

Under the fight contract, either fighter would be fined $3 million for every pound in excess of 147.

“With the wrapping, there are rules. As long as it’s fair, it’s okay. We’ll see who the better fighter is,” said the Filipino champion in four different weight classes - flyweight, super-bantam, super-feather and lightweight.

Pacquiao is jumping two divisions higher just to face De la Hoya, considered as the biggest boxing superstar over the last 10 years, and earn the biggest paycheck of his career. Some say it’s $6 million, and the others $10 million or even more.

De la Hoya, the undisputed pay-per-view king, will certainly get more – even three or four times as much.

For De la Hoya, a gold medalist in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics who went on to win 10 world titles in six different weight classes as a pro, a victory means that at 35, he’s still up to the task even if he’s up against a smaller, lighter and younger foe.

Pacquiao is considered the greatest boxer in the planet today – pound for pound.

A crowd of 16,000 or less is expected to fill the venue, the sight of Pacquiao’s only loss in the last three years, a 12-round unanimous decision against Erik Morales. It’s all sweet success for Pacquiao since then.

He’s won his last eight fights, including two knockout victories over Morales, and one each against fierce rivals Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez. De la Hoya has only fought four times over the last four years, losing twice.

During the weigh-in (Pacquiao at an unbelievable 142 pounds since Roach had wanted him to weigh in at 145, and De la Hoya at 145 pounds), they faced each other after tipping the scales, but no pushing and shoving.

“Wala naman sinabi. Hindi siya kumurap. Nanlilisik yung mga mata sa akin. pero hindi ako masisindak diyan. Alam mo naman ako, eh (He didn’t say a word but his eyes were piercing. But I’m not scared. You know me),” said Pacquiao.

The odds to this fight have gone up and down over the last five days here in Vegas. For Pacquiao they’ve gone from plus 155 to plus 140, then plus 135 to plus 125, and plus 165 Friday morning to plus 160 the evening before the fight.

It means that a $100 bet on Pacquiao (47-3-2 with 35 KOs) wins $160. The latest odds on De la Hoya (39-5-0 with 30 KOs) show that a bet of $190 only wins $100.

Both fighters are going for the knockout.

Roach had predicted a ninth-round stoppage by Pacquiao, and De la Hoya countered by saying he’d knock Pacquiao out inside five rounds.

“But the knockout is just a bonus. You don’t force yourself to knock out your opponent,” said Pacquiao during the press conference.

“I believe the camp of Oscar trained hard, too. So I want to make sure we can give a good fight, more action on the ring. To me it’s nothing personal, it’s my job to do my best and beat my opponent in the ring,” he added.

Pacquiao has beaten the great Mexican fighters of his time (Morales, Barrera and Marquez) and has earned the nickname “Mexecutioner.” He said he doesn’t like that name tag.

“They call me Mexecutioner but I don’t want it. I’m just doing my job,” said Pacquiao, who in each of his fights would say that he’s hoping neither boxer gets hurt during and after the match.

Roach, who’s been with Pacquiao for seven years now although he trained De la Hoya for his 2007 match against Floyd Mayweather Jr. (one that he lost), said it’s time to rumble.

“A lot has been said but all that doesn’t matter now. We’re here. I’ve watched HBO’s 24/7 and Oscar’s camp has done a great job. I wish him and his team very good luck. For Manny Pacquiao it’s been a good camp, too,” he said

Then he told Pacquiao, “Manny, you’re in the best shape I’ve ever seen and you’re in the best shape of your life.”

Good and bad memories

Three of De la Hoya’s five losses came at the MGM: against Mayweather last year, Bernard Hopkins in 2004, and Shane Mosley in 2003, but he said it’s a thing of the past. But it’s also where he beat Ricardo Mayorga, Arturo Gatti, Felix Strum and Javier Castillejo.

“We’ve had a lot of good memories and a lot of bad memories but at the end of the day we’ve had a lot of fun here at the MGM. This is gonna be a fight everything everybody has wished for. It’s gonna be fun, have a good time that’s what it’s all about,” he said.

He said Pacquiao won’t have as much difficulty with his new weight as some people think.

“Manny Pacquiao can handle the weight gain because of his power and his speed. He’s not the slowest fighter out there. He’s probably the fastest fighter out there. A Manny Pacquiao who’s going to jump up 10 pounds, 20 pounds or 30 pounds is still a fast Manny Pacquiao so I think it’s not going to affect him that much the way it affected me because I jumped up six weight classes and by the sixth one, it was tough.”

On the other side of the fence, Roach is being pitted against Nacho Beristain, the trainer of Marquez, and the legendary Angelo Dundee who trained fighters like Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard.

The 87-year-old Dundee came in as a last-minute addition to Team De la Hoya.

“I didn’t know these two guys but I enjoyed watching them,” he said of Pacquiao and De la Hoya. “But I’ve been doing some homework. I have a good angle on Pacquiao now but I’ve a better angle on De la Hoya,” he said.

“I didn’t know this guy works so hard. He gets a big kick out of the gym when fighters don’t want to go there because they know they’re gonna work. But Oscar loves it.

“But I told him, ‘Please do me a favor. Don’t leave all the work in the gymnasium we have to save it for the night of the fight,” he added.

“No doubt Oscar de la Hoya is a great fighter and he’s a hundred percent. He’s got an unbreakable face, unbreakable discipline. That made him ready for this fight,” said Beristain, still searching for his first win over Pacquiao.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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