Pacquiao, Mayweather arrivals are a contrast in identity
LAS VEGAS, USA - The strings of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” blared out through the convention center at the Mandalay Bay, signaling to the hundreds of Manny Pacquiao fans in attendance that the man they came to see was on his way to center stage.
The Pacquiao team’s decision to bypass the “grand arrival” at the MGM Grand on Tuesday afternoon may have off-put some, but the fans were treated to a hastily arranged fan rally more to the taste of Pacquiao’s many Filipino fans.
The rally had the feel of a barangay fiesta in the Philippines. There were dancers in Filipiniana attire, singing performances and a dance-off, but it was Pacquiao’s entrance that predictably drew the biggest response.
Pacquiao, who is entering Saturday’s mega-fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr as an underdog for one of the few times in his career, sought to alleviate the tension of his fans, many of whom came from the Philippines to cheer him on despite grim prospects of securing a fight ticket.
“Don’t get nervous on Saturday. I’m the one who is gonna fight in the ring, so relax!,” the 8-division boxing champion Pacquiao from General Santos City, Philippines exclaimed to uproarious approval.
Pacquiao (57-5-2, 38 knockouts) hasn’t been confronted by such overwhelming doubt from the public and media since his 2008 fight against the larger Oscar de la Hoya. Many feel that his six year knockout drought and 2012 knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez indicate his decline as a fighter, making him a prime target for the precision punching of Mayweather (47-0, 26 KOs).
It’s a situation Pacquiao seems to embrace, and if he’s concerned about his fight on Saturday, May 2, he’s putting up a convincing front.
“My confidence now is different from the others fights I’ve had. Maybe the people get nervous, but I feel excited. This is it, I have to prove something that every time I’m an underdog, I like that. My killer instinct, my focus is there. This is what I want.”
Pacquiao isn't bothered by the two Mayweather t-shirts on sale at the MGM Grand gift shop that feature the Philippine flag, a not-so-subtle ploy to ebb at Pacquiao’s nationalistic following.
“It’s good, I like that because he wants to join our team. TMT, The Manny Team,” Pacquiao said.
A king's entrance for Mayweather
Across the street at the MGM Grand, Mayweather’s fan event had a significantly different feel. Hip hop legend Doug E Fresh emceed the event, which took place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena instead of in the main lobby, where grand arrivals typically take place.
When asked what he felt would happen on Saturday night, one young fan said: “Mayweather will put Pacquiao in a coffin.”
Mayweather was led to the stage by the marching band from the historically black school Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, working up the thousands-strong crowd wearing TMT hats and shirts from wall to wall.
Rose petals being thrown at Mayweather's feet was the only thing missing from his majestic entrance.
Under these circumstances, Pacquiao would be feeling his “B-side” role.
Mayweather, like Pacquiao has earned an ethnic following, becoming an icon in the African-American community. Many draw inspiration from Mayweather's own rags-to-riches story.
The 38-year-old Grand Rapids, Mich. native was born to a drug-addicted mother and a father who did prison time to become the highest earning athlete in the world, according to Forbes magazine.
“Everyone that’s in this arena is The Money Team,” Mayweather told the audience.
The MGM Grand came under criticism from Pacquiao’s promoter Bob Arum last year before Pacquiao’s rematch with Tim Bradley as favoring Mayweather, who has registered four of the five biggest gates in Nevada state history at the venue.
Arum objected to Mayweather's likeness being posted on the side of the building with the words "Home of the Champion" written above him. This time, both Pacquiao and Mayweather adorn the MGM Grand's exterior.
Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach echoed the sentiments of Pacquiao’s conditioning coach Justin Fortune, saying that the vibe at the Mandalay Bay is more welcoming to Pacquiao and his supporters.
“Floyd’s doing his thing, we’re doing ours. We’re at this hotel, we’re very comfortable here. This is peaceful and there’s no drama. I think it’s a lot better for us, yes,” said Roach.
“This is our home hotel, and there was the opportunity to do an event that had a Philippine flavor for the Philippine fans,” Arum said of Mandalay Bay, which, like the MGM Grand, is owned by MGM Resorts International.
Pacquiao and Mayweather may be separated from one another on the official beginning of fight week, but they’ll have to come face-to-face on Wednesday when they meet for the final press conference at the MGM Grand.
Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.