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One for the ages

Pacquiao-Cotto match drawing international attention, might set pay-per-view record

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Steve Marcus

Boxer Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines is surrounded by photographers on arrival Tuesday at the MGM Grand.

Ending With Firepower

Manny Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto and their camps share their final thoughts leading up to the final major boxing match of the decade.

Pacquiao, Cotto press conference

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman poses with Manny Pacquiao, left, of the Philippines and WBO welterweight champion Miguel Cotto of Puerto Rico after presenting them with ceremonial keys to the city during a news conference at the MGM Grand Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009.  Pacquiao and Cotto will fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday. Launch slideshow »

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When Manny Pacquiao was hailed as the hottest boxer in the sport at Wednesday’s prefight news conference at the MGM Grand, it was not just lip service.

If anything, it was an exercise in understatement.

Pacquiao’s massive drawing power, which has grown to overwhelm the traditional boundaries of the often insular realm of boxing, is driving the appeal of Saturday’s megafight with Miguel Cotto at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

The most celebrated persona in his native Philippines, Pacquiao’s visage graces the cover of the Asia edition of Time magazine. A five-page feature story appears in all editions, global and U.S., of the magazine. It delves into Pacquiao’s humble roots and his political ambitions in his homeland.

“It is a great honor for me to be the face of my people and to let everyone know we are a small but mighty country,” Pacquiao said. “I have great pride for all of the Filipinos living throughout the world and it is these people that I fight for each and every time I step into the ring.”

As a point of comparison, the most recent boxing covers of Time’s U.S. edition came in 1988 (Mike Tyson), 1978 (Muhammad Ali) and 1971 (Ali and Joe Frazier).

Officials with Top Rank, the lead promoter of Saturday’s fight, point to a recent Sunday feature on Pacquiao in The New York Times as a manifestation of the media blitz that has accompanied the buildup to the fight. It was important to the promotion because of the worldwide reach of the newspaper’s Sunday edition.

It was also significant, and telling, because the Times typically affords boxing about as much coverage as it does the lumberjack competition.

In a separate arena, Pacquiao was recognized this year as a Gusi Peace Prize laureate, an honor based in Manila, for humanitarianism.

Pacquiao’s training sessions at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, Calif., not only generate mob scenes of fans and media members, but also attract the attention of the fire marshal to ensure the scene remains under some degree of control.

Thanks largely to the success of HBO’s “24/7 Pacquiao Cotto,” a series that chronicles the fighters’ preparations, even Cotto’s gym in Tampa, Fla. — usually a relatively sleepy site — drew legions of Cotto loyalists.

With its widespread appeal — “Beyond boxing, beyond sports,” Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said — the fight promotion has drawn some unconventional corporate partners. For example, the History Channel’s reality series “Pawn Stars,” about a family of Las Vegas pawnbrokers, is a sponsor. Among other branding efforts, the “Pawn Stars” logo will appear on the mat Saturday night.

Viewers who watched Chad Dawson beat Glen Johnson on HBO Saturday night, a fight that took place in Connecticut, saw a giant advertisement for the Pacquiao-Cotto pay-per-view broadcast that took up virtually the entire canvas.

It’s all expected to add up to pay-per-view sales — the engine that powers the big-time boxing business — for the fight that could approach or exceed record performances.

The biggest pay-per-view bonanza to date was the 2007 fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Oscar De La Hoya at the MGM Grand, which generated 2.4 million “buys.” This year, Pacquiao’s fight against Ricky Hatton did about 900,000 buys, and Mayweather’s fight with Juan Manuel Marquez generated about 1 million.

“The closed-circuit locations are doing tremendously” in the lead-up to Pacquiao-Cotto, Arum said. “We had the quickest sellout of tickets in years. We base how the pay-per-view is going to do on those indicators. It should do absolutely great.”

Given the aggressive and crowd-pleasing styles of Pacquiao and Cotto, Arum drew a comparison between Saturday’s showdown and a fight he was involved with more than two decades ago: Marvin Hagler’s third-round knockout of Thomas Hearns in a memorable, action-filled bout at Caesars Palace in 1985.

“That to me was what boxing was all about,” Arum said. “Two guys that came out from the opening bell and gave each other no quarter. This is going to be a similar-type fight.”

Pacquiao stands to earn $20 million for the fight, with Cotto’s total take expected to reach $10 million — the biggest paydays for both fighters.

The hook (no pun intended) is that Pacquiao, nearly a 3-1 betting favorite, will be pursuing a world title in a seventh weight division. But that’s just the sports-trivia way of wording it.

In real terms, Pacquiao has done more than any other boxer to obliterate the very notion of weight classes in boxing, along with the fractured and too-often meaningless so-called championships they spawn. He wants to test himself against the best.

The “catch weight” for Saturday’s fight is 145 pounds, but Pacquiao said if it was up to him personally, he would have gladly agreed to fight at the 147-pound welterweight limit.

Wisely — and appropriately — everyone associated with the fight has declined to address the next step for the winner, although a potential showdown with Mayweather awaits.

It’s an appropriate tack, for one thing, because it would be profane to color Pacquiao-Cotto as a steppingstone fight.

And for another, Saturday’s fight is a tough one to predict. It has split journalists, fighters and other boxing figures in their forecasts. Let’s say, for instance, it ends with a close decision. A rematch between Pacquiao and Cotto is a real possibility.

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