Roads to stardom for Mayweather, Pacquiao took divergent paths

Floyd Mayweather Jr., left, and Manny Pacquiao will meet in a highly anticipated fight.
Floyd Mayweather Jr., left, and Manny Pacquiao will meet in a highly anticipated fight. AP

Don’t count Manny Pacquiao among those who argue that his fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr. took too long to happen.

In fact, Pacquiao believes the five-year tease that consummated the highly anticipated fight helped create a nonstop buzz among hardcore, casual and indifferent boxing fans. Boxing-related conversation the past five years usually included Mayweather and Pacquiao, who will finally meet in a welterweight title unification bout Saturday night in Las Vegas.

“More people are interested and informed about this fight now than they would’ve been five years ago,” Pacquiao said.

The mega-fight received its distinction after Pacquiao and Mayweather blitzed through their opposition and combined to win 13 world titles. They have been linked as the sport’s best pound-for-pound fighters, although Mayweather now occupies the top spot by many boxing observers following Pacquiao’s two-fight losing skid in 2012.

With their success comes attention from the public as Mayweather and Pacquiao have maintained viability in the sport’s pay-per-view medium.

There were doubts that boxing would have a marketable attraction after Oscar De La Hoya retired six years ago, but Mayweather and Pacquiao ended those concerns.

Moreover, their destinations to stardom have taken divergent paths.

Mayweather’s entry into professional boxing was aided by his bronze-medal performance as a member of the 1996 U.S. Olympic team. Thanks to his Olympic pedigree, Mayweather (47-0, 26 KOs) benefited from having his professional debut broadcast on ESPN.

The ESPN cameras and spotlight were nowhere near Pacquiao’s first professional fight in his native Philippines 20 years ago. But Pacquiao, a world champion in eight separate weight divisions, emerged from relative obscurity to crossover star.

“The reason I am so loved by fans is because of my reckless style of fighting,” Pacquiao said. “People like exciting fights with actual punches being thrown.”

Beginning a career in the flyweight division usually doesn’t result in eight-figure fight purses, yet Pacquiao (57-5-2, 38 KOs) climbed the proverbial boxing mountain and ended up knocking out Miguel Cotto for a junior-middleweight belt.

“Promoters should realize that these types of fights are what’s best for boxing, and we should have more fights like this,” said Freddie Roach, who is Pacquiao’s trainer. “I’m not surprised by the hype surrounding the fight.”

Pacquiao acknowledges the significance of Saturday’s bout but also doesn’t intend on minimizing his entire body of work. Pacquiao’s fight résumé features victories over Hall of Famers or future Hall of Famers such as De La Hoya, Cotto, Juan Manuel Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera, Shane Mosley and Timothy Bradley.

“My entire career defines my legacy,” said Pacquiao, who overcame losses against Bradley and Marquez with three consecutive convincing victories leading to Saturday’s bout. “I have already accomplished great achievements in my career while excelling in different divisions.

“This fight is an additional achievement in my career. It’s the biggest fight in boxing history.”

▪ Late Saturday, Wladimir Klitschko retained his heavyweight title with a unanimous decision victory over Bryant Jennings at Madison Square Garden in New York.

A part-time Hollywood resident, Klitschko (64-3) maintained distance and outpointed Jennings (19-1) with lead left jabs to the head in his first bout in the United States since 2008. Although he was deducted a point for excessive holding in the 10th round, Klitschko built enough of a lead and won the bout 116-111 on two judges’ scorecards and 118-109 on the third.

With the victory, Klitschko made the 18th consecutive successful defense of his heavyweight title, trailing only Joe Louis (25) and Larry Holmes (20) in division history.

Coming up

Monday (8 p.m., at Miami Airport Convention Center, 711 NW 72nd Ave., Miami): World Series of Boxing match between the USA Knockouts and Puerto Rico Hurricanes; $15 adults and $10 children under 12; 305-261-4200.

Thursday (9 p.m., ESPN2): Ashley Theophane vs. Mahonri Montes, 10, welterweights.

Friday (10 p.m., TruTV): Raymundo Beltran vs. Takahiro Ao, 12, for the vacant WBO lightweight title.

Saturday (9 p.m., HBO and Showtime pay-per-view): Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao, 12, for the unified WBA, WBC and WBO welterweight titles.