LAS VEGAS – He was 30 minutes behind schedule, late as usual, but the moment Manny Pacquiao stepped into the main lobby of the MGM Grand on Tuesday the place went crazy.
The crowd that packed the lobby of the grand hotel here in Sin City chanted his name ‘Manny, Manny’ and clicked away with their cameras as the 30-year-old Filipino superstar inched his way to a makeshift ring that was put up days before.
Once in, Pacquiao, very casual in jeans, running shoes and an army-green jacket, raised his arms and acknowledged the cheers from his fans. He faced all sides of the ring, and looked more like a leading presidential candidate.
It was a grand welcome ceremony for Pacquiao who takes on the new pride of Puerto Rico, WBO welterweight champion Miguel Cotto, at the hotel’s Grand Garden Arena on Saturday for what should be the biggest fight of the year.
Promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank said it could even be more than that, even more than being the fight of the decade, saying it could go down in history as one of the great classics ever. He may be wrong but he may be right.
Pacquiao, whose popularity has grown 10 times with each win over the last couple of years, is well-loved not only in the Philippines but in every corner of the world, including the United States, Mexico or, sad for Cotto, even Puerto Rico.
The kind of reception he got Tuesday was a very clear sign.
“Floyd Mayweather never had it like this,” said Top Rank publicist Fred Sternburg as he chased Pacquiao out of the ring. Of course, he referred to the undefeated American who, after a long layoff and a recent win over a smaller foe, still claims to be the best.
Pacquiao smiled all the way, and couldn’t control his laughter at times, as he fielded questions from the media, which should come in full force for Wednesday’s final press conference. There he will face more questions, and should be ready with longer answers.
He faced the media and fielded questions on top of the ring, but it was so crowded, so noisy you could barely hear him two feet away.
But the kind-hearted fighter who can easily knock out an opponent with one punch was heard saying the coming fight is “nothing personal” between him and Cotto, and should be “nothing personal” between their trainers as well.
Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer for eight years now, is on a shooting spree, having said some nasty things against the other camp, including his counterpart, Joe Santiago, who “has never fought and doesn’t really know how it is being inside the ring.”
Again, Pacquiao said it shouldn’t get as personal as this.
The Pinoy pound-for-pound champion was scheduled to come in at 11 a.m. but jumped out of his customized bus that took him from his hotel, the Mandalay Bay, which is just five minutes away, 30 minutes behind.
But no one really cared.
“I’m happy. I am focused on the fight, and I believe in myself. I don’t want to say anything before the fight. I will wait. But I’m ready now. I’m ready to go,” said Pacquiao.
He left after 15 minutes, taking the backdoor. An hour later Cotto came in. That’s a different story.