LAS VEGAS — If Saturday’s fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao is anywhere near as tame and tedious as its final news conference Wednesday, then the so-called “Fight of the century” will be a resounding bust.
There was so much sweetness and light you could be forgiven for thinking it was an old pals reunion instead of the prelude to the biggest boxing showdown in years.
After an hour of platitudes, thank-yous, speeches and yawns, Mayweather and Pacquiao posed for cameras, grinning like buddies. No snarling, no finger-pointing, no tense nose-to-nose square off of which boxing is so fond.
But don’t be fooled.
The reality is that the biggest bout boxing has to offer is one built on a platform of seething animosity, most of it held by the usually mild-mannered Filipino.
A few hours before he spent just a few seconds standing at the dais at the KA Theater inside the MGM Grand and said little more than to wish Mayweather luck, Pacquiao’s longtime trainer, Freddie Roach, sat down with USA TODAY Sports and mapped out the day.
“The press conference is going to be boring,” Roach said. “No one is going to say anything (interesting). I’m not; Manny has told me not to. But things are not how they look.”
Team Pacquiao has undertaken a calculated policy not to play into Mayweather’s strength, thinking that the 38-year-old thrives on noise, chaos and verbal baiting. Pacquiao has steered clear of him since the fight was announced in Los Angeles in March, and he was smiling and unflappable Wednesday. He was so determined to come across friendly that he invited his rival for a postfight Bible study session.
But Roach, who has worked with Pacquiao for 12 years and masterminded his rise from unknown to celebrity, says his fighter started to hold an intense dislike for Mayweather five years ago that has not wavered.
According to Roach, much of it stems from a video made by Mayweather in 2010 and posted online in which Mayweather refers to Pacquiao as “Pooch-iao,” and includes countless tasteless lines — calling the Filipino star “that little yellow chump” and saying, “I’ll make that (expletive) make me a sushi roll and cook me some rice.”
“Manny has never forgotten it,” Roach said. “He won’t say anything bad about anyone, but I can tell.
“He doesn’t talk about things much, but he will store it up, and he has stored it up for five years. He hasn’t forgotten, and it is ready to come out. He doesn’t like this person because of their life and what they do. Manny is hungrier for it now. The last five years have really sunk in.”
Pacquiao’s publicist, Fred Sternburg, was with Pacquiao when he watched the video. At the time, Sternburg says, Pacquiao watched the clip twice, then turned on his heel and left the room, his face set with anger.
That lingering ire has allowed Roach to add a higher-risk, higher-reward strategy to his potential game plan. There is a school of thought that since 2009 Pacquiao lost some of his bite, becoming more devoted to religion. Now it is back, Roach says.
“I have got the killer instinct back,” Pacquao told USA TODAY Sports recently. “It is back now. It is important. You need it for a fight like this.”
Whereas in his past few fights Roach has had to try to coax some fury out of his charge, this time the battle will be in controlling it. Mayweather taunted Pacquiao as being “reckless” in one of his pre-fight appearances, but while that was a description that made Pacquiao bristle, Roach surprisingly didn’t mind it.
“Manny is a little reckless, but I like reckless fighters,” Roach said. “I would rather see Manny get knocked out trying to win a fight than just coast through a fight and try to survive. I would rather see him get knocked out trying to win.”
That method was one the pair discussed at length before the start of training, in the first few days at the Wildcard Gym when the rust was still being teased out of Pacquiao’s limbs.
“Manny said to me that if you don’t think you can get knocked out you are in the wrong sport,” Roach added. “He knows the risk and he is not afraid of it.”