- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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Every generation has its superfight. Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, however their showdown turns out Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, are -- at long last -- giving their generation its big one.
It's a fight fans have waited more than five years for through numerous ups and downs before getting to the point that they finally signed contracts. It will go down as one of the biggest, most anticipated fights in boxing history.
In terms of hype and significance, it ranks with fights such as the rematch between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling; the first encounter between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali; the series of fights between 80s icons Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran; Felix Trinidad-Oscar De La Hoya; and Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson.
Mayweather and Pacquiao, the best fighters of their era, are fighting to unify welterweight titles, pound-for-pound laurels and to be declared king of their era. They know how big the fight is even as they look to keep their emotions in check during the massive buildup to the big night.
"I never wanted to win a fight so bad in my life," said Mayweather, a five-division titleholder, although at other times during the promotion he said facing Pacquiao was "just another fight."
It isn't, which Pacquiao acknowledged.
"This fight is very important to me and in boxing history," said Pacquiao, boxing's only eight-division titleholder. "We don't want to leave a question mark in the mind of boxing fans. Boxing fans have been eager to see this fight for five years. They have been asking me the same question and it is finally happening."
"You know the fight is about to start ... [Ring announcer Michael] Buffer is going to introduce you and you know there are about two or three minutes left. So you're counting down in your mind. Then you know when everyone is getting out of the ring you're getting close. I'd be thinking, 'Everyone just get the hell out of the ring, ring that freaking bell and let's go."
Oscar De La Hoya
So now that it is finally a go and just days away, how are they feeling? What is it like to be under the world spotlight for a gargantuan, global fight?
"You're dealing with a whole bunch of stuff," said former middleweight and light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins, who has been involved in mega-events against Trinidad and De La Hoya. "Mayweather and Pacquiao know this is bigger than any fight they've ever imagined, and both of them have fought in some really big fights. But not like this one."
De La Hoya, the pay-per-view king during his time, participated in numerous massive fights, including against the likes of Mayweather, Pacquiao, Hopkins, Trinidad, Fernando Vargas, Pernell Whitaker, Ike Quartey and Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.
He knows a thing or two about the pressure of being on such a grand stage with the world watching.
"I would feel a certain sense of good pressure, like positive pressure," said De La Hoya, who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame last year. "I loved the fact that I was involved in big events. I loved that my events were special and not the norm in boxing. It drives you. It motivates you. You know you're in a big fight."
De La Hoya said before his junior middleweight title unification fight with Vargas in 2002 he was as locked in as he ever was. He badly wanted to beat Vargas, a one-time bitter rival whom he is friendly with now. Things were so bad at the time that the name of the fight was "Bad Blood."
"If you get in that zone, like the one I was in before that fight, then your opponent better watch out," De La Hoya said. "I can see that in Floyd's eyes and in Pacquiao's eyes. They're determined. They know this fight will cement their legacy."
While De La Hoya was keenly aware of the magnitude of the fights he was participating in, he said he tried to stay away from the hype as much as possible. And when he would walk to the ring, he typically looked locked in, like a man on his way to an important business meeting. Emotionless.
"You try to stay away from the whole hype of everything," he said. "As a fighter you try to stay away from that. The fighter is so focused on his training. He has his team around him to deal with everything else."
Former junior welterweight champion and welterweight titleholder Ricky Hatton traveled from his native England to fight Mayweather and Pacquiao in Las Vegas in huge events that were followed by tens of thousands of his countrymen. Hatton lost both fights by knockout, but they are events he will never forget.
"It was enjoying the moment," Hatton said. "I did quite enjoy it. What added to the pressure for me was I knew I had a big following. But I have to admit I was a bit taken aback by how many people came over for that fight [with Mayweather]."
An estimated 30,000-plus Brits invaded Las Vegas to be part of the fight week festivities.
"That added to the pressure," Hatton said. "It can affect you as the fight gets nearer. I don't think it had a negative impact on me in either fight with Floyd or Manny. I know I was the big crowd favorite even though I was in America. Floyd seemed to have no fans when I boxed him, but Manny has great fans. It was more even-steven. But they were both big events and it was a privilege to take part in them."
Former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield participated in some of the biggest fights in boxing history -- including with George Foreman, three with Riddick Bowe, two with Mike Tyson and two with Lennox Lewis.
He said experience in major events was important because he knew what to expect.
"It didn't change anything but your heart and your emotions and all of this," he said. "You have to present yourself not how you feel, but as if everything is OK. Both of these guys [Mayweather and Pacquiao] have been in big fights and I think because of that they are going to handle it well, and I think the people will get what they paid for."
For Hopkins, the really big ones were different than run-of-the-mill fights.
"It was different because of the demand from A to Z for all the things everyone wanted," Hopkins said. "The show is big, the production is big, the questions from the writers are triple. It becomes big. The fight is talked about from the biggest to the smallest media outlets. And it don't stop. You don't get a break.
"It was different because of the demand from A to Z for all the things everyone wanted. The show is big, the production is big, the questions from the writers are triple. It becomes big. The fight is talked about from the biggest to the smallest media outlets. And it don't stop. You don't get a break."
"You can't let it break you. You have the people around you do some of the talking. But the hype from your own people sometimes is also big because they [are] under such big pressure, too. What it comes down to is you just have to be mentally strong and tune everything out. Those who can do that have success in these big fights. I was able to do that."
Fighters will spend months in training camp preparing for the moment of the fight. But it is those final nerve-wracking minutes in the dressing room that can break a man.
The national anthem is over. The electricity is building. The crowd is going wild and it's finally time for the boxer to walk to the ring for the biggest moment of his professional life.
"This is it. Do or die," Hopkins said of his mindset in those final moments. "Now all of the talk is over and now I'd be sitting there in the dressing room, warming up, and all I wanted to know was how many minutes until we walk? For me my fights with [Kelly] Pavlik, Trinidad, De La Hoya and [Antonio] Tarver -- those were the big ones, where I wanted to know how many minutes until we go out. There's always a little nervousness and intensity in every athlete, and you get it together and go out and handle your business. But there were a lot of nerves and anticipation."
Hopkins was vastly experienced but said it did not matter that he had more than 50 pro fights. There were still nerves.
"It becomes different. That's why it's a big fight. You know it's different," Hopkins said. "And your human instinct kicks in and you just know, 'This is bigger than I even thought.' With the Trinidad fight, that was my first really big one. I wanted to prove to his fans and to the world of boxing that I was better than he was. I knew it was my moment to shine even though there was extreme pressure. I knew I had to deliver on that night, and I did."
Hatton also admitted to being "massively nervous" before his superfights.
"But I couldn't have been any better prepared. It's another level," Hatton said. "Floyd and Manny are so evenly matched so the game plan is important for both of them, but the one who owns their nerves the best will be the winner. It's such a fine line. When you're in the dressing room you just go through your game plan and have belief in yourself. Holding it together in the changing room is very important.
"Whoever gets off to a good start is a big key. Floyd will come and defend and ease into the fight like he always does, but is Manny going to fight him or is he going to box a little bit more sensibly? The first minute of the fight will tell a lot. Getting off to a good start starts by holding it together in the changing room."
De La Hoya said it is important for Mayweather and Pacquiao not to get distracted by anything in the final moments before going to the ring.
"The last couple of minutes, if your mind gets distracted or wanders off somewhere else, it can cost you," he said. "You must be locked in."
But De La Hoya also said if Mayweather and Pacquiao don't feel nervous waiting to walk to the ring before the fight, then they "are not human."
"It's not because they're afraid, but because you're about to go into a ring half-naked with millions of people watching you confront another man," De La Hoya said. "You want to get in the ring already, and once you put your foot on the canvas a switch goes off. You are in your office and it's time to work."
Once Mayweather and Pacquiao are inside the ring there will still be a few minutes before the fight begins. Pacquiao will be in the ring longer because he will walk out first. But then there will be the fighter introductions and meeting at the center of the ring for the final instructions from referee Kenny Bayless.
De La Hoya said he had a ritual before his fights as he waited for the bell to ring.
"You know the fight is about to start so I started counting down the time," he said. "[Ring announcer Michael] Buffer is going to introduce you and you know there are about two or three minutes left," De La Hoya said. "So you're counting down in your mind. Then you know when everyone is getting out of the ring you're getting close. I'd be thinking, 'Everyone just get the hell out of the ring, ring that freaking bell and let's go.'
"Then you hear the bell and it's game on. And then -- once you feel the first punch -- you feel relief."
As we close in on this generation's biggest fight -- Saturday's Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao showdown -- past greats share their experiences preparing for a career-defining fight.