By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wladimir Klitschko joined Joe Louis in the record books with his title bout on Saturday but the event took a decided back seat to boxing's latest 'Fight of the Century' - Mayweather v Pacquiao.
Klitschko matched the legendary Louis by climbing into the ring for his record-tying 27th world heavyweight championship fight but the Ukrainian's win against Bryant Jennings was a mere prelude to bigger things.
"This event with Wladimir Klitschko, heavyweight champion of the world returning to Madison Square Garden, is the perfect hors d'oeuvre to what the main course will be next week," Peter Nelson, HBO sports programming vice president, told Reuters.
The biggest buzz among boxing notables gathered in the Big Apple centered on the long-awaited showdown between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas on May 2.
Even Klitschko understood his place in the boxing landscape when asked about feeling overshadowed by Saturday's upcoming bout.
"Thankfully, it's not the undercard," Klitschko said with a laugh, acknowledging how he would have ranked in the billing for the extravaganza.
"Obviously, Jennings and Klitschko is not the mega-fight."
The Las Vegas bout is expected to be boxing's richest and there was no shortage of comment.
Most favored Mayweather, as do the oddsmakers.
Bernard Hopkins, a longtime middleweight champion who became the oldest world champion by taking the light-heavyweight crown at age 46 and won again at 49, expects the aging combatants to wage a lively battle.
"The first six rounds, I believe you're going to get your money's worth," he told Reuters. "Back and forth, before Mayweather is going to figure him out."
But Hopkins expects Pacquiao will present a unique challenge.
"Look at Floyd's wins in the last five or six fights. Did you see anything different in the legs? They were bigger opponents, but were they slower? Were they southpaw, were they energetic?" he rattled off.
"Were they on him like a swarm of wild bees after you disturbed the bees' nest and they're all over you? That is how Pacquiao fights."
Promoter/manager Shelly Finkel said he thought the fight would be tougher than many think.
"I believe Mayweather will win because he's just a better fighter," Finkel said. "But this is not going to be easy. Pacquiao is coming to fight. He has to. His whole country depends on it."
Iran Barkley, the former world middleweight, super-middleweight and light-heavyweight champion, also picked Mayweather.
"Floyd is the mecca of boxing right now," he said.
"I see it as a big fight like Sugar Ray Leonard and (Roberto) Duran in the years of 'No Mas'. Both of these guys are going to put on a tremendous fight. But my man Floyd is going to be victorious."
Gary Shaw, promoter of losing heavyweight challenger Jennings, said Pacquiao's attitude would be key.
"Depends which Pacquiao comes," Shaw said. "If it's the real religious Pacquiao that comes in and doesn't have the killer instinct he had years ago, I don't think he has a chance.
"If he goes in and takes Mayweather into a street fight, maybe he hits him low, gets a point taken away, pushes him...
"I remember (Evander) Holyfield telling me the night before he went in the ring with (Mike) Tyson, 'I'm going to push him into the ropes. If he hits me once, I'm going to hit him twice. If he pushes me once, I'm going to push him twice.'"
Former undisputed heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis joked about the gravity of the welterweight showdown.
"Only heavyweight fights are the 'Fights of the Century'," he said, with a nod to indelible moments produced by the likes of Louis and Muhammad Ali.
"But I'm going to be watching it. I'm trying to get some tickets."
(Editing by Gene Cherry)