By Steve Keating
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - When Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao enter the ring on Saturday the stakes could not be higher, even for a bout already labeled the "Fight of the Century."
The richest prize fight of all-time will give each fighter a multi-million-dollar payday and smash pay-per-view numbers while eye-popping ticket prices, out of reach for all but the rich and famous, will see the 16,800-seat MGM Grand Garden Arena rival the Super Bowl in gate receipts.
There is a garish championship belt embossed with 3,000 emeralds on the line along with the mythical title of world's best pound-for-pound fighter but more significantly it is a bout that could cement a boxing legacy and a fight on which the future of the sport could hang.
Five-plus years in the making, all the hype and elements are in place to elevate the welterweight showdown into one of those memorable watershed sporting moments.
Or it could be a flop, providing another blow for a sport that is just starting to lift itself back off the canvas.
"This fight has been talked about for so long the anticipation now people are really looking forward to it and willing to pay any price to watch it," Oscar De La Hoya, one of the few boxers to fight Mayweather and Pacquiao, told Reuters.
"It this fight is dull, if it's a dud then that can really affect the overall game but if it is an exciting fight, a fight people want to see again, it can take boxing to new heights."
With tickets on the resale market commanding over $100,000 for ringside seats and close to 3 million people expected to pay $100 on pay-per-view, the undefeated Mayweather (47-0) and Filipino southpaw (57-5-2) will be expected to produce a spectacle worthy of such princely price tags.
The fight will be a classic matchup of boxing styles.
Considered one of the best defensive fighters of all-time, Mayweather is crafty with a superior ring intelligence that has allowed him to survive nearly two decades in the ring by avoiding danger.
In contrast, Pacquiao brings an all-out attacking style to the showdown, a hard puncher capable of landing a knockout shot that could hand Mayweather his first professional defeat.
While the fight is the most anticipated in decades, for most boxing experts it comes a half-decade too late with both fighters past their prime.
The 38-year-old American may not be as slick or fast as he was while there are questions about Pacquiao's power, the 36-year-old having not scored a knockout win since 2009 when he floored Briton Ricky Hatton in the second round.
"The ingredients are there and it is only because of Pacquiao," said De La Hoya, who lost to both men. "We know what Mayweather is going to do, we've been there, we've done that but the one person who can make this fight an exciting one is Pacquiao.
"He has a relentless style; he will be the one pressing the action.
"It all depends on Pacquiao."
For Mayweather, it will be his 11th consecutive fight at the MGM Grand but it is Pacquiao who will have an entire nation in his corner.
A politician, philanthropist, recording artist and action movie star, Pacquiao is a national hero in his homeland where his image has featured on a postage stamp and video games.
His rags-to-riches story of a young man who once lived on the hard scrabble Manila streets is inspiring, a source of motivation Pacquiao routinely draws upon,
"I can't imagine the boy who was starving and sleeping on the street has become what I am now," said the eight-division world champion known as Pacman. "I have a good feeling for this fight.
"For me, it's about how we can make the fans happy. They are paying big money ... so they deserve to have a good fight."
For Mayweather the fight is one that will define his legacy and place among the pantheon of boxing greats.
Even if Mayweather were to retire with an unbeaten record there would have always be a question mark hanging over his career if he never clashed with his great Filipino rival.
"This fight is about one fighter who is at the top fighting another fighter who is at the top. It's about giving you guys excitement," said Mayweather. "We don't know how this fight is going to play out, but I believe in my skills. I believe I am going to be victorious.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)