By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Should Floyd Mayweather Jr. end his boxing career on Saturday as promised with his welterweight title defense against fellow American Andre Berto, he could well sign off with a whimper rather than a bang.
In stark contrast to his previous fight, the much hyped megabout with Manny Pacquiao four months ago, the build-up to Mayweather's 49th appearance in the ring as a professional has lacked buzz and plenty of tickets are still available.
In May, Mayweather earned more than $200 million from his so-called "Fight of the Century" with Pacquiao that became boxing's richest ever showdown. Against Berto on Saturday, Mayweather has settled for a reported $32 million.
The appeal of Saturday's bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, which will be televised on pay-per-view for a suggested price of $74.95, has clearly not been helped by Mayweather's choice of opponent, Berto having lost three of his last six fights.
"I just try to stay positive, keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best," undefeated five-division world champion Mayweather said of the slow ticket sales while preparing for what he has repeatedly claimed will be his swansong in the ring.
"Nobody's forced to watch. Watch if you want to watch. If you don't want to watch, don't watch."
Asked how many pay-per-view buys would make Saturday's fight a success in his eyes, Mayweather replied: "The numbers will be what they are. Only thing I can do. I can't say any particular number, but we'll just have to see."
Should the numbers from Saturday end up being anywhere near mediocre, it would be out of character with what Mayweather, the world's highest paid athlete, has so far achieved during his remarkable career in the ring.
His last five bouts in a lucrative six-fight deal with cable giant Showtime Sports that concludes on Saturday have produced staggering figures.
"The first five fights yielded nearly 10 million PPV buys, $750 million in PPV receipts," Stephen Espinoza, executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports, told a news conference at the MGM Grand on Wednesday.
"I don't know what will happen on Saturday night. I do know that Berto is more athletic than any fighter Floyd has fought recently. It's not going to be boring. When you have fighters like our entire PPV card has, it's a night not to be missed."
Mayweather (48-0 with 26 knockouts) bristles whenever criticism is raised over his choice of Berto as his opponent for his 'final' fight.
"I chose Berto because he's very exciting," Mayweather said of the twice former welterweight world champion, who has a record of 30-3 including 23 knockouts.
"Andre Berto is going to push Floyd Mayweather to the limit. That's one thing I do know. Berto always gives an exciting fight. If he gets knocked down he gets back up. He always give 100 percent. Fast hands, good boxer."
(Editing by Andrew Both)