The phenomenon that is Manny Pacquiao grew with a series of wins against some of the biggest names around. Now he has a fight to win against a guy who has nothing to lose.
It wasn't supposed to be that way, but things rarely turn out as planned in boxing. Instead of fighting in one of the biggest bouts ever against Floyd Mayweather Jr., Pacquiao will have to settle for fighting in one of the biggest stadiums ever.
The opponent is Joshua Clottey, and he's what the wise guys in Las Vegas would call a live dog. A talented boxer who has never been stopped and briefly held a piece of the welterweight title, he brings some credentials of his own into Saturday night's 147-pound fight at Cowboy Stadium.
But while he may be fighting on the star, there's only one star in this show. Little guys aren't supposed to fill big stadiums, yet some 45,000 fans are expected to be on hand to watch Pacquiao up close and personal -- and on the huge overhead video screens that will show every drop of sweat and blood.
"The best fighter I've ever seen," said promoter Bob Arum, who includes Muhammad Ali in that group. "No one has ever punched with equal power from both hands like Manny."
Arum has a financial interest in saying that, of course, but there are few in boxing who would argue that Pacquiao is a talent unlike any the sport has seen in recent years. He's coming off a stoppage of Miguel Cotto that cemented his credentials at 147 pounds, and he has created a buzz about boxing the sport desperately needed.
Twelve years ago he won his first title at 112 pounds. Now he's a champion in seven weight classes who will make at least $12 million in a gleaming new stadium far from the bright lights of Las Vegas.
Just as importantly, Pacquiao's doing it without Mayweather, now a bitter rival after talks for their megafight collapsed over Mayweather's insistence on blood testing -- and what Pacquiao believes was the inference he bulked up on performance-enhancing drugs.
"Some fighters like me, we can be the greatest fighters without fast words and trash talk," Pacquiao said. "His (Mayweather's) style is talking a lot of trash and it is not a good example for everybody."
Pacquiao is a 5-1 favorite in the scheduled 12-round fight (HBO pay-per-view beginning at 8 p.m. CST) which is expected to sell out a stadium scaled down for boxing.
Pacquiao weighed in at 145¾ pounds for the fight while Clottey weighed in at 147 pounds on Friday.
The odds are probably more lopsided than the talent differential between the two fighters, but it takes long odds to get anyone to bet against Pacquiao these days.
He was already a well-respected fighter when he began his current streak by stopping Oscar De La Hoya and forcing him into retirement. He followed that with a knockout of Ricky Hatton before stopping Cotto in November.
Now he plans to add Clottey to his list of victims, and then take some time out to run for congress in his native Philippines. Mayweather could await in September, assuming Pacquiao wins and Mayweather beats Shane Mosley on May 1, but Pacquiao has also hinted it may be time to hang the gloves up after fighting as a pro for 15 years.
"This is my last fight before the election," he said. "I am not saying I'm going to retire. It is hard to say right now when I'm going to retire, but this is my last fight before the election and I'm very excited about that."
Clottey, a native of Ghana who lives in New York City, was picked as an opponent largely on the basis of his fight last June against Cotto. Most believe he was winning that bout before inexplicably backing off in the last few rounds. He throws a lot of punches and has a strong chin, but his style of standing in front of an opponent seems perfectly suited to Pacquiao's frenetic pace of punching.
"He is what he is. Let's face it. He fights the same way in every tape I watch," said Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach. "Whether he fights southpaws or right-handers, he is predictable. He's good at what he does, but he does the same thing over and over again and he is very predictable. He's going to try to change for this fight, but once he gets in he will revert back to it."
Clottey (35-3) faces the additional challenge of fighting without his usual trainer, whose visa issues kept him out of the country. But he's quietly confident he can rise to the occasion, hoping to use his excellent defense to thwart Pacquiao.
"It's the key to the fight because he throws a thousand punches," Clottey said. "Everybody that he's fought, when he throws a thousand punches, they've all landed. When I'm blocking mine, I'm going to see how he's going to think."
If Pacquiao wasn't enough to sell this promotion, Arum and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones have combined to promote the $1.2 billion stadium as an attraction of its own. Boxing has been done in stadiums over the years, of course, but this may be the first time even those in the cheap ($50) seats will have a good view of the action.
Jones wanted to host a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight, and was bitterly disappointed when it couldn't be made. But his investment in this fight could have a big payoff for future fights.
"It didn't take me long to make my mind up that somehow, some way, we wanted to have Manny fighting here," Jones said. "I made my mind up in building this stadium I was not going to be associated with anything but the best."