LAS VEGAS (AFP) - Years of debate and months of hype will reach a climax Saturday in the US when Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather step into the ring in Las Vegas for the most eagerly anticipated boxing match in recent memory.
The long-awaited bout, which has been more than five years in the making, has transcended the traditional boxing scene, catapulting the sport back into the public consciousness and promising to rewrite the record books as the most lucrative fight of all time.
"Sin City" was buzzing ahead of the welterweight world title showdown and the money men were rubbing their hands: total revenue for the bout could reach an eye-watering US$400 million (S$530 million), fuelled by as many as three million pay-per-view purchases.
The breathtaking figures - a possible US$200 million payday for the unbeaten American Mayweather and an estimated US$100 million bonanza for Philippine icon Pacquiao - have intensified the spotlight on a fight between two of the greatest fighters of their generation.
As a taster for the main event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, a raucous crowd of 11,500 turned out for Friday's weigh-in, as Pacquiao and Mayweather went nose-to-nose.
The few tickets that did go on sale for the bout itself were reportedly snapped up in one minute, with A-listers and high-rollers making up the vast majority of a 16,800 sell-out crowd, making the fight more akin to a night out at the Oscars than two men attempting to pound the other to the canvas.
In Las Vegas, tourism officials said occupancy for the city's 150,000 hotel rooms would approach 100 per cent. Casinos were advertising red-carpet events hosted by hip-hop stars such as Puff Daddy and Snoop Dogg and pop star Justin Bieber - a Mayweather fan and friend.
And then there is the small issue of the fight itself, which even if it doesn't measure up to Mayweather's claim of the "biggest fight in boxing history," is an intriguing clash of styles between men of contrasting personalities.
Pacquiao, 36, a two-term congressman with a music and film career, credits the grace of God for lifting him from poverty in his youth and later guiding him away from a life of excess that his ring success made possible.
"Pacman," who undoubtedly had the crowd on his side at the weigh-in, will go into the ring with all of the Philippines in his corner.
Streets will be empty on fight night - Sunday morning in the Philippines - as the nation of 100 million cheers its "National Fist." The brash Mayweather touts his status as a money-making machine and comes from a troubled past that includes jail time for one of a string of domestic violence incidents.
Mayweather, 47-0 with 26 knockouts, is a 2-1 favorite to add Pacquiao's World Boxing Organisation world title to his own World Boxing Association and World Boxing Council belts.
Public opinion is with Pacquiao; boxing experts say Mayweather to triumph, most likely by 12-round decision.
Mayweather, 38, is a supremely skilled boxer and potentially devastating counter-puncher, famed for his ability to hit without being hit.
Pacquiao, who weighed in a pound lighter, will be in the unenviable position of the smaller fighter, taking more of the risks.
The aggressive southpaw, who owns a record of 57-5-2 with 38 knockouts, says he is content in his underdog role.
A winner of world titles in an unprecedented eight weight divisions, Pacquiao noted that he's beaten plenty of big foes, among them Oscar De La Hoya in 2008.
"No one thought I could beat Oscar, and I was the underdog then," said Pacquiao, who moved up 12 pounds in weight to batter the "Golden Boy" in a fight that sent him into retirement.
"Maybe it's good for me."
Once each had stepped off the scale on Friday, Mayweather and Pacquiao came eye-to-eye for a stare down - just their third face-to-face meeting since the bout was announced in February.
Their next will come Saturday night, when they step into the ring.
"I've dedicated myself to the sport of boxing for more than 20 years," Mayweather said. "I'm ready."