Pre-fight venom absent in Vegas

Floyd Mayweather tones down rhetoric as decorum replaces habitual trash talk

LAS VEGAS - If it is possible to see, or hear, through boxing's bombast - the bluster of promoters and entourages, the cacophony of marching bands and DJs - there is an introspective, measured side of the build-up to tomorrow's fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. It rests with the boxers themselves.

The biggest fight in years has the quietest participants. It is so big, apparently, that showmanship is left to others.

"Me speaking out loud, me having personality, I did that in the past," Mayweather said on Wednesday when asked about his demeanour. "I'm a lot older now. I'm a lot wiser. This fight sells itself. I don't have to do that."

There is no trash talk between the two men. There are no raised voices or barbed words. Given opportunity after opportunity to fuel acrimony, no matter how contrived, Mayweather (surprisingly) and Pacquiao (less surprisingly) have declined.

Wednesday's pre-fight news conference, during which the fighters were placed on a dais in front of dozens of news-hungry cameras, had the decorum of a political debate, not a boxing match.

Boxing has a high road, not always well travelled, and Mayweather and Pacquiao have taken it. Politeness does not sell in boxing, but in this case, it does not matter.

Tomorrow's fight already is likely to become the biggest pay-per-view event in history. Tickets are selling for tens of thousands of dollars, hotel rooms in the city cost exponentially more than usual, and the fighters will divide hundreds of millions of dollars, regardless of who wins.

Still, Mayweather has a reputation for talk as brash as his opulent lifestyle, needling opponents in the tradition of Muhammad Ali and other great boxers to whom Mayweather (47-0) likes to compare himself. Not this time.

Wearing a hoodie and a hat labelled by his brand, TMT - "The Money Team" - Mayweather called Pacquiao a "great fighter".

"This fight is not about good versus evil," Mayweather said when someone suggested the idea. "It's about one fighter at the top against another fighter at the top."

Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, has a theory on why the usually verbose Mayweather has been subdued in the build-up to the bout. "I am wondering if he (Mayweather) is going to show up, I really do," the bespectacled Roach told reporters with a smile.

"His speech is very subdued and low-key. I don't think any fighter is afraid but I think he (Mayweather) was forced into a fight he didn't want to take. He didn't get to pick this opponent like he usually does."

Pacquiao said that he hoped to speak to Mayweather about faith, presumably after he tries to punch him in the face many times.

When someone said, "Time to pose the fighters," Mayweather and Pacquiao stood side by side, like two men in line for coffee.

They stood together, they faced one another, they stared into each other's eyes. Pacquiao soon smiled. Even Mayweather could not feign antipathy for long. Sometimes, the greatest shows have nothing to do with showmanship.

NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS