WASHINGTON • In one corner: Mr Donald Trump, the mudslinging mogul with a much-publicised hairdo and a flair for the dramatic. In the other: Nine other Republican presidential hopefuls who wish he was not standing among them.
That is the unfolding scenario for the Republicans' first televised debate in Cleveland on Aug 6.
Several campaign officials said privately they were counting on Fox News, the host for the debate, to make sure Mr Trump does not dominate the event by answering questions posed to other candidates or interrupting their answers.
"All candidates will be treated equally and fairly," said Mr Michael Clemente, the executive vice-president of news for Fox News.
The debate carries an extra air of unpredictability since it will be the first time the 10 Republican candidates who are polling the highest in the 16-candidate field are in the same room together.
Given Mr Trump's trash-talking ways and eye for the spotlight, his rivals, from Mr Jeb Bush to Mr Scott Walker and Mr Ben Carson, are strategising on how best to get their points across and not let the debate degenerate into a carnival- barking sideshow.
With six months to go until Iowa holds the first Republican Party nominating contest on the road to the November 2016 election, several campaigns said they would focus on making a favourable impression on voters, rather than tangling with Mr Trump.
That may prove challenging, given his headline-grabbing antics since he declared his candidacy. The debate could go off the rails if he revels in his poll numbers and tries to torment his competitors.
Mr Trump has launched a series of personal attacks on rivals for the Republican nomination.
He mocked former Texas governor Rick Perry, saying he wore new glasses so that people would think he was smart, described Senator Lindsey Graham as an "idiot" who would not be able to get a job in the private sector, and said former Florida governor Bush was "terrible".
He even read out Mr Graham's cellphone number at a campaign rally. Despite - or because of - his unprecedented actions, Mr Trump remains effectively tied with Mr Bush for the lead with 16 per cent of the vote, according to a Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll updated on Thursday.
Fox News has yet to release the format and ground rules for the two-hour debate.