It’s more than 7,000 miles from his home in General Santos City, Philippines, yet international superstar Manny Pacquiao always feels at home the moment he touches down in Las Vegas.
Such was evident on Tuesay afternoon when even after traffic issues delayed his arrival by more than 30 minutes, thousands of fans on hand at the MGM Grand raucously cheered from the moment Pacquiao walked through the doors for his grand arrival. The hotel’s arena hosts this weekend’s pay-per-view showdown as Pacquiao headlines against Tim Bradley (Saturday, HBO PPV 9PM ET/6PM PT).
The bout marks the 14th time that Pacquiao (54-3-2, 38KO) plays Sin City. The MGM Grand has played a major role in his rise from unknown former champ to star to the pound-for-pound blockbuster attraction he has become and remains to this day. It was at this very venue in which Pacquiao grabbed headlines outside of Asia, arriving as a late sub for a title shot against Lehlo Ledwaba in June ’01. Pacquaio – at the time a 22-year old former flyweight king with two KO losses – scored a major upset in stopping the then-top rated 122 lb. fighter in the world in the sixth round of a supporting bout to a card headlined by Oscar de la Hoya.
The same venue played host to Pacquiao’s stunning beatdown and retirement of de la Hoya in Dec. ’08, though also served as the backdrop for his last official loss, falling short to Erik Morales in their first fight back in March ’05. Pacquiao has since twice avenged the loss and racked up several other notable wins along the Vegas strip. Saturday’s bout marks his third straight fight in Vegas and at the MGM Grand. His 2011 campaign featured points wins over Shane Mosley and longtime rival Juan Manuel Marquez, though that win coming in disputed fashion as many believed the verdict should have went the other way.
Nevertheless, it was nothing but love during Tuesday’s arrival, leaving Pacquiao as humble as the first time he arrived in town. “It’s nice to be back in Vegas,” Pacquiao stated, though nearly drowned out by the massive support from fans packed in the hotel lobby. “I’m fortunate for the fan’s support. My first time to Vegas (in June ’01), I was very excited. It was a big difference because nobody knew me.”
Fans – and even casual observers – around the world have grown to know Pacquiao in the decade since that evening. This weekend’s event is expected to be nothing short of yet another blockbuster attraction. Pacquiao’s last three fights have all racked up more than a million PPV buys, with Saturday expected to make it a four-pack. The ability to sell has never been of concern to Pacquiao, whose respect for his opponents and the sport itself makes him likeable in and out of the ring. However, with each fight comes added pressure to remain the best, especially to those getting their first glimpse of the southpaw in real time.
“It’s a big difference now because people expect me to do my job,” Pacquiao says of the expectations that exist today compared to what he carried into the Ledwaba fight nearly 11 years ago. “This is the first time my family is going to watch live. I’m excited to do my best and give a good show.”