By Geoffrey Gray
LAS VEGAS -- As the undisputed master of mind games, Floyd Mayweather must be puzzled with Manny Pacquiao's choice of words. The Filipino fighter did not bring a chicken on stage to taunt him, as Mayweather did with Oscar De La Hoya. Nor did he call him names or vow to destroy him, as Mayweather had done with so many opponents.
Instead, as they finally stood on the dais for the weigh-in here Friday afternoon, Pacquaio looked up at Mayweather, who is nearly two inches taller, and said two words. He didn't mutter them either. The pair of words were not delivered begrudgingly. They were delivered with joy.
"Thank you," Pacquaio said.
In the lexicon of boxing trash talk, there is no entry or place for "thank you." What could Pacquaio possibly be thanking Mayweather for? For five years, Mayweather has avoided this encounter, maneuvering around it, jumping out of the way, and until he and his camp finally signed the contract (with only slightly more than a week to go before the fight) the Mayweather Team had basically kept Pacquiao and his promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank out of the promotion itself, holding the precious tickets to this Fight of the Century and other matters of business to themselves.
Mayweather also controlled the press. He barely said a word about the fight, doing few interviews, and leaving Team Pacquaio to play the role of hype-machine. Outside of the typical pre-fight machinations, Mayweather also has all the physical advantages. He is the bigger fighter, the more talented fighter. He's the favorite here. So why all the gratitude, Manny?
Always one to get the last word, Mayweather looked at Pacquaio, said nothing and continued with the sad puppy dog look that's defined this fight. If Mayweather had any reason to be bummed, it was today's weigh in. Despite moving here from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and starting his career as a resident of Las Vegas, one would expect him to enjoy the fruits of a hometown advantage. But every time his name was mentioned from the announcers on the dais, any fans he had were drowned out by a cascading echo of jeers. The flashes of the "The Money Team," which he's so tirelessly branded, were co-opted by fans holding up signs: "The Manny Team." Mayweather had become the victim of a corporate hijacking.
Perhaps also troubling for Mayweather: Pacquiao looked so happy, so fresh. He kept raising his hands into the stadium, igniting thunderous applauses, stamping his role in the fight as mega underdog. In total, there were over over 11,000 fans that filled the MGM Arena for the weigh in, probably the largest crowd in history there for a weigh in, and more impressive considering the tickets started at $10 and were scalped at prices higher than $200, for only a fifteen-minute glimpse of the fighters in their underwear.
Standing next to Pacquaio, another reality became clear. Even though they weighed a pound apart -- Mayweather tipped in at 146, to Pacquaio's 145 -- Mayweather is not only a bigger fighter, he's much bigger. He has a greater reach, some five inches or so. With all his talent and expertise in controlling big events, how could fans actually expect Pacquaio to win?
The more Pacquiao becomes a long shot here, the more Mayweather has to lose. If Mayweather wins handily, fans could always say it was meant to be that way, and Mayweather just beat up on the smaller man. The credit Mayweather wants won't come the way he wants it.
The other side of the equation: Pacquiao can't lose. If he finds a way to get to Mayweather, crack his defense and win the fight, he'll emerge a global hero. If he fights his heart out and loses, he wins over new supporters who've bought into his David-Goliath tale.
Regardless of outcome, the odds are in Manny Pacquiao's favor. It's a reason to be thankful for.
Geoffrey Gray is a best-selling author and reporter based in New York. A contributing editor at New York Magazine, he has covered boxing, bullfighting, tennis, female arm wrestling, camel racing and high-end perfume.