Redemption time

Redemption time

It was just past 7.30am, but the music was blaring and they were all there under the dazzling bright lights at the Cotai Arena here in Macau on Saturday.

Boxing's famous announcer Michael Buffer was unmistakable with the microphone, ready with his voice.

Bob Arum, CEO of boxing promoters Top Rank, shuffled back and forth along the stage, always watching, like an eager policeman patrolling his beat, ready to ensure all will be right.

Four scantily-clad beauties in bright blue winked, waved and blew kisses to the crowd.

Boxing great Roy Jones Jr was a guest in ESPN's studio, George Foreman Jr was in the crowd, HBO and a couple of other TV cameras were up on stage waiting to talk to Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios after the weigh-in for their welterweight contest today.

Guaranteed to earn at least US$18 million ($22.5m) for the fight, Pacquiao, the Philippines hero - the only winner in eight different weight classes and already regarded as one of the best in the history of boxing - obliged, respectfully.

Biggest payday

Set for his biggest payday of US$4m, Rios made them wait, as he answered a phone call.

The chaotic, gaudy, glitzy and unapologetically bizarre world of professional boxing has set up its big top in Asia once again.

Arum wants to tap on a potentially huge market, Macau is keen to offer itself up as a city that is more than just a gaming capital.

Rios (31-1-1, 23 knockouts), 27, is chasing the dream of becoming a big-time boxer.

Pacquiao (54-5-2, 38 KOs) said he will prove today that he remains one of boxing's kingpins.

Many will be focused on Pacquiao when the fight unfolds.

He has lost his two previous contests, but is the heavy favourite.

His team picked Rios because they believe the American's aggressive style of face-to-face boxing suits their man. So much has been said about Father Time catching up with Pacquiao.

The world wants to know if his lightning combinations and dizzying footwork remain intact.

Perhaps it is unfair to expect a fighter who has been in so many wars and endured so much punishment to continue to dance and weave and unleash punches from angles with the same rata- tat speed.

Especially when Pacquiao will turn 35 next month.

But, his supporters believe.

They were here on Saturday, chanting "Manny, Manny, Manny!", as their favourite weighed in at 145 pounds (65.8kg).

I want to believe.

Pacquiao has been the most electrifying fighter of the last decade and I believe a superfight with Floyd Mayweather Jr remains a possibility.

Sports deserves such a contest. It will only happen if Pacquiao shines against Rios.

I want to believe it when Pacquiao's coach Freddie Roach said his man has had his best training in a long time.

Roach claimed Pacquiao has been lightning sharp in the gym.

But we all know boxing is famous for exaggeration, hype and lies, scarred warriors don't want to hear that their skills have diminished and rage against those who call them too old.

So we wait to see if the old Pacquiao is unleashed today, turning on the style to banish the memories of his defeats to Timothy Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez.

After Saturday's weigh-in, Rios, at 146.4 pounds (66.4kg), goaded the booing Pacquiao fans.

Pacquiao's corner later said that their man would win with a knockout by the sixth round.


Roach has been kicked, Rios says the trainer will pay for calling him a "bum". Alicia Keys has sung here for two nights.

David Beckham has flown in and publicly backed Pacquiao.

Hype, drama, glamour and star quality, this is the elite world of boxing.

It is also violent, and can be beautiful.

I remember the savage punch Pacquiao met flush on the face last December that knocked him unconscious briefly and handed Marquez a lucky victory.

The end was brutal and as Pacquiao lay motionless face down on the canvas, it felt like the end of the road for the boxer.

Today, when Buffer roars out his rich growl "Let's get ready to rumbleeeeeeeeee", an embattled nation, and the world, will see if redemption is on the cards.

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