LAS VEGAS – Stepping in the world’s `Entertainment Capital’ for the first time in 16 months readily brought back memories to Manny Pacquiao.
Although now a larger than life figure in the boxing world, the future Hall of Fame can’t help but reminisce and compare his title bout against Timothy Bradley this Saturday (Sunday, Manila time), to his very first attempt at a world championship under the bright lights of Vegas in 2001.
Pacquiao, then an unknown last-minute substitute as a challenger, pulled off a major upset when he dethroned Lehlo Ledwaba of South Africa with a sixth-round technical knockout to win the International Boxing Federation (IBF) super-bantamweight crown.
The bout served as undercard of the Oscar Dela Hoya-Javier Castillejos match for the World Boxing Council (WBC) welterweight belt.
Looking back, the 35-year-old Filipino said he is feeling the same way in his rematch against Bradley, the reigning World Boxing Organization (WBO) champion after beating Pacquiao two years ago in a highly-disputable split decision.
“Excited ako na maramdaman 'yung parang nagsisimula ako na gusto kong mag-champion,” recalled the former eight-time world champion inside his suite at the 61st floor of The Mandalay Bay Hotel on Monday evening shortly upon arriving here following a six-hour road trip from Los Angeles.
“Parang break ko na first time kong lumaban sa world championship.”
Ironically, the rematch with Bradley will be at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, where Pacquiao has fought 10 times, including the Ledwaba showdown.
In all, this will be the boxing legend’s 15th bout in Las Vegas and 24th in the US.
He last fought here in 2012 when he was knocked out faced-first by Mexican nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez in a shocking sixth round loss.
“Masaya tayo (na nakabalik sa Las Vegas),” said Pacquiao, who was in a blue polo shirt topped by a black leather jacket and gray pants.
As expected, a festive atmosphere welcomed the Filipino ring great during his LA departure and Las Vegas arrival.
Pacquiao sparred at the Wild Card gym for the last time by engaging Roman 'Speedy' Gonzales for four rounds to cap his two-hour workout presided over by trainer Freddie Roach.
Close to 40 vehicles joined the convoy of the boxing star on its way to the 'City of Lights’, including the traditional, customized bus bearing the large and colorful images of both Pacquiao and Bradley that carried 56 passengers including the Pacman’s parents Dionisia and Rosalio Pacquiao.
Upon arriving at his suite, foods of Filipino variety such as pansit, apritadang manok, tinola, kalderetang baka, and pakbet awaited Pacquiao in the dining table.
Asked about his weight, the congressman from Sarangani said everything is manageable, adding, “wala tayong problema sa timbang.”
As for any other concerns, Pacquiao, who’s expected to make his formal grand entrance at the MGM lobby on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila), said he certainly has none.
“One hundred percent na tayo,” was his definite assurance.