- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 14, 2009

LAS VEGAS | Manny Pacquiao spent long, hard weeks getting ready for one of the biggest nights of his life. Hundreds of hours sparring in sweltering gyms, nearly as many on morning runs through deserted streets.

Not to mention all those nights rehearsing with the band.

Many in boxing think Miguel Cotto will be Pacquiao’s toughest challenge when they meet Saturday night in a highly anticipated 145-pound fight. But after trading punches, he has to please another kind of crowd when sings with his band later that night down the Las Vegas Strip.

Although his trainer would rather he concentrate on the immediate task at hand, Freddie Roach understands by now that Pacquiao can’t keep still in the ring or out.

“I’m against the concert, of course,” Roach said. “But he does a lot of stuff. He’s multitasking all the time.”

The stuff includes everything from helping victims of the recent typhoon in his native Philippines to starring in an action movie called “Wapakman.” The father of four - who named one of his daughters Queen Elizabeth - has so many things going on all the time that even his ever expanding entourage has trouble keeping track.

None of it matters, though, if he doesn’t take care of business Saturday night when he again carries the weight of a nation on his shoulders in the latest in a string of fights that have made him wildly popular far beyond his home country.

Pacquiao expects it to be his first knockout performance of the night.

“For me, boxing is a kind of entertainment,” he said. “You have to entertain people. You have to earn their trust.”

Pacquiao has done just that in his past two fights, giving Oscar De La Hoya such a beating that he retired and dropping Ricky Hatton with one huge punch. He has gone from being a top-tier fighter to being widely regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Beating Cotto would give him an unprecedented seventh title in as many weight classes.

It also would set up a bout with unbeaten Floyd Mayweather Jr. in perhaps one of the biggest fights in boxing history. That’s assuming, of course, that Pacquiao can focus on his most important duty of the night.

“I set aside everything that can distract my mind,” he said. “This is the important fight of my life.”

Though the fight will be for a piece of the welterweight title, it is being held at 145 pounds at the insistence of Pacquiao’s camp because Cotto is a natural 147-pounder and Pacquiao has fought only once above 140 pounds. Pacquiao weighed in at 144 pounds, his heaviest ever, while Cotto was 145.

Oddsmakers made Pacquiao a 2 1/2-1 favorite.

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