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Page last updated at 07:16 GMT, Friday, 5 December 2008

Dream Match or circus act?

Oscar de la Hoya (left) and Manny Pacquiao
De la Hoya (left) and Pacquiao is the biggest fight of the year

By Mike Costello
BBC Radio 5 Live boxing correspondent

Randy Cobb, a teak-tough Texan who once challenged Larry Holmes for the world heavyweight title, recalled being knocked out by a Mexican bantamweight.

"How come?" said Cobb. "Six of my pals were swinging him round by the heels at the time!"

Trainer Freddie Roach is unlikely to devise similar tactics to help Manny Pacquiao bridge the weight divide against Oscar de la Hoya on Saturday - although, for many, such a routine would not be out of place.

Joe Calzaghe's dad Enzo is among the sceptics who have derided the "Dream Match", as it has been billed, as a circus fight. But should it really be dismissed as one for the Big Top? The odds-layers in Vegas suggest not.

Oscar de la Hoya
Has not fought as 147-pounder in seven years
Has held belts in six weight classes
39-5 record, 30 knockouts
Manny Pacquiao
First fight at welterweight limit
Four world titles at four lower weight divisions
47-3 record, two drawn, 35 knockouts
The prices on offer around the casinos are almost identical to those available on the corresponding weekend last year ahead of Floyd Mayweather's dismantling of Ricky Hatton.

And plenty of good judges backed Hatton to win that one.

The gamble this time is all De la Hoya's. Pacquiao's reputation will withstand defeat, while De la Hoya has to win to save face.

To date, the big ones have not gone De la Hoya's way. Mayweather, Bernard Hopkins, Shane Mosley (twice) and Felix Trinidad have inflicted a nap hand of blemishes on the Golden Boy's log.

This time he has loaded the dice in his own favour - although accusations that he has gone searching for a soft touch must be met with the rejoinder that the showdown against Pacquiao is taking place only because a rematch with Mayweather could not be brokered.

Manny Pacquiao
Like it or not, the freak-show element of the Pacquiao contest is part of the appeal

Even so, it is a calculated business move by De la Hoya. Every fighter weighs up risk against reward, attempting to ensure that one is worth the other.

Fights against the welterweight trio of Antonio Margarito, Paul Williams or Miguel Cotto carry louder hazard warnings for De la Hoya.

But would the financial dividends be any greater?

The Filipino's journey through the weight divisions now measures 42lb. Such feats were attempted in sepia-tinted times, but in the modern era even De la Hoya himself and Roberto Duran only dared expand by 28lb.

Pacquiao's camp argue that if anyone is allowed a licence to stretch audacity, it's the world's pound-for-pound best.

And there can be no grudge held against any boxer maximising his income. After all, it doesn't take a high level of detective skill to trace a pitiful tale of a once-revered hero now hovering somewhere between Skid Row and Palookaville.

But boxing fans are feeling ever more sidelined, with two gripes foremost among many.

First, the trend of making fights for convenience, purely for money, and keeping titles and affairs in-house among promotional factions.

And secondly, skimpy bills.

There was a time when, if the main event flopped, a gem on the undercard would save the evening. Not any more.

The action served up on undercards on our recent trips to the US produced enough evidence to warrant a Cash for Goners inquiry. It is hard to argue with the wrinklies who insist it was better in their day.

HBO, the American TV channel regarded as the home of big-time boxing, have expressed openly their disappointment at the pay-per-view returns for recent fights involving Bernard Hopkins (against Kelly Pavlik) and Calzaghe (against Roy Jones).

Credit-crunched, maybe. But against that backdrop, Saturday's fight will act as a useful barometer.

Boxing needs its De la Hoyas. It needs the likes of Pacquiao too. But in the same ring?

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