Pacquiao to move up two weight classes to fight De La Hoya

The notion of the fight began in October 2007 merely as a fantasy in the fertile mind of HBO broadcaster Larry Merchant. On Thursday it became reality.

After weeks of on and off negotiations, Oscar De La Hoya, boxing's most bankable superstar, and Manny Pacquiao, the pound-for-pound king, jointly announced on a media teleconference that they had agreed to meet Dec. 6 in an HBO PPV fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas which undoubtedly will be the biggest fight of 2008.

It is likely to generate more than $100 million and Lee Samuels, spokesman for Pacquiao promoter Top Rank, said within minutes of the official announcement that the telephone lines at its Las Vegas office were flooded with ticket requests, even though tickets have not yet been priced and are not available.

The fight will take place at the welterweight limit of 147 pounds, meaning Pacquiao (47-3-2, 35 KOs), a five-division champion who holds a 135-pound lightweight belt, will move up two weight classes. De La Hoya (39-5, 30 KOs), a six-division champion, will come down to 147, a weight he has not fought at since 2001. De La Hoya, primarily a 154-pound junior middleweight in recent years, came down to 150 for his May points victory against Steve Forbes.

"Manny Pacquiao is considered the best fighter in boxing today and I always want to fight the best," De La Hoya said. "I am glad we were able to make this fight happen because while Pacquiao is at the pinnacle of his success and has defeated all of the top fighters he has faced, I am going to show the world that it stops with me. Dec. 6 can't get here soon enough."

Said Pacquiao, the icon of his native Philippines, "This is my greatest challenge. When I take that walk to the ring to fight Oscar, I will carry all the people of the Philippines -- the entire country -- on my shoulders. I promise I will fight with all of my heart and that I will give everything I have. Like my trainer Freddie Roach says, I have what it takes to win the biggest fight of my life."

After a September rematch with Floyd Mayweather was scrapped when Mayweather surprisingly retired, De La Hoya began hunting for a December opponent. With Merchant's idea in De La Hoya's head, Pacquiao emerged as a possibility. The leader, however, was Miguel Cotto, but he lost his welterweight title to Antonio Margarito in July.

Even though De La Hoya considered junior middleweight titleholder Sergio Mora, Pacquiao remained the biggest name available after turning in a dominant knockout performance to win a lightweight belt from David Diaz in June.

"There was only one fight which truly got people talking, some with excitement, some with skepticism," Richard Schaefer, CEO of De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, said of De La Hoya-Pacquiao. "It's not just a fight. It's truly an event. It transcends the sport in a way I have never seen before, including Oscar's fight with Mayweather. This is a fight between superstars who have captured the imagination of their people and beyond, the two most popular fighters in the world. … It's a matchup. It's this kind of event that will have boxing on the front pages. The world will be talking. [Top Rank's] Bob Arum and I had our work cut out for ourselves on this one, but we did it."

MGM Grand oddsmakers opened the fight surprisingly close with De La Hoya as an 8-to-5 favorite.

De La Hoya was also motivated to make the fight because he was irritated by the unflattering comments made by Roach, his former trainer and Pacquiao's longtime trainer, in which Roach said De La Hoya, at 35, was no longer able to "pull the trigger."

"When people started talking, when people started saying Manny can beat me and Freddie started talking, it started to become a challenge," he said. "These are the kind of events that get me fired up."

He said he had never thought of Pacquiao as a possible opponent until Merchant floated the idea in an ESPN.com blog.

"When a certain person [Merchant] in the boxing industry, who is a boxing expert, mentioned the possibility last year of me fighting Pacquiao, it stuck in my head," De La Hoya said. "It kept on lingering in my head. I kept thinking about it over the months. To this day, I say to myself, 'Can I really fight Manny Pacquiao and beat the pound-for-pound champion?'

"I am older, I'm bigger and he's younger and the pound-for-pound champion. But when people started saying, 'Manny can beat you, Manny can knock you out' and Freddie Roach started saying, 'Oscar can't pull the trigger anymore,' it started to become a challenge to me. And now, it is very personal, especially when Manny Pacquiao beats all the legendary Mexican fighters. To me, it's a challenge, especially because people are talking that Manny Pacquiao can beat me. We'll see Dec. 6."

Indeed Pacquiao has feasted on the elite Mexican fighters in recent years, including victories against Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez. But they are all much smaller than De La Hoya.

Besides the weight factor, De La Hoya, who is 5-foot-10, has about a 4-inch height advantage on Pacquiao. But both downplayed the size difference.

"The size difference won't be a big deal to me or Manny," De La Hoya said. "I understand the relentless style Manny has. For me, as a 35-year-old fighter it really is a big challenge to me. I felt challenged, especially from an expert trainer who trained me and trains Manny. He knows my style and knows Manny. If he thinks I can't pull the trigger, we'll see Dec. 6.

"I think a lot of people will be very surprised when we are standing next to each other. Size won't be that much of a difference. It won't be like Roy Jones and John Ruiz."

Said Pacquiao, who debuted at 106 pounds, "I know everybody thinks that this fight is going to be a difficult fight for me and some people say it's a very easy fight for Oscar. But you know what? I always do my job in the ring and do my best to win the fight. I can beat De La Hoya. I saw his last performance and I'm faster and stronger than him and I am younger. I think the point is my speed is going to be effective in this fight. De La Hoya has an advantage in height but I believe I am stronger than him, so it's going to be a great fight."

The negotiations went on for weeks between Arum and Schaefer. Even after all of the various issues were settled, one remained: How would the fighters split the revenue? De La Hoya had insisted on a 70-30 split in his favor while Pacquiao wanted 40 percent. But in the past few days, and with time running out to assure such a major fight of the necessary time to promote it, the fighters finally agreed to budge, although they would not reveal the specific split.

"Manny has asked me not to talk about numbers or percentages," Arum said. "Richard and I will confer about whether we'll make a statement on that."

Said Schaefer, "The fact is, each fighter wanted the fight and each looks at is a challenge. Each had to give a little bit and we were able to make the fight."

By all indications, it's going to be a big one. HBO likely will produce a "24/7" reality series following the buildup to the fight. De La Hoya is the all-time pay-per-view champion while Pacquiao's PPV numbers have been strong in his biggest fights.

"It is important for boxing that at least once a year there is a matchup which truly transcends the sport, which captures the imagination of sports fans everywhere, and which has everyone buzzing," HBO PPV chief Mark Taffet said. "De La Hoya-Pacquiao is that matchup for 2008. It is a true megafight which people will be talking about for years to come."

Dan Rafael covers boxing for ESPN.com.