A combination of several factors has many tipping Timothy Bradley to claim the scalp of Manny Pacquiao, but the eight-division world champion still has plenty to prove.
Between his last two fights, mounting distractions outside the ring and niggling calf problems, the 33-year-old isn't quite the lock he has been in all of his previous battles over the last seven years.
His most recent WBO welterweight title defence, a majority decision over Juan Manuel Marquez in the duo's third meeting, was far from convincing and the sound of boos as the Filipino was announced as the winner was a rare and surely unsettling scenario.
Interestingly enough, post-fight stats showed that the champ had indeed done enough to warrant the judges' favour, having landed more punches in every area. But that did not change some stinging truths.
Firstly, Manny has seldom emerged from a fight with only the numbers on his side. His speed, command and sheer ferocity often whips the live crowd into a frenzy and that was not the case in his ragged and one-dimensional display against his Mexican nemesis.
But more alarming is the omnipresent concern which always crops up when an established top-liner struggles to live up to his own superlative standards, as Pacquiao had vs Marquez and in the previous unanimous decision over the ageing Shane Mosley.
More so than any other sport, a boxer is driven by his hunger and a determination to have more and be better than they are at present or at any other point. Cue the cheesy 'Eye of the Tiger' rip-off in the background for this particular paragraph, but it's a very real observation of which 'The Destroyer' may well be showing the early symptoms.
And with the seven months since the Marquez win filled with further failed negotiations to fight Floyd Mayweather in the big clash which will seemingly never happen — not to mention all sorts of adversity in his domestic political career, including accusations from office rivals and Mayweather that he has taken PEDs — the outlook understandably looks bleak against the undefeated Bradley.
Many in the audience felt Marquez had done enough to defeat 'Pac-Man', but the fight stats said otherwise.
The Californian has been the personification of assurance in interviews and media appearances, despite the prospect of fighting one of the finest boxers in the world today, and it appears that he views Manny as ripe for the picking, as does a slowly-growing pocket of the boxing community.
But while Bradley should bring an exciting contest and a tough challenge to the table, he also provides exactly what Pacquiao needs to wriggle free of the weights on his shoulders both in-ring and out.
Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach has told anyone who will listen that his man has sacrificed a lot of his duties and hobbies in the months leading up to the MGM Grand Garden showdown in order to re-discover that spark which led him to countless victories and shattered records.
The Pugilist also believes that Mayweather's effortlessly-superior showing against Miguel Cotto at the very same venue five weeks prior — combined with the continued comments aimed by 'Money' towards his rival — will add further fuel towards a return to form for the WBO kingpin.
Most importantly of all, despite the fact that Bradley is undoubtedly skilled enough and confident enough to retain his spotless record on the highest level yet in Las Vegas, his open approach will play right into Manny's fists, unlike the cerebral Marquez or the dogged Mosley.
Regardless of who emerges victorious, who deserves favourite status and who is the true underdog in this one, the odds are firmly on the side of another quality fight for boxing fans to savour, up there with the blistering Froch-Bute contest a fortnight ago and Mayweather's Cinco de Mayo masterclass.
And in a similar vein to Bradley stepping up to meet Pacquiao after defeating Joel Casamayor on the November undercard, it will be worth keeping an eye on the action underneath the WBO welterweight title bout
Of particular interest may be the fight for the vacant IBF strap between Americans Mike Jones and Randall Bailey: the winner of that could well be next in line for either Manny or Timothy, unless a Pac-Man win leads to a fourth instalment in the Marquez anthology.
- Sports & Recreation