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Specter of Pacquiao looms over Mayweather-Ortiz showdown

LAS VEGAS -- Floyd Mayweather slips into a straight-backed seat, a black leather hat covering his eyes, a toothy smile creasing his face, palpable confidence evident. This is old hat to him now.

It's the final press conference before Saturday's welterweight title fight with Victor Ortiz (HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET, $59.95), the latest in a long line of "final" press conferences Mayweather has participated in leading up to a heavily hyped, multi-million dollar fight. He laughs as Ortiz's trainer, Danny Garcia, thanks him for inviting his estranged brother, Robert, to the fight. He smirks when Ortiz says he will "put you on your ass." And he fires one, final psychological missile at his opponent when he says that he heard Ortiz's father -- the man Ortiz claims beat him and later abandoned him -- never left him at all.

Love him or hate him, two things about Mayweather are indisputable: He knows how to fight and he knows how to promote a fight. Mayweather-Ortiz won't eclipse the 2.4 million pay-per-view buys Mayweather generated in his 2007 fight with Oscar De La Hoya, but it should surge past the 1.3 million buys Manny Pacquiao and Shane Mosley did in May.

That's what Mayweather wants, of course. Privately, he will take enormous pleasure in proving that he is a bigger draw than Pacquiao, even though he has the benefit of a more credible opponent (Ortiz) and a stronger undercard headliner (uber-popular Mexican Saul Alvarez) to boost the number.

But there is one thing Mayweather wants more: Respect. See, Mayweather believes he doesn't get the credit he deserves, the credit he feels an unbeaten, 41-0 fighter who has been virtually untouchable in his last three fights has earned.

"I don't think I'll ever get the credit I deserve," Mayweather said.

Should he? Probably. Mayweather, according to boxing historian Bert Sugar, "is the best defensive fighter in the last 25 years." And his resume has some solid names. Genaro Hernandez was a respected titleholder when Mayweather made him quit in 1998. Diego Corrales was unbeaten when Mayweather wiped the mat with him in 2001. De La Hoya was a titleholder fighting in his weight class (154 pounds) when Mayweather outpointed him in '07.

A win over Ortiz would be another significant notch on Mayweather's belt. Ortiz is 10 years younger than Mayweather. He's bigger than Ricky Hatton or Juan Manuel Marquez and more athletic than a faded Mosley. He's coming off his most impressive victory -- an entertaining decision win over Andre Berto -- and is ranked by Ring magazine as the No. 2 welterweight in the world, right behind Manny Pacquiao.

But will it end the debate over just how good Mayweather is? Probably not. Despite Ortiz's credentials, Mayweather is still expected to box circles around him. He is a 6-1 favorite, with most experts believing Mayweather's quickness, reflexes and ring savvy will carry the day.

How does he get that respect? Mayweather knows, like we all do. It's been said often and worth repeating: Mayweather will never be recognized as the best fighter of his generation until he defeats Pacquiao, the man who has charted a parallel career path the last few years.

Mayweather says he wants a Pacquiao fight. He repeated Wednesday what he has claimed for weeks: When Pacquiao agrees to unlimited, random blood and urine testing conducted by the USADA (or, presumably, WADA, which would test Pacquiao when he is in the Philippines) he will sign on the dotted line.

Some, like Mayweather's advisor, Leonard Ellerbe, believe him. Ellerbe says Pacquiao would be "an easy fight." Others, like Pacquiao's promoter, Bob Arum, do not. Arum says he is not optimistic a deal can be struck, and with Pacquiao likely headed for retirement in 2013, the clock is ticking.

Without Pacquiao, Mayweather would remain in boxing limbo. There are other opponents out there. Amir Khan is a popular British star who is planning a jump to welterweight next year. Berto recently reclaimed a piece of the 147-pound crown with a dominating win over Jan Zaveck. Mayweather could even go back up to junior middleweight for a crack at Sergio Martinez, a fight that could be tougher than one against Pacquiao.

None of those opponents carry the same cache of Pacquiao, the universally regarded pound-for-pound king who is camped out in the weight class Mayweather claims he owns. It's a fight filled with endless storylines: Mayweather against Arum, his former promoter. Pacquiao's strength coach, Alex Ariza, against a Mayweather clan that has suggested, hinted and at times come out and said that Pacquiao needed something extra to bulk up the way he has. Heck, Pacquiao publicist Fred Sternburg vs. Mayweather PR chief Kelly Swanson would be entertaining.

Mayweather has business with Ortiz first, and it won't be a walk in the park. But any post-fight celebration will be brief. HBO analyst Larry Merchant will lob a softball question or two before bringing up Pacquiao, and Mayweather will once again be on the defensive. No one will ever question his skills or his ability to sell a fight. But a decision to fight Pacquiao, to settle once and for all who is best in class, is the only way to answer questions about his greatness.

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