The countdown to boxing's expected fight of the year, the junior-welterweight fight between Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton, is less than one month away and promoters are already dreaming of more than 1 million pay-per-view buys, a flood of visitors to Las Vegas and a packed arena.
Meanwhile, with far less acclaim in a Montreal arena tonight, (Showtime, 10:45 p.m. Pacific, tape-delayed), two other junior-welterweight world championship belts will be unified when unbeaten Palm Springs fighter Timothy Bradley (23-0) meets New Jersey's Kendall Holt (25-2).
"I want people to realize who the champions are, two young guys putting on a fight that boxing needs: a 50-50 fight either of us could win," said Bradley, who won the World Boxing Council's junior-welterweight title last May by defeating England's Junior Witter in his home country and has defended the title once.
Holt is the WBO junior-welterweight champion.
But what has become remarkably clear in the attention given to Pacquiao-Hatton and Bradley-Holt is the chasm that exists between popularity and world-title belts.
Bradley-Holt "will be a terrific fight, and both of those guys could compete well versus Manny and Ricky," said Bob Arum, Holt and Pacquiao's promoter. "But, you know . . . that's why the fight's up in Montreal. They can't sell tickets, baby."
The charismatic Filipino Pacquiao and Englishman Hatton expanded their national fan bases into international stardom by engaging in numerous memorable brawls: Pacquiao with Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez and Oscar De La Hoya; and Hatton against Kostya Tszyu, Jose Luis Castillo and Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Meanwhile, Bradley, 25, was fighting in a bout at a Corona warehouse as recently as 2007.
He was raised around gangs in North Palm Springs, showing a short temper, disrespect to authority and aggression that landed him at the Palm Springs Boxing Club.
"I thought I was invincible," Bradley said. "Realizing someone could kick my butt -- I got my nose busted, and some bad headaches in that gym -- helped me."
Bradley finally got his act together at Cathedral City High School, where his father, Timothy Sr., worked as a security guard and drove him to school each morning.
A pro fighter since he was 18, Bradley has only 11 knockouts to show after 23 pro fights. But his punching speed and tactical skills leave him confident against Holt.
"I'm a lot shorter than him and just as quick, so I'll be able to get underneath him and make him uncomfortable," Bradley said. "It all depends on how hard he hits. If he really kicks, we'll see, but I like my chances. It's a pick-em fight. If you like the boxer-counterpuncher, go with Holt. If you want the hungrier fighter, take me."
Arum says it's "sad but true," that even a memorable slugfest between Bradley and Holt may not boost either fighter's recognition.
"Who are they going to bring in?" Arum asked. "Hispanic fighters more easily create a big fan base than inner-city kids."
Bradley argues that proving his talent is world-class will win followers.
"Both [Pacquiao and Hatton] were in this position before, these are the steps you have to go through -- proving to people they can believe in you," Bradley said. "I understand we're not the big stars yet. Kendall Holt and I are more like a little twinkle in everyone's eyes, but we're looking to make a statement now, so people can say, 'Watch out for this kid.' "