There was a time when no sporting event on the planet was bigger than the heavyweight championship of the world. But linear heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, who holds five belts of different stripes, is facing undefeated No. 1 contender Bryant Jennings Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, and it almost feels as if the bout is little more than a warm-up act for the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao fight that figures to be the richest in history on May 2 in Las Vegas.
"I'm thankful it's not the undercard," Klitschko joked.
"I think it's an advantage to have two big events close to each other. I think HBO will have more viewers than the other fight, but the financial side will be completely different."
Pay-per-view sales for Mayweather-Pacquiao might top 3 million and possibly approach 4 million, but the cost of watching Klitschko-Jennings on HBO doesn't compare to the pay-per-view price of close to $100, and while the Garden is scaled from $100 to $1,000 at ringside, that doesn't compare to $7,500 ringside at the MGM Grand Garden, where the cheapest seat is $1,500.
"I won't make it to Vegas, but I will watch it," Klitschko said. "A hundred bucks! It's a lot of money. I heard you can't even buy a ticket. Wow."
That was a reference to the fact no Mayweather-Pacquiao tickets have been offered to the public yet. While a sellout is expected Saturday at MSG, tickets still are available for a chance to see Jennings (19-0, 10 KOs) against Klitschko (63-3, 53 KOs), whose last loss was 11 years ago and who has made 18 straight defenses while reigning for nearly 10 years atop the division.
Jennings warned boxing fans not to take for granted the chance to witness heavyweight history. "They're going to wish they were there, wish they were a part of it, wish they were able to witness it," Jennings said.
It's unusual for the heavyweight champion to have a hard time taking the spotlight from a pair of welterweights. In his own case, Klitschko has made a point of not comparing himself to the greats, calling it "offensive," and he scoffed at Mayweather's recent comment that he is the best boxer of all-time even over Muhammad Ali.
"I heard this comment from Mayweather that he's greater than Ali," said Klitschko, noting that Ali even paid respect to Sugar Ray Robinson as "the greatest" at the time of his death. "I think people call the king the king, not the king you know, saying, 'I'm the king.' "
Still, Klitschko said Mayweather's unbeaten record over 19 years as a pro commands respect.
"Maybe his fights are not as impressive as Pacquiao's, but they're effective," Klitschko said. "He is the best-paid athlete in the world. From a boxing standpoint, I think the slight advantage is on Mayweather's side because of his size and capability. I'm going to put it 51-49 for Mayweather."
As for his own fight, Klitschko said, "I'm confident I'm going to win this fight. How the ending is going to be, I cannot promise you. Let's see the way on Saturday night."