Size Matters?

By John Lumpkin: Being the pound for pound best in the world does not necessarily translate to being able to beat anyone at any weight. It is simply the recognition of capability relative to weight, so this does not mean that Pacquiao should be favored to win. Boxing history is filled with good smaller fighters losing to fighters of similar caliber at a higher weight class. Many great fighters have fallen to far lesser capable opponents when moving up. And in this fight, despite having fought his previous bout at Welterweight, Pacquiao is moving up.

Pacquiao has been on a meteoric rise in weight classes in recent years. It is hard to imagine that he started his career at 108 and won his first title at 112. In fact, his rise in weight classes is so significant that he is the only fighter to have won titles at 112 and 126 ever….and then he secured belts at 130 and 135.

140 may seem like just 5 pounds more, but there is more to it than that. We do not really know how well Pacquiao can perform at this weight. Pacquiao performed admirably at 130 going 8-1(4) with victories against all three of the Mexican legends of the time. At 135, he defeated David Diaz by knockout. It was a dominant fight, but at the same time, Pacquiao was boxing more and he had to land a lot more clean shots to score the knockout.

Power took a backseat to speed in the Diaz fight. We might have attributed this to Diaz’s plodding and rough style, but speed has been the strength that the Pacquiao camp has ballyhooed ever since. Of course, it was clear that it was the speed that stopped Diaz as the fighter himself acknowledged this in the corner during the fight. Diaz simply did not have the tools to do anything different and never really had much of a chance in this fight.

At the time in which they fought Pacquiao, neither Diaz nor De La Hoya was as capable in the ring as Ricky Hatton is today. Both Diaz and De La Hoya entered the ring with serious deficits that Pacquiao was able to capitalize on and advance to a relevantly easy victory and as such, we really did not learn much from these victories. At best, they served to give Pacquiao time to adjust to the higher weight class. Now, we are about to find out if Pacquiao can fight at a world class level at this weight.

Ricky Hatton is strong 140 pounder and his style maximizes that strength. It is the type of style that can be challenging for a weaker opponent and certainly one that can be troublesome for a fighter moving up in weight. It is not that we can conclude that Pacquiao will definitely be the weaker fighter of the two, but what we do know is that he has not faced an opponent that could apply as much strength and pressure in a fight as Hatton is capable of doing. It will be a new experience and it may be the difference in the fight. In fact, Hatton needs to be the stronger opponent to effectively use his mauling style. If Pacquiao somehow bests Hatton in the strength department, he will make short work of Hatton.

Pacquiao’s response to forward pressure recently has been rapid accurate combinations and circling or side to side movement. If this strategy proves effective, this fight will end up looking very much like the Mayweather-Hatton contest with much the same results. If the strategy is only effective in spots balanced against a somewhat successful mauling attack by Hatton, the fight could very well become a war of attrition and this tends to favor the bigger man. The more effective Hatton is at getting Pacquiao to engage with him in the inside, the better his chances.

Both guys tend to score their knockouts of top level competition in the mid to late rounds, so do not expect an earlier stoppage. In fact, if they manage to establish mutual respect for each other’s power, there is a good chance this fight will go to the cards as often happens in these contests. Gone are the days when the power of Pacquiao could overwhelm opponents. At the higher weight classes, he has good power that needs the speed to be effective. Hatton will feel it most when he is surprised by punches.

The question we should be asking ourselves in this fight with respect to power is what effect Hatton’s punches will have on Pacquiao. Hatton will likely land the hardest punches Pacquiao has ever felt (Oscar has heavier hands, but he never came close to landing anything effective). Hatton doesn’t typically hit opponents with the type of force to KO them with a single shot, so his power will more likely serve as a means to wear down his opponent – assuming he can catch him.

Pacquiao has become more elusive as he has moved up in weight. He will want to continue this trend when fighting Hatton. Expect Hatton to move forward in this fight firing a few shots at a time in an effort to pin Pacquiao on the ropes where he will need to maximize his efforts. Pacquiao will respond with quick combinations and constant movement to the sides to both escape and create punching lanes. The longer Hatton can keep Pacquiao moving to his will and trapped against the ropes, the more likely he will win. This is essential for his size and strength to matter.

Hatton has more skills than he gets credit for, but as we have discovered, if you remove his strength advantages from the equation, he isn’t quite the same fighter. In the end, speed is a lot harder thing to counter than strength. Ricky Hatton isn’t slow by any means, but Pacquiao holds a significant edge in speed and is better at throwing combinations than Hatton. The fight could go either way, but the safer bet is to go with Pacquiao on points. There is a reasonable possibility that Pacquiao has reached his physical limitations and Hatton is simply too big. If this turns out to be the case, it should be fairly evident. Failing a victory by size, Hatton basically needs Pacquiao to cooperate and fight Hatton’s fight to win. If Pacquiao establishes dominance in any area Hatton needs to control, Pacquiao will win the fight.

April 29, 2009
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