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Manny Pacquiao: A Fighter for the Ages
Manny Pacquiao: photo by Holger Keifel
By Thomas Hauser
On May 2nd, Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton engaged in battle for the right to be called boxing’s “pound-for-pound” champion.
Pacquiao and Hatton have aggressive relentless ring styles. They are two of the most exciting fighters in the world. Each man has stayed close to his roots, geographically and in terms of character. Both have special meaning to their constituents. No two fighters are more loved in their native lands.
Boxing has produced some of the most famous men who ever lived. John L. Sullivan, Joe Louis, and Muhammad Ali were known around the globe in their time.
The Philippines, with 96,000,000 people, is the twelfth most-populous nation on the planet. Another 10,000,000 Filipino expatriates live in countries around the world. Manny Pacquiao is the most idolized Filipino ever. All of his countrymen know who he is, and his story is familiar to them.
Pacquiao has lived virtually his entire life in a world surrounded by need. He ran away from home as a child, reportedly because his father ate his pet dog. Thereafter, he slept on the streets, often in a cardboard box. He began boxing for money at age fourteen.
To date, Pacquiao has won world championships at weights ranging from 112 to 140 pounds. Relying upon a devastating blend of speed and power, he has fought and beaten some of the best fighters in the world. Last December, he moved up in weight to 147 pounds and battered Oscar De La Hoya over eight one-sided rounds. That triumph elevated him from hero to icon. Hundreds of thousands of idolators lined the streets of General Santos City in the Philippines for his victory parade. He was received with the joy and reverence normally accorded a conquering army.
Outside the ring, Pacquiao has a gentle quality about him. He’s playful, almost childlike; polite with a shy smile. He speaks so softly that, at times, one has to lean close to hear him. Despite his accomplishments and celebrity status, there’s a humility about him.
Pacquiao gives of himself the way Muhammad Ali used to give. He has a wave and a smile for everyone. He signs autographs, poses endlessly for photographs, and gives away money. A lot of money. Perhaps more than he should.
At any given time, 250 Filipinos are in school on scholarships paid for by Pacquiao. Each year on his birthday, he gives 100-pound sacks of rice, other food supplies, and money to people who line up outside his home. He recently donated three hundred hospital beds to charitable organizations.
"The people where I live are not bad people,” Manny says. “They are only poor. If I can help, it is my duty. I know what they’re feeling. I remember, as a little boy, I ate one meal a day and sometimes slept in the street. I’m not shy to tell of my life because I want to give inspiration and show how Manny Pacquiao went from nothing to something. It is an honor to me that the people feel about me the way they do. I know that millions of people are praying for me, and that gives me strength. It inspires me to fight hard, stay strong, and remember all of the people of my country trying to achieve better for themselves. I do my best to bring happiness and a feeling of honor to all the people in the Philippines. My fight is not only for me but for my country. Every fight, I dedicate to my country.”
Ricky Hatton isn’t as iconic a figure as Pacquiao, but his “one of us” persona has made him a hero in Manchester and beyond. There are those who think that his fondness for beer and binge-eating between fights have taken the edge off his intensity as a fighter. But prior to facing Pacquiao, Ricky had won 45 of 46 bouts. His most notable victory was an eleventh-round stoppage of Kostya Tszyu in 2005. His sole defeat came at the hands of Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a fight that Team Hatton believes should have an asterisk next to it in the record book because referee Joe Cortez appeared to tilt the playing field in Mayweather’s favor.
“It wasn’t a humbling experience because I’m humble to begin with,” Ricky says of that loss. “But it was devastating.”
Hatton, at his best, pressures his opponents until they break. His winning personality and the fervor of his fans add to the excitement of his fights.
Last year, Ricky tried his hand at stand-up comedy and told those in attendance, “What an absolute pleasure it is to be entertaining an audience without someone trying to smash my teeth in.” But he has acknowledged, “No matter how many pints you have, no matter how many parties you go to; when you get your hand raised at the end of a fight, it’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
“In boxing, the glory is your own,” Hatton says. “But I’m also doing it for Manchester, and I’m doing it for England.”
There was the usual posturing during the negotiations that preceded the making of Pacquiao-Hatton.
Hatton (who is promoted by Golden Boy) was willing to accept a 65-35 split in Pacquiao’s favor if he were allowed to carve out and keep all of the television money from the United Kingdom. That was unacceptable to Bob Arum of Top Rank (Pacquiao’s promoter), who bargained for and got a 50-50 split on all revenue. Then Manny decided that he wanted better than 50-50 and refused to sign the contract. That elicited an aggravated response from Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer who, in a fit of pique, declared, “What a waste of time, money and effort. We had booked the planes, the hotels, printed the press kits for the press tour. It was all ready to go, a big production. Frankly, I’m disgusted at the behavior of Manny Pacquiao. He’s a spoiled young kid who doesn’t know how to behave.”
The following day, Team Pacquiao responded in kind, issuing an “Official Pacquiao Statement” that read in part, “In the new age of Barack Obama where equal opportunity and fair play are now the norm, Ricky Hatton’s chief negotiator Richard Schaefer apparently is still living in the past. The Swiss banker-turned CEO of Golden Boy Promotions has blocked a potential mega-fight with pound-for-pound boxing champion Manny Pacquiao by acting on emotion rather than dealing on the merits of the fight and by not giving what is rightly due the four-time, four-division champion.”
The statement went on to declare that Pacquiao was “disgusted” by Schaefer’s comments and quoted Manny as saying, “I find Schaefer’s actions and words too aristocratic. He’s the one who is acting childish. He is not professional and civil enough to give merits to the negotiating table.” Then, in the ultimate insult, Pacquiao declared, “I say, ‘Schaefer is a bad businessman.’”
One day later, the parties settled on a reported 52-48 split in Pacquiao‘s favor with a US$12,000,000 guarantee for each fighter.
The sport of boxing has been sleepwalking through what, in reality, has been a “post-Oscar” era for some time. Pacquiao-Hatton was the start of the post-Oscar pay-per-view era. The marketing of the fight began with a media tour that kicked off in Manchester. Six thousand fans were in attendance. Manny challenged Ricky to a game of darts at a local pub (Ricky won). Then the tour moved to the British Museum of Military History in London.
Hatton sounded a familiar theme throughout the proceedings. “I don’t think I can express how much I’m looking forward to this fight,” he told the media. “Every youngster dreams of becoming a world champion. But I have to be frank. Never did I dream of being in a position to fight for the pound-for-pound title, which means you’re the best champion out of all weight divisions. This fight means everything to me. To become the pound-for-pound champion would be almost beyond belief.”
But there was another, less appealing, side to the promotion.
One of the problems with boxing today is that fighters and others who behave badly outside the ring get an inordinate amount of attention. Too often, trash-talking and ugly acts are encouraged as a way of selling tickets and pay-per-view buys.
For the past eight years, Pacquiao has been trained by Freddie Roach. During that time, Manny (who relied on speed and a powerful left hand to become a world-class fighter) has evolved into a complete practitioner of the art of boxing. It’s possible that no fighter in history has improved to the degree that Manny has after reaching elite status. Much of the credit for this improvement goes to Roach.
The chemistry between Roach and Pacquiao is special. They have bonded in a unique way.
“It’s not like I’m the dictator and tell Manny what to do and he does it,” Roach explains. “If I say something and Manny is uncomfortable with it, we discuss it. And it’s wrong to say that I made Manny. He was a very good fighter when I got him. Besides; we can work on a game plan and do things in the gym. But when the bell rings, it’s Manny who has to win the fight.”
Pacquiao has a similar appreciation of the relationship and adds, “Freddie and I are not only a team in boxing. We are friends, like family.”
Enter Floyd Mayweather Sr, the self-described “greatest trainer in the world.”
In late-2008, Mayweather was brought in by the Hatton camp to replaced Ricky’s longtime trainer, Billy Graham. Initially, the change carried at least one positive. The tension between Ray Hatton (Ricky’s father) and Paul Speak (a business-media adviser and friend) on the one hand and Graham on the other had begun to weigh heavily on Ricky’s mind. That irritant was now gone.
But Mayweather is given to public utterances that extol his own talents and demean others. “It’s night and day between me and Freddie ‘The Joke Coach’ Roach,” one sample comment began. “Don’t ever compare us. Freddie Roach is in the Hall of Fame. He should be in the Hall of Shame. We’re going to whip Pacquiao’s ass, because I got the best fighter and because I’m the best trainer.”
For a while, Roach engaged with Mayweather. “As long as Floyd is in Hatton’s corner,” Freddie maintained, “I have absolutely no concerns. Floyd training Hatton for this fight is our biggest advantage.”
Later, Roach acknowledged, “I got caught up in the bullshit a little bit. For a while, Floyd got under my skin. Then Manny told me, ‘Just be a gentleman, stay humble, and I’ll take care of it. I’ll give you a present in the fight.’”
Neither Pacquiao nor Hatton is into trash-talking. “Saying is one thing,” Ricky observes. “Doing is another.”
Still, HBO made a conscious decision to highlight the Mayweather-Roach feud by focusing on the trainers in its 24/7 promotional series. Top Rank and Golden Boy took a similar marketing approach.
Would the NBA promote its championship series by encouraging Phil Jackson and Mike Brown to demean each other? Would Major League Baseball market its games on the basis of trash-talking between Joe Girardi and Terry Francona? Intelligently-run sports give trophies to their participants. Pacquiao-Hatton was marketed in part as “The Battle of the Trainers” with a gaudy five-foot trophy promised to the winner.
As fight week progressed, the boxing world converged on Las Vegas.
“In Pearce Egan’s time,” A. J. Liebling wrote of the early nineteenth century, “the migration to a fight would begin days in advance when the foot-toddlers set out on the road for the rumored meeting place. Rumors were all they had to go on because, in England at that time, prizefighting was illegal. A day or so later, the milling coves and the flash coves (fighters and knowing boys) would set out in wagons with plenty of sporting girls and gin to keep them happy. Last, the Corinthians (amateurs of the fancy and patrons of pugilists) would take to the road in their fast traps and catch up with the others in time to get their bets down before the fight.”
For Pacquiao-Hatton, the migrants came by plane from the far reaches of the globe.
There was a nice buzz in Las Vegas prior to the fight. A lot of people in the media were there, not just because their jobs required it but because they wanted to be. The bout had been sold out since mid-April with tickets selling at a premium. The major world sanctioning organizations were absent, but no one seemed to care.
Throughout the week, Bob Arum extolled the virtues of his fighter to anyone who would listen.
“Manny Pacquiao isn’t ‘me, me, me,” the promoter declared. “He thinks first about other people, and that’s unusual for a great athlete in any sport.” On numerous occasions, he referred to Pacquiao as “a future president of the Philippines” and went so far as to advise an interviewer for National Public Radio, “When Manny’s career in boxing is over, he will lift the yoke of oppression of a corrupt government off the backs of the Filipino people and lift the entire country to greatness.”
For good measure, Arum then added, “Manny Pacquiao is a Roman Catholic; Freddie Roach is an agnostic; and I’m Jewish. But we all agree that God is looking over Manny Pacquiao.”
“God gives me the strength and looks over me,” Pacquiao noted in response. “But I still have to do my best.”
The fighters treated each other with respect. Again and again, Manny sounded the refrain, “Ricky Hatton is a good person. I have a lot of respect for him. There is nothing personal for this fight. We are just doing our job.”
Hatton responded in kind, saying, “We’re both nice men out of the ring; just not so nice inside it. Manny has done it the hard way, and I respect everything that he has achieved in boxing.”
That left Floyd Mayweather Sr to be heard from. At the final pre-fight press conference, “the world’s greatest trainer” was his normal charming self, referring again to his counterpart as “Freddie ‘The Joke Coach’ Roach” and adding the appellation “Cockroach.” That was enough for some members of the British media to suggest that their loyalty to Ricky was being tested. But Mayweather was undeterred. “I’m having fun with this,” he announced.
Meanwhile, more than one member of Team Hatton grumbled not-so-privately that Mayweather’s conduct was beneath their dignity. And dignity wasn’t the only issue. There was unhappiness in the Hatton camp over Floyd’s habitual tardiness, which, some felt, had impacted adversely on Ricky’s training. Indeed, “the world’s greatest trainer” would arrive in Hatton’s dressing room late on fight night. And after Ricky lost, he was slow to return, dressed quickly, and left without consoling his fighter.
By eleven o’clock on Friday morning (the day before the fight), several thousand Brits were waiting outside the Garden Arena at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in anticipation of the three o’clock weigh-in. The arena was configured to accommodate more than five thousand people. By 2:00 PM, every non-media seat was filled and another thousand fans were unable to get in.
The Ricky Hatton Band was in full swing, with Walking in a Hatton Wonderlandand God Save the Queen sung again and again. The Brits outnumbered Pacquiao’s fans by roughly 3-to-1. But Arum tossed that fact aside with the explanation, “Filipinos are hard-working people, so they’re not here today because they’re working.”
Pacquiao weighed in at 138 pounds; Hatton at 140 (the contract weight). By the time they stepped into the ring twenty-nine hours later, Manny had gained ten pounds; Ricky, twelve.
Pacquiao was a 5-to-2 favorite. Both camps were genuinely confident. Most “boxing people” were picking Manny to win. However, there was often a “but.”
“But I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out that Ricky is too big and strong for Manny.”
After all, Hatton, had never entered the ring at less than 138 pounds. Pacquiao began his career at 106 pounds and had fought above 130 pounds on only two occasions. Manny, it was thought, had never faced an opponent who brought as much size, strength, and pressure to bear as Ricky would bring.
Former featherweight champion Barry McGuigan voiced that view, stating, “Pacquiao is unproven at this weight. Apart from one assignment at lightweight against David Diaz and the Oscar De La Hoya bout at welter, he has not fought above 130 pounds. Diaz was the weakest of the champions at 135 pounds and De La Hoya turned out to be little more than a carcass. Hatton will probably come in a stone [14 pounds] over the 140-pound limit, feeling as strong as a bull. Pacquiao will not have dealt with that before.”
Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward was in accord, saying, “Manny looked better than he is against Oscar and David Diaz. Oscar was dead at the weight, and Diaz is slower than most heavyweights. I think that Ricky will be too big and tough for him.”
Hatton, of course, voiced similar sentiments, declaring:
* “I’m bigger; I’m stronger. Pacquiao may have fought at 147 pounds. But trust me; this is a new weight division for him. I have always stated that no one in the world can beat me at 140 pounds, and I stand by that statement. I’m undefeated at this weight in twelve years. At 140 pounds, I’m too strong and too big for anyone.”
* “Pacquiao is a slick, fast, effective boxer. But if you look at the defeat by Erik Morales in 2005 and the close fights he had with Juan Manuel Marquez, he doesn’t like sustained pressure. I am a fighter that is constantly in your face, constantly throwing punches. I’m bigger than him. He’ll be thinking, ’Jesus, this is going to be tough. This fella doesn’t leave you alone.’ Believe me; Ricky Hatton will be the toughest fight he has ever had.”
* “People are looking at the Oscar performance and suggesting that Pacquiao will finish my career, too. But he won’t. Any victory over Oscar is outstanding and I never like to be disrespectful. But Oscar was like a walking corpse that night. It was clear that Oscar wasn’t right. Dead man walking. No one will ever convince me that, on that night, I couldn’t have done the same job, probably quicker.”
* “It’s a very very tough fight. But to say I’m confident would be an understatement. I’ve never felt more certain of victory than I do right now. I know his strengths and his weaknesses, but I also know what I am capable of doing. Everything has fallen perfectly into place. There’s no doubt in my mind who is going to win the fight. I’ve never been so certain; I’ve never been more confident. I believe that, as long as Ricky Hatton does what Ricky Hatton does best, I’m going to be too much in all areas for Manny. If people want to re-mortgage and put a few quid on me, they should. There’s just no reason why I should lose this fight.”
In sum, Hatton and his partisans thought that he could employ basic boxing skills and overpower Pacquiao the way he’d overpowered Kostya Tszyu four years earlier. But Ricky is now on the downhill slide (as Tszyu was then). And Manny is better than Kostya ever was.
“I don’t predict before my fights,” Pacquiao said when asked how he thought the bout would end. “Ricky Hatton is a good fighter. I know that he is a little bigger than me and a strong fighter, but I am faster. I just want to do my best and give a good fight and bring happiness to the people who see me fight.”
Freddie Roach was less reticent, declaring, “I’ve watched tapes of Hatton’s last twenty fights. We know his strengths and his weaknesses. Ricky is a world-class fighter, but he doesn’t have the ability to adjust. He fights the same way over and over again. And his balance is poor. When he has you on the ropes and sets his feet, he can throw a good hook to the body. But in the center of the ring, he’s not a puncher. Manny has to stay off the ropes. If he does that, his speed and power will be too much for Ricky. He’ll walk him into some shots and knock him out. I’m not saying it will be an easy fight, but Manny is a much better fighter than Ricky.”
When fight night came, Roach was the first member of Team Pacquiao to enter dressing room #3 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. He arrived at 5:45 PM, and began organizing the tools of his trade (tape, towels, and various pieces of boxing equipment) on a long table opposite the door. Fifteen minutes later, Pacquiao arrived with twenty people in tow; among them his wife (Jinkee), his mother-in-law and sister-in-law, assistant trainer Buboy Fernandez, conditioning coach Alex Ariza, and team physician Dr. Allan Recto.
Pacquiao sat on a rubdown table. After several minutes of conversation, he took off his sneakers and socks and began putting protective pads on his toes, covering blisters that hadn’t healed.
More friends and girlfriends of friends filtered into the room. Thirty-eight people were there. The scene conjured up images of the two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles that Pacquiao lived in with a dozen friends during training. "It is easier if you have friends around, laughing,” Manny says. “Always, there should be laughing."
Former heavyweight champion Michael Moorer (now Freddie Roach’s right-hand man) joined the group. He was by far the biggest person in the room; a Gulliver among Lilliputians.
There was no music; just quiet conversation. The first pay-per-view fight of the evening could be seen on a flat-screen television in a corner of the room. The voice of HBO commentator Jim Lampley filled the air. Without the television, the room would have been as quiet as a library. It was hard to believe that 38 people made so little noise.
At 6:25, Roach moved to the center of the room and told the gathering, “In five minutes, anyone who doesn’t belong here has to leave.”
Five minutes later, a half-dozen women (including Jinkee) and a few others left. Twenty-eight people remained.
Pacquiao put on his socks and laced up his shoes. Larry Merchant came in for the ritual pre-fight HBO interview and mentioned to Roach that Hatton had elected to enter the ring first. As the holder of a 140-pound belt, Ricky had the prerogative of walking last. But he was taking the view that Manny’s pound-for-pound title was the real prize at stake. To motivate himself, he wanted to enter the ring as the challenger.
“That’s fine with me,” Roach responded. “If they want to walk first and wait for Manny and get cold, I have no problem with that.”
Merchant finished his interview and left. Once again, Roach moved to the center of the room.
“Please; if you don’t belong here, leave.”
No one moved.
Michael Moorer shook his head.
Two members of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department were summoned and cleared the room of unauthorized personnel.
Lee Beard (Hatton’s assistant trainer) came in to watch Pacquiao’s hands being wrapped. For the most part, remarkably, Manny performed the chore himself, singing softly as he worked. When need be, cutman Miguel Diaz assisted the fighter as Roach looked on.
“It used to be that I helped out with the taping,” Freddie explained. “But when Manny fought Oscar, we thought it would be a good idea for me to watch them tape Oscar’s hands to maybe rattle Oscar, so Miguel helped Manny that night. Manny liked the way Miguel did it. He was afraid it might hurt my feelings to have Miguel do it again, but I said ‘no problem.’ It’s not about me. It’s about what’s best for Manny.”
The television, which was turned off when Merchant came in to conduct his interview, hadn’t been turned on again. The hum of the air-ventilation system was the loudest noise in the room.
Manny finished taping his left hand, held it up, smiled at his handiwork, and began applying gauze to his right hand.
The television was turned back on. Middleweight prospect Danny Jacobs was midway through an eight-round whitewash of an overmatched Michael Walker.
“Can we change to the basketball game?” Manny inquired. “Chicago Bulls and Boston.”
The answer, after tinkering with the television set, was “no.” Pacquiao shrugged and continued wrapping his hands. When he was done, he stood up, slapped his fists together, and cried out, “Let’s get ready to rumble.” Then he shadow-boxed briefly in the center of the room.
At 7:30, a twelve-person prayer group led by Marlon Beof (a Filipino priest now living in New York) entered. There was a brief prayer.
Referee Kenny Bayless gave Manny his pre-fight instructions.
Pacquiao resumed shadow-boxing and loosening up in what seemed to be the cardiac equivalent of a light aerobics class.
At eight o’clock, Manny put on a pair of white boxing trunks with black trim; then a red-white-and-blue robe.
Roach gloved Pacquiao up.
The room was cleared again. Now only Manny, his cornermen, a commission inspector (and this writer) were present.
At 8:10, serious padwork with Roach began. Unlike most fighters in the dressing room before a fight, Pacquiao worked with his robe on. Periodically, it slipped open and Buboy Fernandez retied it.
The padwork grew more intense. Pacquiao’s fists were a combination of blinding speed and power, culminating in a flurry of punches that seemed to explode on the pads.
“Oooo! See ya,” Roach said approvingly.
“And if he goes like this,” Manny added (imitating Hatton coming in), “I go BOOM!” At which point, he launched a slow-motion counter right hook aimed at Roach’s jaw.
Then Manny smiled the smile of an athlete who was primed and ready to play a game. He was completely relaxed, as though he believed he was protected by a higher power. Or maybe he was simply confident in knowing that he’s the best fighter in the world.
The hopes and dreams of 100,000,000 people were resting on the shoulders of one soft-spoken diminutive man.
The fight began as expected, with Hatton moving forward and Pacquiao, in his southpaw stance, circling out of harm’s way. Thirty seconds in, a sharp counter right hook shook Ricky. That was followed by more hooks and straight left-hands punctuated by a sharp counter hook at the two-minute mark that sent Hatton tumbling face-first to the canvas. He rose at the count of eight, was pummeled around the ring, and decked again for another eight-count with nine seconds left in the round.
That left Hatton’s fans with the fragile hope that Pacquiao-Hatton would somehow be like Pacquiao-Marquez I (where Marquez was decked three times in the opening stanza but rallied to salvage a draw). However, Pacquiao is a much better fighter now than he was then. And Marquez makes adjustments well on the fly, whereas Ricky doesn’t.
In round two, Hatton came back for more and Pacquiao said "I’ll give it to you" with his fists. Speed alone might not kill, but speed plus power does. Ricky fought as well as he could, which kept him on his feet until the 2:52 mark when a straight left-hand landed flush on the jaw and deposited him unconscious on the canvas.
It was a knockout that will appear on highlight reels forever and a career-defining demolition. Hatton has a pretty good chin, and Pacquiao reduced it to English china.
The “punch-stats” compiled by CompuBox reflected the carnage. In round one, Pacquiao landed 35 punches compared to 8 for Hatton. In round two, the margin was 38 to 10. Manny scored with a remarkable 62 percent of his power punches, landing 65 blows in that category.
After the fight, Pacquiao returned to his dressing room and embraced a throng of admirers (Denzel Washington among them).
There was a group prayer.
Manny signed his ring stool, various fight-night credentials, and other memorabilia.
A member of Team Pacquiao handed him a cell phone and announced, “It’s David Diaz.”
“Hello, my friend,” Pacquiao said, beginning the conversation.
“I’m so happy,” Diaz told him. “On all the advertisements for the fight, they’ve been showing me on television, lying face down on the canvas. Now they’ve got a better knockout to show.”
Pacquiao laughed. “Thank you, brother.”
The conversation ended.
Manny laughed again and gleefully threw a straight left hand in slow motion into the air. “BOOM! Good-bye.”
In his mind, the punch that sent Ricky Hatton into unconsciousness was the equivalent of a 500-foot home run into the bleachers; not an act of violence.
Freddie Roach sat in a chair opposite the rubdown table, surveying the scene. One suspected that he felt a little like Phil Jackson felt after coaching Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls to yet another NBA championship.
“Manny makes me look good,” the trainer said. “He’s such a pleasure to work with. He was good when I got him and I knew there was room for improvement. But you wonder, ‘How good can he really be? Will he listen?’ Because a lot of guys get to the level Manny was at eight years ago and think they know everything. But Manny works hard. He listens. He keeps getting better and better. I know I have something to do with it. But really, the credit belongs to Manny.”
Freddie smiled. “You know; you work on something in the gym again and again, and you hope you see some of it on fight night. And tonight . . .” Roach shook his head in wonder. “Whenever Manny fights now, you see the things you worked on the gym being executed perfectly, right in front of you.”
“Floyd told everyone that he had the better fighter,” someone offered. “So I guess that makes you the better trainer.”
Freddie laughed. “No; I had the better fighter. Besides; trainers are overrated. We can guide our fighters in the right direction, but it’s up to them to carry out the game plan. Manny makes me look good. I’m not the best trainer in the world. I just have the best fighter.”
In the far corner of the room, several members of Team Pacquiao had rewritten the lyrics to London Bridge is Falling Down and were singing:
Ricky Hatton’s falling down
Ricky Hatton’s falling down
We love Manny
Pacquiao thrust his left hand into the air again and once again proclaimed, “BOOM! Good-bye.” Then he began singing to the tune of Winter Wonderland (known in boxing circles as Walking in a Hatton Wonderland).
There’s no more Ricky Hatton
A reporter from a Filipino radio station reached toward him with a tape recorder in hand.
“No tape; please,” Manny told him. “Ricky Hatton is a good fighter and my friend. I only want to show respect to him.”
So . . .
What is one to make of Pacquiao-Hatton?
The first thing to be said is that it symbolizes the globalization of boxing. The heavyweight division today is ruled by Eastern Europeans. The consensus pound-for-pound rankings are dominated by fighters from outside the United States. Now the biggest fight of the year in Las Vegas has featured a Filipino versus a Brit.
Forget the rhetoric about Pacquiao having won world titles in six weight divisions. The way things are in boxing today, any world-class fighter with connections can win a belt. The lineal championships have been watered down too. Better to say that, at various times, Manny has earned the right to call himself the best flyweight, super-bantamweight, super-featherweight, and super-lightweight in the world.
Boxing is a skill. Fighting is the spirit that determines how a fighter employs his skill. Pacquiao excels at both. He has won his last four fights in four different weight divisions against opponents who ranged from good to great. He moved up in weight to go 5-1-1 against Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, and Juan Manuel Marquez. None of the other three fighters has a winning record in that round-robin demolition tournament.
Other fighters reach a certain level of proficiency, think they know everything, and never get any better. Pacquiao keeps improving. He’s getting better as he gets bigger. Another remarkable thing about him is that his body shows so little wear and tear after fourteen years of hard fighting.
Of all the fights that Pacquiao has won in his storied career, only his victory over Oscar De La Hoya looms larger than Pacquiao-Hatton. Many observers of the boxing scene thought that Manny would cut Ricky to pieces. Others considered it likely that he’d beat Hatton down over time. But few experts believed that he would simply overwhelm, dominate, and obliterate his foe.
Pacquiao is now on the verge of crossing over into the American consciousness. His English is good but not fluent. He doesn’t always understand the nuances in questions that are put to him. But he speaks English far better than 99.999 percent of Americans speak Tagalog (his native language). He has an endorsement deal with Nike. During the week preceding Pacquiao-Hatton, he was interviewed by CNN, National Public Radio, and the Wall Street Journal.
On the home front, Manny speaks of undertaking a political career in the not-too-distant future. “I have a heart to help the people in the Philippines,” he says. “That is why I will be good in politics.”
One assumes that his effectiveness as a candidate (and more so, as an office-holder should he win) will depend in large measure on the people around him. He has a short attention span, particularly as it relates to business matters.
But regardless of what happens in the political arena, Pacquiao is a living reminder of what a great sport boxing can be and how a single fighter can lift the spirits of an entire nation.
In certain times in certain places, boxing has been more than a sport. It has been a rallying point for large segments of society. A handful of great fighters have transcended the sweet science to become symbols for their people.
Two days before he fought Ricky Hatton, Manny Pacquiao told this writer, “My dream is, when I am finished with boxing, my people won’t forget me.”
That dream is secure.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com. His most recent book (“The Boxing Scene”) was published earlier this year by Temple University Press.
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