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Countdown To Hatton – Pacquiao

By Matthew Hurley: When Manny Pacquiao forced Oscar De La Hoya to retire on his stool after eight ridiculously one-sided rounds the vast majority of people who had picked against the ‘Pac Man’ that night sat up, blinked and began comparing the Filipino whirlwind to all time greats like Henry Armstrong. So definitive was his destruction of the ‘Golden Boy’ that even those admirers outside of the rabid fan base of his countrymen wondered if anyone could beat this guy.

With Floyd Mayweather still perched upon his fence and Manny indicating that it will only be big money bouts from here on out a suitable dance partner was needed for 2009’s first superfight. A rubber match with intense rival Juan Manuel Marquez was not forthcoming since Manny had left the lightweight division behind so only one name seemed to make sense, at least in terms of marketability – Ricky Hatton.

The problem with Hatton was, even as this match up was in the negotiating stage, the ‘Hitman’ was viewed by some as possibly on the downside of his career trajectory while Pacquiao was peaking. But time can either diminish or enhance the past and it seems that in regards to Manny’s victory over Oscar a consensus has been established that yes, Pacquiao was that good but that also, De La Hoya was that bad. This estimation has leveled the playing field somewhat and now Pacquiao doesn’t seem to be quite the monster he was on December 6th. In fact, because he jumped from lightweight to welterweight, junior welterweight champion Hatton is still the naturally bigger man and when the two fighters meet up on May 2nd Pacquiao will be competing in a brand new division – a division in which Hatton is undefeated.

Pacquiao’s rise to the coveted spot atop boxing’s pound for pound list took a great deal of work and a mighty overhaul by his trainer Freddie Roach, but somehow it feels as though his ascent to superstar status happened very quickly. His breakout fight against Jorge Eliecer Julio on the undercard of the Lennox Lewis – Mike Tyson fight in 2002 heralded a new, exciting fighter to keep tabs on, but then this fresh-faced kid with the easy smile was stepping into the ring with the elite and beating them. When a flaw was discovered and exploited as in his first fight with Erik Morales it was subsequently diagnosed and eradicated. Pacquiao, still left hook happy, faced a totally focused Morales, in his last great performance, and lost a unanimous decision. In the rematch Roach tightened up his defense and mixed up his charge’s attack, focusing on right hands to the body that eventually broke apart the never before stopped Morales.

After that signature win Pacquiao just kept getting better. And bigger, outgrowing one weight class after another, all the while adding more hardware to his ever-growing trophy case.

Hatton’s arrival on the scene reached its apex in 2005 at the M.E.N. Arena in Manchester in front of an adoring hometown crowd when he stopped longtime reigning 140-pound champion Kostya Tszyu in the eleventh round. Ricky’s mauling, brawling style would not go over quite so well in the US as it did in England but his quirky personality made up for any limitations he showed as a fighter in crossing him over into stardom. His Guinness soaked charm made him a natural at press conferences, interview sessions and ultimately on HBO’s 24/7 documentary series as he prepared for his big opportunity against then pound for pound king welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather.

Hatton’s conclusive knockout loss to Mayweather at first seemed to have taken a bit of the fire out of his belly. His subsequent performance against Juan Lazcano was shaky at best. (Hatton insists he was ill at the time.) Whispers of “damaged goods” were eventually followed by the breakup with longtime trainer and confidant Billy Graham. Was this yet another example of a fighter laying all the blame at his trainer’s feet after a devastating loss? Or did Hatton finally realize that as good a pair the two were for all those years, in order to compete at a higher level of competition something more was needed?

The split wasn’t quite amicable but under the tutelage of new trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr. Hatton appears to have rebounded. His win over slick but feather-fisted Paulie Malignaggi can be viewed as very impressive if only for the glaring fact that in no way did Hatton respect Malignaggi’s power or lack thereof. He could fight as recklessly as he wanted to because Paulie had nothing to throw at him to keep him at bay. Still, Hatton showed a very good jab and a few new defensive wrinkles that he will definitely need against the even faster power punching Pacquiao.

As the fight draws closer many who once predicted an easy Pacquiao victory are now hedging their bets – at least slightly. As easy as it is to envision the version of Manny Pacquiao who clobbered De La Hoya and previously WBC lightweight champion David Diaz into submission dealing the onrushing Ricky Hatton a similar beat down, it is also realistic to assume that Hatton’s roughhouse tactics and bullish strength could disrupt Pacquiao and take him completely out of his game.

And then there is the possibility of a cut, something even trainer Freddie Roach has admitted that Pacquiao does not handle particularly well. With Hatton’s style an errant elbow or forearm, or clean punch for that matter, could alter the fight dramatically should he draw blood.

All in all this match up should produce plenty of thrills for however long it lasts. A Pacquiao victory will probably be just enough to induce Floyd Mayweather back into the ring for a mega showdown at the end of 2009. However, it’s probably safe to assume that ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd has little interest in facing Hatton again, but then money talks and as long as he’s getting paid and paid well Mayweather just might agree to a rematch should Hatton pull off the upset. And with his estranged father in the opposing corner the pre-fight buildup would be hilarious, endless and, depending on just how much Mayweather you can stomach, mind-bendingly absurd.

Until then the intrigue behind Hatton – Pacquiao on May 2nd at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas will keep boxing fans more than satisfied. Hopefully the fight itself will exceed the growing expectations as we await the opening bell.

April 10, 2009

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