Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Best Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton Preview: Part 1

Like a child’s birthday or a meteorological event long speculated about but till now never actually observed, the fight approaches. Manny Pacquiao, the Filipino Southpaw with the golden smile stretches his hand toward immortality, a raging flame of passion and cheery bloodlust he sallies forth with confidence. A king, a killer, Manny is at the height of his powers, a thing rare, beautiful, and terrifying to behold. A living great in his absolute prime, a gentleman destroyer and folk hero; he is the very definition of a fighting champion.

Across from him stands Ricky Hatton, the good-natured Englishman, an overachiever and honest man. There is little deception or depth to him, either in his personal life or his fighting style. He comes forward, straight ahead, like the living image of the ancient fighting Greeks. I have one speed, one motive, he seems to say, are you strong enough, are you man enough to keep me back? Through occasionally maligned for what he is not, he has become fully what he is, and has carved his way to the pound for pound list through grit and fight; if he does not capture one’s imagination or heart, respect he has surely earned though cuts, long odds, and recovery from an embarrassing defeat. He is the most accomplished junior welterweight of the decade, an unbroken monument at ten stones, and looking to cement his place as a true great.

But today I wish to speak of Manny, where he has come from and the heights at stake for him on Saturday. It is dangerous to risk historical assessments on a fighter still at his apex, particularly one who has captured your heart, but a quick look back at Pacquiao’s most notable fights to this point will be illustrative for those of you not fully aware of his accomplishments.

Manny Pacquiao KO 8 Chatchai Sasakul 1998; Over a decade ago, fighting at the Flyweight limit (112 pounds), it was impossible to see what Pac would become. He was an undernourished 19-year-old kid and looked as though he had snuck out of calculus class and happened to find himself in the middle of a title bout, like some far-fetched Asian remake of a silly 80’s teen movie. Sasakul was an experienced and respected Ring Magazine champ, and the heavy favorite. He dominated early with his clever boxing, handling the game but wild Pacquiao. But even in this early stage, while Pacquiao didn’t have much of what makes him special today other than his sin, his straight left hand, and his fighting heart, he threw with spirit and conviction and laid Sasakul out in the eighth round. While a great victory Pacquiao was a growing boy, and soon lost the belt while struggling with weight issues. He moved to the United States and three divisions north, but this fight is still interesting, the portrait of the boxer as a young man.

Manny Pacquiao TKO 6 Lehlohonolo Ledwaba 2001; Pacquiao takes the fight on short notice and proceeds to embarrass the well-respected junior featherweight champion (122 pounds). This was Pacquiao’s first major fight under the guidance of Freddie Roach, the man who would mold him into the fighting machine he has now become. Pacquiao was a virtual unknown, but after the first minute of the fight the difference in speed was so pronounced and the furious volley’s Manny unleashed were so striking one couldn’t help but be impressed. He sliced the game Ledwaba to bits and became a champion in his second weight class.

Manny Pacquiao TKO 11 Marco Antonio Barrera 2003: In the defining performance of his career Manny savaged the Mexican legend, at the time in the top 3 pound for pound, and announced his arrival as a major player. Manny captures the featherweight title, (126 pounds) and wins his second Ring Belt. This was the fight that rekindled my love of boxing, watching the unexpected performance, a masterful display of speed, aggression, and unbridled violence. Barrera was already a superstar, having embarrassed the flashy Nasseem Hamed, and split fights with his legendary rival Erik Morales. Manny fought with passion and desperation, shooting his money punch, the straight power left over and over again. Barrera, who one suspects had no idea what was coming, ate inhuman amounts of punishment before the fight was mercifully stopped. Never before or since have I seen such a great fighter at his peak so dominated. The crown jewel of Manny’s career, this was the fight many fell in love with the smiling warrior.

Manny Pacquiao D12 Juan Manual Marquez 2004: In an incredible bout, Manny met his match in the classy Marquez, a genius boxer puncher with a great fighting heart. Manny came out on fire, scoring three first round knockdowns and, from the looks of it, breaking Marquez nose. The fight was close to being stopped, but miraculously Marquez rose from the canvas and fought his way back into the fight. Larry Merchant called Pacquiao, “a typhoon raging across the pacific,” but the great Marquez through a mixture of bravery and craft began to time Pacquiao’s desperate lunges. Pacquiao was powerful and fast, but limited to pure 1-2’s (the jab followed by the straight left power punch.) After Marquez figured out his timing the pitched battle raged back and forth in a bloody and memorable fight that surely would have been the fight of the year if not for Castillo-Corrales I. the fight ended up a controversial draw, as the deciding scorecard, 113-113, gave Pacquiao only a 10-7 round instead of the 10-6 he rightfully deserved for the three knockdown first. While I scored the fight to Pacquiao, it showed his limitations as a one handed fighter, but nevertheless further solidified his status as the most excited little dynamo in the sport.

Manny Pacquiao SD L 12 Erik Morales 2005: Keeping up his incredible opposition, Manny moved up to Super Featherweight to take on the last and greatest of the Mexican feathers, Erik Morales. The regal Morales looked at the fight as his chance for redemption in his never-ending quest to one up his great rival, Marco Antonio Barrera, and gave the last great performance of his career. He studied Marquez’s game plan and proved victorious in a fantastic fight. Manny was badly cut above the eye, but his weak right hand and predictable attack were countered by Morales fine boxing and iron chin. Morales turned southpaw in the final round and ate a huge left hand, an act of machismo as incredible as I’ve ever seen. Though he lost, Pacquiao’s fighting heart was unbroken to the last.

Manny Pacquiao TKO 10 Erik Morales 2006: In the rematch, almost equal to the dramatic first fight, Manny started to show a variety and completeness he never had before. Mixing in right hands and blistering combinations, Manny broke Morales down in the middle rounds with debilitating body shots, before becoming the first and only man to stop him. While many say that Morales was past his prime, and this is true, his fine performance suggests he was still a top fighter, and only the improved Pacquiao could have stopped him.

Manny Pacquiao TKO 3 Erik Morales 2006: In the rubber match, the finest three rounds since Hagler-Hearns, Manny just has too much for Morales. His legs go and despite fighting with bravery he cannot hold the Filipino off. Manny is a superstar.

Manny Pacquiao UD 12 Marco Antonio Barrera 2007: Barrera seemed content to last the distance against the monstrous Pacquiao. Barrera doesn’t want to engage and take chances, and Manny, perhaps straining to make the 130-pound limit, doesn’t push himself.

Manny Pacquiao SD 12 Juan Manual Marquez 2008: The long awaited rematch finally happens and proves as great, but ultimately as controversial, as the first fight. Manny squeezes out the split decision in a fight I narrowly thought he lost, winning a title in his fourth division, and a record tying third Ring Magazine belt. Though Manny’s right hand has improved, Marquez is his equal; a man so textbook he seems designed to counteract the physically unbridled Pacquiao. The difference is a beautiful short left hand in the third round that sends Marquez to the canvass.

Manny Pacquiao TKO 9 David Diaz 2008: After struggling to make weight at 130, Pacquiao moves up to lightweight (135 pound) to take on the weakest titleholder, David Diaz. Pacquiao becomes one of the few fighters in history to win a title in five weight classes in his most dominant and brutal performance in years. He strafes the slower Diaz mercilessly, provoking his memorable corner quote, “it’s not his power, he’s just too fucking fast.” Manny lays him out face first with another of his left handed lasers in the ninth round. Incredibly, he has never looked better.

Manny Pacquiao TKO 8 Oscar De La Hoya 2008: In a fight I thought was a farce Manny moves up two weight classes to welterweight (147 pounds) and proceeds to give the great De La Hoya a beating to remember. Though people now dismiss this fight, very few (myself included) were smart enough to foresee what happened. Manny looks amazing, incredibly his body still fits eight classes and 35 pounds about his initial championship class. More on this fight later this week.

Pacquiao is 6-1-1 against all time greats, and has positioned himself at the gates of immortality. In my opinion he is only clearly behind Pernell Whitaker in the all time rankings post 1980’s. A victory against Hatton, so far above his former glory would be a marvel, but with what he has already achieved it seems almost pedestrian. He would be the first fighter in history to win legit titles in 6 weight classes, and more importantly become the first to become a four-time ring magazine champ. And he has done so by taking the biggest most difficult fight available at every opportunity. Rarely does such greatness also meet with such entertainment value, and for a fighter from the Philippines to reach his level of fame and adoration is a testament to the blood and bone of his career. No matter the odds Manny will take the last throw from the dirty diceman and do it with a smile. As he has challenged larger and greater opposition there have always been doubts, but his happy confidence has never been shaken. Like all the truest of the true believers, the facts don’t necessarily apply, and we love him for it.

In his way stands the solid Ricky Hatton, a career 140 pounder and a man whom, only a few short years ago would have been thought an insurmountable challenge for the smaller Pacquiao. Tomorrow we will look at him.


jim in austin said...

Great breakdown. Great analysis. Pacquiao is undoubtedly a force of nature and possibly an immortal. And yet, I still like Hatton's chances. Can't wait for the next installment.

The Other Van Gundy said...

How much of an advantage does the heavier fighter enjoy? It makes sense that they'll have more muscle and bulk than the lighter guy, but how much of a difference does it make? Say you have Fighter X, who is 5 pounds heavier than Fighter Y -- is he automatically the favorite? What if he's 10 pounds heavier?

wv: geratic. So close.

shoefly said...

Jim: Thanks. I'm confident in my pick, but have creeping doubts. Hatton has proven me wrong before.

The other van gundy: The answer, like most things in boxing, is it depends. There are certain guys that can move up and certain guys that can't. Usually the better technical fighters have an easier time, like Mayweather, while guys like Hatton, who have less options in their style find more difficulty. Particularly at the smaller weights even three pounds can make a huge difference, and a good big man always beats a good little man.

In a fight like last weak,
Gerry Penalosa was both underskilled, but also being undersized gave him virtually no chance of winning. One has to have at least a respectable level of power, like Pac still does, or be so scientific it doesn't matter much, like mayweather. you must be able to garner respect, and even five pounds is huge. That was why Pac's smackdown of Hoya was so impressive he moved up 17 pounds in two fights. Amazing.

You also need to be aware of weight draining. A guy like Hatton weighs in at 140, but come fight night might be 152. Many fighters balloon 15-18 pounds overnight, so the differences can be profound.