The Best Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton Preview: Class is king
Do you remember the scene in Don’t Look Back when Donovan and Bob Dylan exchange songs in the hotel room? The first time I watched it I saw it as a competition, a lesson taught to the younger Donovan by the king; and watching it today there still seems to me a hint of cruelty and competition in Dylan’s performance, a self-mastery and inward flame that finds satisfaction in the display. When he sings “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue,” there is an element of sadism that comes through.
But more than that I see it for something greater than mere one-upmanship; it is the recorded embodiment of class. Class, like the word quality, is philosophically impossible to pin down, it’s a matter of taste and judgment, but it does exist. To me, class is determined by its ability to be recognized by even the most novice of observers. One need not love folk music, Bob Dylan, or even music in general to see that he was a body electric during this time, that thin wild mercury seemed to course out of him and was so powerful and obscene it almost made one want to look away. Donovan had a class of his own, a beautiful voice and fine lyrics, but he didn’t have what Dylan did, and that’s what makes the scene so powerful. To see great talent with superior talent is to see the palm at the end of the mind, the romance of perfection at the limits of human capacity. I have encountered this in my life once or twice, someone so special it is alarming.
When it happens in sports it is amazing to see. I remember reading about people weeping in the stands as Secretariat powered down the home stretch. I know nothing of tennis but I find watching Roger Federer transfixing. It’s rarely seen at the top level of sports, where someone is able to separate so clearly and completely from the top competition that the opponent ceases to matter. The event almost transforms from contest to performance. I find these displays of mastery the most rewatchable of fights, boxing as the manly art.
Only a few boxers have achieved this level in recent years; Floyd Mayweather, Roy Jones, and Pernell Whitaker come to mind, where the level of excellence on display is so profound that the rules applicable to the rest of the prizefighters no longer apply.
I think Manny Pacquiao is at that point. He moved from an A:class fighter to an S:class, superclass, fighter. I think it happened in the Diaz fight, and was further cemented in the De La Hoya fight. He has reached the apex of his abilities, a perfect combination of physical gifts and scientific repetition honed to a fine point, a killing edge, a prizefighting machine.
People say that Manny performed so well against Oscar because he was shot. And it’s true Oscar was well past his best, but there was something more to it. Oscar at least tried in the first two rounds, he competed, but after that it was different. I don’t think he was weakened by the weight or gun-shy, he was embarrassed. He was fighting in front of 100 million people worldwide and he was outclassed. Not beaten, outclassed. The type of difference that can’t be explained away by wrong game plans or a bad night, but the recognition that the man across from you is superior in every way, and there is nothing you can do about it. What a terrible feeling that must be, when you realized that you trained as hard as you could, you worked as hard as you could, but there is something so special across from you that you are powerless to act.
It’s speed, really. More than size or power, it’s speed that is so cruel, so visible. They say great timing beats great speed, but what if there is great speed and great timing and great power and great will; what then? That is what Hatton will have to answer. Hatton is a great fighter, an A:Class fighter. But he doesn’t have what Manny does right now. A few years ago, as an unfinished thing, Hatton would have had his way with Pacquiao, but I think that time is both past, and has not yet arrived. It will arrive soon, the type of radiant flame Pacquiao now possesses burns quickly, but he is raging now. It will take something special to quench it. Age, a far bigger opponent, or another S:class fighter are the only things that can stop Manny now. I learned that lesson in the De La Hoya fight. We are driving headlong into that moment; a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight seems almost ordained. The first fight between two S:Class boxers in their prime since Whitaker-Chavez, and before that Duran-Leonard. It is coming, because it must, a once a generation clash to clear the field and define the age.
In mythology the great heroes can only be conquered by the cruel Gods, or by even greater heroes. No wayward arrows unleashed in battle can slay them. It isn’t yet Manny’s fate to be brought down. He will win this fight, overcoming the stronger man because he must, because class will tell.