So begins our marathon coverage of the biggest fight of the year, pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao against junior welterweight champion Ricky Hatton, culminating in a live blog of the bout Saturday. This morning — keys to the fight part I, with a focus on the physical aspects of the combatants. Tonight — keys to the fight part II, with a focus on the more mental, strategic elements of the fight.
(Olivia Newton-John wants to get physical. Let’s.)
Size. This is the most interesting variable in the fight. Manny Pacquiao started his career as a 106-pound teenager. 140 pounds is worlds different than that. And yet, in his last fight, against Oscar De La Hoya at 147 lbs., Pacquaio shredded a naturally bigger man like a killer whale toys with a baby seal. To a certain degree, though, that was a distorted image of Pacquiao at a new weight, since De La Hoya’s own weight was definitely too low, and no matter how much credit I give Pacquiao for winning so resoundingly, there is no doubt — not even from Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach — that De La Hoya’s anemic, emaciated condition was a big factor in the outcome of that bout. Every other fight, practically, we hear that Pacquiao has outgrown his latest weight class, and every time he moves up, I wonder whether he’s gone one step too far. At junior welterweight, this is the first time I’ve heard Roach say Pacquiao is really, truly comfortable in a division. And Roach doesn’t want Pacquiao to fight much above 140 from here on out. He thinks this weight is Pacquiao at his best.
Ricky Hatton’s track record at junior welterweight is unimpeachable. We don’t have to rely on what his trainer says, or speculate. He’s a lifelong 140-pounder who has owned the division since 2005. When he moves above that, he’s out of his depths. And because of his lifestyle — beer, beer, and more beer — it’s not possible for him to move lower, either. Although he’s got shortish arms (65″ reach) and passable height (5’7 1/2″) for the division, he’s had a significant physical strength advantage over virtually every opponent he’s ever fought at junior welterweight. Pacquiao has slight reach advantage (67″) and is one inch shorter, so that’s negligible. Although both men will weigh in at 140 the day before the fight, it’s widely expected that Hatton will rehydrate fight day to about 155 and Pacquiao to 147, and because Pacquiao outweighed the dehydrated De La Hoya when they fought, that means Hatton will be the biggest man Pacquiao has ever fought as a professional. How will he handle Hatton if they get into clinches? Will Hatton’s wrestling tactics wear Pacquiao down? I don’t know. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Pacquiao proved the stronger fighter Saturday. Based on the track record, I’m expecting Hatton to have the size edge. It could be Hatton’s best chance in the fight.
Speed. Hatton says he’s going to be faster than Pacquiao in the ring. On this count, Hatton is hallucinating. I am not dismissive of Hatton’s speed. It’s always been better than he’s given credit for. He’s got quick feet that allow him to hop in and out, and his hand speed is pretty good. New trainer Floyd Mayweather, Sr. has made it a point to focus on improving Hatton’s speed, and there were slight signs of that in his last fight, when he beat speedy slickster Paulie Malignaggi to the jab repeatedly. But I think that was at least in part a timing question. It’s likely Hatton, with more time under Mayweather’s guidance, will be faster still than he was against Malignaggi.
The reason Hatton is delusional is because if you were to pick one area where Pacquiao excels above all, if you were to pick that one asset where he stands out, it’s speed. He’s got gobs of speed. Gobs and gobs. Watch the first round of any Pacquiao fight. Observe how stunned each and every opponent is the first time he gets hit with a straight left. The punch hurts, but what really confounds them is that they’ve never, ever, ever fought anyone who is that quick. David Diaz, who fought Pacquiao in his lightweight debut, openly spoke in awe in his corner after the 6th round. It wasn’t the power that was bothering him. “His punches are just too fast,” Diaz said. Of course, speed complements power and creates its own damage, too; speed kills, the saying goes. And Pacquiao has fast feet, too, that allow him to move in and out, attack from angles and avoid damage. At every new weight, Pacquiao is leagues faster than everyone he fights. I hate to be so categorical, because fighters have said things I thought were crazy before only to prove me wrong, but there is no universe where I can imagine the speediest, most improved version of Hatton is within light years of even a sluggish Pacquiao. The more Hatton closes that gap, the better off he is, but the man who has given Pacquiao the most trouble, Juan Manuel Marquez, effectively conceded speed in the fight and relied entirely on spacing and timing.
Power. Power, size and speed are all somewhat related, so I’ll spend less time on this. I think Pacquiao is historically the better puncher, and his knockout ratio — 36 KOs in 48 fights — is a bit better than Hatton’s — 32 KOs in 45 fights. As he’s moved up in weight, I think there’s been an ever-so-slight drop off in Pacquiao’s power, though. He’s never been a one-punch knockout artist, but it’s been a long time since he’s scored a bunch of quick knockdowns in a fight like he used to regularly. Everyone he’s knocked out of late, he’s picked apart, worn down and eventually knocked out or forced into submission. Some of that may be a reflection of the sturdy chins of his recent opponents like Diaz, but then, Erik Morales had a good chin before Pacquiao blitzkrieged him in their third meeting.
Hatton, meanwhile, has been knocking out top-level junior welterweights for forever. Like Pacquiao these days, Hatton has historically not scored massive knockouts — he’s picked people apart, worn them down and eventually floored them for good or forced them into submission. You know what I think is interesting, though? Pacquiao is reportedly knocking out sparring partners left and right. That’s not the norm for fighters as I understand it. And a size advantage doesn’t necessarily translate into a power advantage. Hatton may very well push Pacquiao around, but last year, heavyweight Monte Barrett pushed David Haye around but it was Haye who knocked Barrett down repeatedly and out. I’m going to say here that I think the power wattage will be pretty comparable, but Pacquiao should have a few extra watts.
Punch Resistance. Pacquiao, Hatton recently noted, has been knocked out by body punches before, Hatton’s specialty. But that was a long time ago, when Pacquiao was enduring weight struggles, which make a boxer ripe for a body punch KO. Since he’s been on the elite level, Pacquiao hasn’t been knocked down. He’s been given the “wobblies” (as they say Hatton’s U.K.) once or twice, most recently by Marquez last year. But Diaz, a decent-punching lightweight, never even kind of phased Pacquiao with anything he landed. De La Hoya, emaciated or no, has historically been a good puncher, and nothing he landed on Pacquiao caused him any trouble whatsoever. Still, Pacquiao has probably never faced a body puncher as good as Hatton. Marquez and Marco Antonio Barrera are good there, but not so single-minded.
Hatton’s punch resistance is a significantly bigger question mark. In four of his last six fights, he’s been hurt pretty bad at least once — including to the body by Juan Urango. In one of those fights, his only loss, he was knocked out by Floyd Mayweather, Jr. I wonder how much of that is related to his beer mug weight-lifting program between fights. Hatton’s chin was magnificent against the ultra-hard-hitting Kostya Tszyu in 2005. But the older a
fighter gets, the less he can afford to slack off on training between fights. All indicators are that for this fight, Hatton didn’t slack off as much as he usually does, which will give him a smidge better capability to stand up against the blows of his opponent this go around than if he had adopted the full “Ricky Fatton” routine. But unless moving to junior welterweight significantly diminishes Pacquiao’s power or ability to take a shot, it’s Hatton who is weaker here. Pacquiao very well could hurt him to the head and body.
Age And Stamina. Both Pacquiao and Hatton are 30. There have been some hard years in their for each man. They’ve been in punishing fights against elite opposition. Outside the ring, they’ve both kept busy with extracurricular activities, with Hatton partying and Pacquiao acting, singing, running for political office, studying for his college degree, filming commercials, giving to charity and, back in his younger days, reportedly womanizing, gambling and cockfighting it up. And yet, both looked fresh as daisies in their last respective fights. Pacquiao appears to be in his physical, fighting prime after a brief period where he slowed down a little. Hatton looked to be on the decline for a while there, too, but he really does seem rejuvenated by his new trainer. If anything, Hatton’s rode his body harder, so Pacquiao might have a little less mileage on his odometer.
In a sport where even journeymen boxers have the kind of endurance that is uncommon to any other sport, Pacquiao and Hatton are unbelievable in the stamina department. Hatton never stops coming with frenetic energy. He’s had his late fades, often because of accumulated punishment from his opponent. But where Hatton is exceptional, Pacquiao is supernatural. The most underrated part of Pacquiao’s game is that his stamina is off the charts. He hits as hard in the 12th round as he does in the 1st, and he brings his own frenetic energy to bear. Hatton’s good here. Pacquiao’s better.