Manny Pacquiao – Ricky Hatton: The Prediction


(From left to right: Freddie Roach; Manny Pacquiao; Ricky Hatton; Floyd Mayweather, Sr.)

I’ve been daydreaming about this fight, this Manny Pacquiao – Ricky Hatton fight, for months and months and months. When was the last time the biggest fight of the year also stood a tremendous chance of being not only a good fight, but a great fight? It’s been forever. It’s usually the big names, the big personalities alone that have sold fights in the new millennium, not the fights that forecast as the most action-packed match-ups. Pacquiao may be the most exciting fighter roaming the ring today, and Hatton is an all-action brawler himself. And it’s not only a potentially great fight, not only the biggest fight of 2009 — although the expected return of Floyd Mayweather Jr. means it may not end 2009 as the biggest of the year — but it’s a meaningful fight. Very much so.

Pacquiao is the best fighter on the planet, virtually without question. Hatton is the long-reigning king of his division, juior welterweight, but he resides in the top 10 of the pound-for-pound best list that Pacquiao rules, and he is a Hall of Famer in waiting just the same as Pacquiao. In a time when anyone can snatch a watered down title, Hatton is the true lineal champion of his division, and Pacquiao is going for an unprecedented fourth lineal title in four weight classes, so boxing history is on the line. That right there is some meaning.

It also has storylines. Pacquiao and Hatton are the two most popular fighters in the world, and it’s too bad that this fight might not sell as well as it should simply because they aren’t American. But their love in their homelands — Pacquiao in the Philippines, who may be president there one day and stops guerrilla war skirmishes when he fights, and Hatton in Great Britain, who is cherished as a beer-swilling man of the people and champion in the ring — is one of those storylines. It should be a great night to be at a live fight, as some of our regular readers will be, latching arms with singing, chanting, lovably annoying Brits and Pacmaniacal Pinoys.

That’s a snapshot of what makes the fight what it is. Here’s how I think it will go.

I’ve spent the last couple days breaking down the keys to the fight. Pacquiao probably, or in some cases definitely, has the edge in speed, power, ability to take a punch and in his corner, where the reigning Trainer of the Year, Freddie Roach, resides. Hatton probably has the edge in size, and he has a referee, Kenny Bayless, who isn’t likely to interfere if he tries to impose that size by mauling Pacquiao rather than relying exclusively on the sweet science. The two men have roughly equivalent stamina and willpower, and roughly equivalent defensive and offensive repertoires, too. If boxing were math, Pacquiao wins already. He’s better in more areas. And boxing is kind of math. Pacquiao is the favorite in this fight, and with good reason. He’s the better overall fighter.

It is in the margins of some of those categories, though, where Hatton’s chance of victory lurks. The only major category where Pacquiao unquestionably is better than Hatton is speed, no matter how much Hatton thinks he’ll be faster than Pacquiao. Those are ravings that border on lunatic. But we don’t know for sure that Pacquiao will be the more powerful man. The test of Pacquiao’s punching power at 147 lbs. against Oscar De La Hoya might have produced skewed results given De La Hoya’s weight problems for the fight. Likewise, Pacquiao hasn’t fought a prime junior welterweight who’s a pretty good puncher for his division, which is what Hatton is, so we don’t know how he’ll withstand those shots.

Assuming Hatton will be bigger, and given that the power/punch resistance advantages of Pacquiao are at least debatable, the gap between Hatton and Pacquiao begins to close. And that turns to the question of how Hatton will literally close the gap between himself and Pacquiao, spacewise, in the ring. If Hatton spends too much time on the outside, it’s suicide. Pacquiao, even a less powerful, smaller Pacquiao, will beat him to the punch every second, 24/7, 365, millennium after millennium, until the end of time. OK, maybe it’s not that bad. Hatton has proven he can fight pretty well from the outside, even against defensive masters like Floyd Mayweather, Jr. But if he gets on the inside, where he has made his living as a fighter, he’s far better off.

Floyd Mayweather, Sr., Hatton’s trainer, explained the plan about how to get there. Hatton will pressure Pacquiao — in part by using the jab, in part by using his strength advantage — to put him on the defensive, since Mayweather reasons that Pacquiao fights well solely going forward, and force him into his habit of backing straight up against the ropes with his hands up. Hatton will then attack to the body. The thinking is that Pacquiao has been knocked out by body punches before, but if Pacquiao drops his hands to defend his body, Hatton will use that opening to attack Pacquiao’s head. The Hatton camp also thinks Pacquiao is predictable in his offensive methodology, so Hatton, with his improved defense, should be prepared for anything Pacquiao fires at him.

It’s not a terrible plan. But it takes a few things for granted. If some of Pacquiao’s advantages are debatable, then so, too, is Hatton’s biggest advantage (literally): size. Roach believes his man will be stronger, and think long and hard about the last time Roach was wrong about his boxing avatar, his masterpiece, his close friend, Pacquiao. It is not likely to be a size mismatch, that much I can say. Hatton may be a natural junior welterweight, but let’s not forget that Pacquiao is a physical freak who has been as strong as or stronger than every opponent he’s faced in every new weight class he’s moved up to since starting his career as a 106-pound teenager.

The rest makes me wonder if the tape Mayweather has been watching is from a long, long time ago. Those body punch knockouts that Mayweather keeps mentioning? Those came early in Pacquiao’s career when his frame was drained from trying to make weight. Pacquiao may never have fought a body puncher like Hatton, because there are only one or two body punchers around these days like Hatton, but previous Pacquiao foes Juan Manuel Marquez and Marco Antonio Barrera, for starters, are exemplars in the Mexican school of mean nasty rib cracking. Nor does Pacquiao spend as much time as he used to backing up in to the ropes — he’s learned to avoid that by going in and out, left and right, back to the offense. And now, he can fight going backward. He knocked Marquez down last year with a counterpunch moving backward. He repeatedly tagged David Diaz in his next fight while backing up. Pacquiao is far less predictable than ever, with greater punch variety and not-so-obvious patterns, and even if he was predictable, that doesn’t always mean anything. Heavyweight Wladimir Klitschko is as predictable as predictable gets, but it only takes about two rounds for his average opponent to figure out he can’t do jack about it. Pacquiao, too, says he has worked on his inside fighting, really focusing on it in camp, so that could nullify some of Hatton’s most effective work.

If you look at the closest thing to Pacquiao kryptonite there is, Marquez, Hatton doesn’t have the same traits. He doesn’t have Marquez’ uncanny sense of space, timing and counterpunching, nor his killer straight right (per our discussion here, he’s got a good one, but not a killer one), the ultimate weapon against a southpaw. Hatton does, though, pose dilemmas for Pacquiao he hasn’t much encountered, like a potentially stronger opponent who fights well on the inside where Pacquiao has rarely ventured. For that reason, I expect Hatton to give Pacquiao a much tougher time than did his last two opponents, Diaz and De La Hoya. I know that’s not saying much, because that pair wasn’t able to mount anything effective against Pacquiao at all. Pacquiao’s defense has improved, but Diaz was too slow and De La Hoya too emaciated to test it much. Hatton hit Mayweather, Jr. a surprising amount. He will hit Pacquiao, too.

While I can easily envision Pacquiao overcoming the best Hatton has to offer, I have a tougher time envisioning the opposite.

It’s the speed.

I think Pacquiao’s speed, both of hand and foot, will completely bedazzle Hatton.

So I’m predicting a Pacquiao win. It’s not that I don’t give Hatton some chance of knocking out Pacquiao, or grinding him down to a decision win, because of the size advantage. I’m anticipating, in fact, that Hatton will have his moments early, as he did against Mayweather, Jr.. But while he’s having some success, Pacquiao is going to be hitting him a ton, because Hatton’s defense, improved by Mayweather, Sr.. or no, isn’t world class, and Pacquiao is too fast and accurate for even excellent defensive fighters. Nor do I think the size advantage will be so pronounced, if it even exists, to make a Hatton knockout likely. As Pacquiao’s punches drain Hatton, that will make it an increasingly remote percentage by which he’s able to stun the reliably unknockdownable Pacquiao, and he’ll be in a hole, digging, with nowhere to go. Unlike against Mayweather, Jr., I don’t think he’ll lose his composure this time. He learned his lesson. He’ll keep trying to attack, but not so stupidly. But the hole will get deeper nonetheless. Some people are predicting a stoppage on cuts, but those people are ignoring that Hatton’s problem with dangerous, fight-stopping cuts is well behind him after a few plastic surgeries. I predict Hatton will go the Diaz route — a sitting duck in the late rounds for a punch he doesn’t see coming.

Pacquiao, by 10th round knockout.

Don’t forget to join us tomorrow for one last Pacquiao-Hatton piece, a round-up of all the information you’ll need about the big fight. And then, don’t forget to join us for the Saturday night live blog.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.