Thoughts On An Epic Fight

03.05.09 - By John Wight - In two rounds of boxing on Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, in an awesome display of devastating power, speed, and ferocity, Manny Pacquiao effectively ended the career of probably the most popular British boxer in the history of the sport, Manchester’s Ricky Hatton, just as he did that of Oscar De La Hoya six months previously.

In the weeks leading up to the fight, much was being made of the improvements that had been wrought in Hatton under the tutelage of his new trainer, Floyd Mayweather Sr. Indeed, the noises emanating from the Hatton camp were such that the world was anticipating a fighter known throughout his career for aggression and all-out attack to come to the ring a slick counterpuncher, utilising a hitherto long neglected jab, head movement and angles, confident that thereafter superior size and strength would prove the deciding factor..

But like an actor arriving onstage only to find that he’s forgotten his lines, from the opening bell Hatton came forward in a straight line with his hands beneath his chin intent on a scrap in the centre of the ring. Such crudity seemed an offense to the majesty of the occasion, nay to mother nature herself, as the 16,000 fans who filled the venue, the vast majority part of the vast 25,000-strong army of Hatton fans who’d braved the global economic crisis to follow their hero halfway across the world, along with millions watching on TV around the world, witnessed the spectacle of a man marching willingly to his own destruction, instantly turning what had been billed as a fight into a public execution.

Watching Hatton lying inert on the canvas for three agonising minutes towards the end of the second round, put there by an anvil otherwise known as a Pacquiao left hook, we were reminded of the brutal nature of a sport which takes us back to a time when primal instincts determined who survived and who perished.

Fortunately and thankfully, Ricky Hatton was lucky; he was able to climb out of the ring and leave the scene of his demise in one piece. But lest he be under any illusions, a return to the ring after suffering two crushing defeats in two years would be folly. For him a journey that has done much to rejuvenate a sport whose popularity had waned after years of mismatches, meaningless title fights, and more belts than enough fighters to go round, has come to an end. And to be sure, this charismatic and courageous fighter from a council estate in Manchester has earned his rightful place as a boxing icon, despite failing to achieve the distinction of all time great.

Which other fighter in history has filled venues from Vegas to Manchester with such astonishing ease? Hatton himself would no doubt be hard pushed to explain such devotion from so many. But then again magic needs no explanation. All we can do when confronted by it is exalt in its ability to make life that little bit more interesting for however long it lasts.

This indeed is why Ricky Hatton deserves our gratitude for gracing the sport with his presence and prodigious charisma. The excitement and drama he brought to the lives of so many in the 12 years of his professional career will be discussed and dissected in pubs, clubs, and boxing gyms for many a year to come. The high office of pound for pound best in the world is bestowed to few mortals, and Hatton can draw comfort from the fact that the two losses on his record were against two of the finest boxers not only of this generation, but of any generation.

As for the victor, Manny Pacquiao, what can be said that hasn’t already about this phenomenon of the sport of boxing, not only a superlative athlete but also a man of profound dignity and humility? The product of the kind of poverty that most couldn’t even begin to imagine, much less conceive, and hailing from a part of the world that has known little else, nothing is more fitting than the spectacle of a who’s who of obscenely rich, primped and preened celebrities paying homage to a warrior who goes into battle with the hopes of a people resting on his shoulders. For make no mistake, Manny Pacquiao fights for a cause much greater than himself.

He fights for the little guy everywhere, for the valets and the cleaners, the busboys and the dollar-a-day labourers, the derided and disdained who live on the crumbs, whose lives are reduced to the hell of day to day survival, invisible to all except each other.

Pacquiao’s victory was a victory for them, offering a rare opportunity to walk tall with the visceral thrill of one of their own being lauded and lionised by the kind of people.

This is what Manny Pacquiao represents. This is what he means to so many. It is why he is indeed a people’s champion.

Article posted on 03.05.2009

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