By Neil Thompson (01-05-09) – Regarded by many to be the ‘pound-4-pound’ number one fighter today; Manny Pacquaio has won ‘world’ titles at Flyweight, Super Bantamweight, Featherweight and Lightweight. He also turned in a spotless performance at welterweight against a legend in Oscar De La Hoya. He has also faced elite fighters such as Barrera (twice); Morales (x3) and Juan Manuel Marquez (x2). Now before I go on I would like to point out that I think Pacquaio is a true world class performer and as a 4 weight champion will be regarded in the future as an ‘all-time great’.. However, I have been pondering over a couple of questions for a long time now; “Is Manny as good as his legion of fans think?” and, like he was against Floyd, “Is Ricky Hatton once again out of his depth”? In truth and in both cases I would have to answer “NO”.
Ricky Hatton is not a fighter that has been able to rise through the weight divisions. Being short and squat he has been limited to shine in the Junior Welterweight division alone. His 2 trips to the 147 division were not impressive and he came back down to 140 where his own attributes of strength and aggression have a more brutal effect. This should not tarnish Ricky’s credentials as many great fighters, such as Marvin Hagler, have limited themselves on one division. Hatton has faced three elite level fighters in Floyd Mayweather, Kostya Tyszu and Castillo. He impressively stopped Castillo (although the Mexican was not the force he once was), he out-lasted and beat the heavy handed counter puncher Kostya Tsyzu in a war of attrition, but was outclassed and out-smarted by the silky defensive master in Floyd Mayweather. Despite the Mayweather set-back, Hatton has enjoyed an impressive career but his record does not match that of Manny Pacquaio’s achievements. However, this fight is at 140 where Hatton has been the dominant fighter for 4 years and being ‘the man who beat the man’… he is the only real world champion at Junior Welterweight.
From a certain perspective, I would have to say that Pacquaio’s glorious career flatters to deceive. Regardless his achievements are still very impressive but some of his biggest wins have come against former legends past their best (this can be argued about Hatton’s opponents too). For the time being’ let’s forget about the Oscar De La Hoya fight and concentrate on Manny’s other career defining performances. When Manny burst onto the international scene he faced and destroyed a still formidable Marco Antonio Barrera. At his time Barrera had slowed down a bit but was still quite rightly considered the best in his weight class. Manny looked awesome that night and was then matched up against his future nemeses; Juan Manuel Marquez. Manny was then being billed as the ‘Mexican Killer’ and as he decked Marquez 3 times in the opening round it appeared that this nick-name was spot on. Then something strange happened; Manny was out-boxed by the Mexican counter-puncher for the majority of the remaining 11 rounds, yet Pacquiao was lucky enough to be given a dubious drawn decision (in my opinion at least). After failing to give Marquez an immediate rematch; Manny opted to take on another Mexican legend in Eric Morales. By this time Morales had just been outpointed in his rubber match with Barrera and was now considered to be ‘on the slide’.
Despite this, this slower version of Morales managed to comfortably outpoint Pacquaio. To be fair Pacquiao quickly secured a return and won comfortably as he also did in their third and final fight. The ‘Mexican Killer’ was now back on track and looked to move up in weight once again. Pacquiao beat Barrera again in a more competitive match than the first but Manny was still a comfortable winner. He then gave Marquez a return and despite being close; many felt that Marquez was once again robbed of his rightful victory. Pacquiao refused Marquez another rematch and instead chose to move up to Lightweight.
For a former Flyweight this was another bold move from Manny but what tainted this impressive manoeuvre was the fact that he chose to face the weakest alphabet champion the division had to offer in David Diaz. Even though David Diaz was the weakest of the Lightweight champs; it was still thought that the additional, size, power and strength would at least make Pacquaio struggle. In reality though Pacquaio, to his credit, made it look easy but considering the quality of his opponent; Manny’s impact on the Lightweight division was limited. Then came the fight at 147 with Oscar De La Hoya and almost everyone apart from the’ Pacquaio-faithful’ had predicted a win for the much bigger De La Hoya. We all knew Oscar wasn’t at his peak but no one except Freddie Roach knew how much he had faded. During the first episode of 24/7 Roach also stated that once he saw weight-loss injection marks on Oscar’s fore-arms; all doubt was removed as to who would win. Indeed, weeks before the fight took place; Roach had said time and time again “Manny will win because Oscar can’t do it no more”. Afterall Roach had previous trained Oscar and after his fight with Steve Forbes, he knew the Mexican-American had very little left. Combine Oscar’s decline with the dehydration of making the welterweight limit made Oscar a totally spent force. Anyone can see this when watching the fight itself as Oscar reflexes were gone; his timing non-existent and his once legendary speed had deserted him. Despite this you cannot be too harsh on Pacquiao as he simply beat the man put in front of him …. and he didn’t only beat Oscar; he slaughtered him. It was another spotless performance but another one that flattered to deceive. I do believe that Pacquiao deserves to be, at the least, in the top 2 of the P4P ratings but when you look at it; who apart from Marquez can compete with him for that prestigious distinction of being number one? I know one thing for sure; despite being a truly excellent fighter; he is not as good as his over-eager fans think.
Please don’t get me wrong; Manny is a true world class fighter, a fighter that has managed to rise through the weights becoming a multi-division champion and has fought at a high level for a long time. On the flip-side; unlike Floyd Mayweather, he is no defensive genius or a master-boxer almost impossible to outpoint. In recent years, I have seen him out-boxed by a faded Morales and twice by Marquez. Pacquaio is beatable and I have seen nothing to suggest he will have an easy time with Hatton. For someone who has not had to endure a tough fight above the Super Featherweight limit, taking on Hatton at Junior Welterweight could prove to be a very tough challenge especially if it turns into a physically taxing war of attrition.
I can see many areas where Hatton can enjoy success. Those that think Manny will treat Hatton the way he did David Diaz are in for a surprise. Hatton like every fighter has his weaknesses but I am certain that Hatton is a level above David Diaz not to mention bigger, stronger, faster and with better all round skills than the Mexican Diaz. Let’s remember that Pacquaio has not been truly tested above the Super Featherweight division. What happens then when Manny finds himself having to dig deep against a stronger fighter who is aggressive, fast and fresh enough to manoeuvre Manny to the ropes in a way that De La Hoya couldn’t? Hatton is much closer to his peak than Oscar was. This combined with Hatton’s superior natural strength and with the subsequent power advantage will test Pacquaio in ways in which he hasn’t been tested before at this weight. Pacquiao has not been in a competitive fight since his days at Super Featherweight and this is why I suspect he will struggle to cope with Hatton at 140. If Pacquiao can indeed turn in another spotless performance I will be very surprised and also very impressed.
As for my prediction? Well it’s a tough call and even though I am more of a Hatton fan I am still struggling to predict this one. There are ways in which I see Pacquiao using his southpaw stance, impressive footwork and speed to outbox and frustrate his opponent. There are also times that I see Hatton overwhelming Pacquaio with the strength, power and aggression that Manny has not endured before. One thing I am sure on is that this will be an ‘edge-of-your-seat’ type of fight; a good matchup of styles and a fight close to a 50-50 contest. So since I am struggling to make up my mind I will go with my gut and predict an upset win for Hatton. I see this being competitive until the end but I feel Hatton will force a stoppage somewhere around the 9th round.
Many of you will think I am letting my heart rule my head and you could be right, but I am a whole lot more confident in Hatton beating Pacquaio than I was for Hatton beating Floyd. Styles make fights and in Pacquaio; Hatton should find an opponent more willing to trade and brawl than Floyd Mayweather was. People have been saying that Pacquaio will beat Hatton in a similar fashion to Mayweather’s triumph. But Floyd beat Ricky by being almost impossible to manhandle or to hit cleanly. Pacquaio is a completely different animal to that of Floyd and Pacquaio’s defensive prowess and all round boxing skills are not on Floyd’s level. With this in mind; I feel this will be a hotly contested fight going one way then the other. I see Pacman having his moments but eventually Hatton’s strength, aggression and power overwhelming Manny. To beat Hatton you need to be big enough, strong enough or plain crafty enough to resist Hatton’s bullying style, and I don’t think Pacquiao is.
Despite all what I have written, I accept that Pacquiao will start the betting favourite and deservedly so. I also believe that even if Hatton does win he will not be recognised the P4P number one; that honour will rightfully go to Marquez, a fighter that in my eyes at least (and in the eyes of many neutral fans) has already proven more than a match for Manny Pacquiao. My prediction of a Hatton win is more to do with the extra size, power and strength that the Junior Welterweight division brings, more than a difference in skill levels. I do feel that Pacman’s team are under-estimating Hatton; Ricky is deceptively fast of both hand and foot, he is also not as one-dimensional as some people think.
I can’t wait for this fight and, whatever the result, it should be a classic. I have enjoyed following both fighters careers and both seem to be very likeable people outside of the ring as well as being equally ruthless inside it.
I look forward to reading your comments but remember this is only an opinion of one boxing fan and this sport is all about opinions. Even the most knowledgeable fans, experts and pundits get things wrong and if I am proved wrong then there will be no excuses from me. Both fighters are close to their peak and both fighters have that warrior’s spirit which should make this a night to remember.
Thank you for reading.