The post de la Hoya era comes in with a roar next Saturday. As boxing waits for the return of Floyd Mayweather Jr., its big stage will be nicely filled by what could be a mismatch.
The odds have been creeping up on Manny Pacquiao, from 2-1 to 3-1, while the buy-back rate for Ricky Hatton is around 2-1. My guess is that there will be more drunken Hatton supporters in the MGM Grand than zealous Filipino patriots. So maybe the odds on PacMan will dip into some real temptation.
It is no secret that the wise money likes Pacquiao, the current pound-for-pound king. But despite sometimes thinking that Freddie Roach, the three-time trainer of the year, could be on the money in saying Hatton won’t last three rounds in the 140-pound showdown, I am hesitant to give Pacquiao all my support.
I believe he should win. Never mind size. The former flyweight champion, who last fought at 147 pounds in escorting Oscar de la Hoya to a well-deserved retirement, is simply the better fighter, no matter what Hatton’s mouthy trainer, Floyd Mayweather Sr., says.
Big Floyd is the main reason Hatton has a legitimate chance here. This is his second fight with the Brit and first since last November when Hatton outsped and outboxed Paulie Malignaggi.
The improvement was noticeable. Hatton got off his steamroller and tried a bit of boxing, coming in more at angles and moving his feet much better than in the past.
"I know Floyd is trying to deprogram Ricky from being a one-dimensional puncher," said Roach on a press teleconference call. "But it’s too late to brainwash a fighter who has close to 50 fights during a 12-year career. The fact is, Floyd couldn’t program a VCR, much less a fighter with so many bad habits ingrained into him. Hatton is not fundamentally sound. He keeps his chin up. He is the perfect opponent for Manny."
Mayweather believes that his guy is more versatile. He notes that Pacquiao is not as effective if forced backwards.
Hell, few punchers are.
But Pacquiao not versatile? Last year, in taking fighter of the year honors in most wards, he beat Juan Manuel Marquez – the current pound-for-pound No. 2 – by a whisker at 130 pounds, moved up to win a belt from David Diaz at 135 and obliterated the ghost of de la Hoya at 147.
Hatton, whenever he moves out of 140, is not the same fighter. It was at 147 when he got hammered in his only other meeting with the No. 1 pound-for-pound, Floyd Mayweather Jr. He claims that at 140 he was able to make the then-No. 2, Kostya Tszyu, quit. But that was a faded version of Tszyu and since that career performance in 2005, Hatton has hardly been at the same level as Pacquiao.
In the ring, Hatton will undoubtedly be quite a few pounds heavier but not that much bigger than the former flyweight champion. He’s 5-6½ to Hatton’s 5-7½, and actually has a longer reach, 67 inches to 65.
But for all the improvement Mayweather has given Hatton (this, said the English fighter, despite "the first two or three weeks I couldn’t understand a bleepin’ word Floyd was saying") Roach has instilled more in his student.
Pacquiao no longer is left-hand hungry. His right jab and right hook are major weapons. He moves his head much more now. He is, simply, at 30, the best he’s ever been. Though Hatton claims to be bigger, stronger and the harder hitter, I’m not so sure.
Of course, Hatton will try bulldozing Pacquiao. There will be times when what figures to be an exciting matchup resembles a John Ruiz clutching marathon. But I believe Pacquiao is strong enough to win in the trenches and if Hatton thought Malignaggi was fast, he ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
I don’t buy a three-round blowout. Hatton’s chin is more than decent.
He cuts and the fact he didn’t want to pay high-priced Miguel Diaz to return to his corner could be a bloody mistake. Still, it would be anticlimactic to see such an anticipated fight end this way.
I think Pacquiao will eventually take real control and stop Hatton. It might be dangerous for him early, but his improved defense should keep his pound-for-pound title, at least until Little Floyd returns.
But win, lose or technical draw, Pacquiao and Hatton (two foreigners) should prove that the sport isn’t dead, even without Oscar the Boxer. On the same day when the Kentucky Derby of horse racing is held, the sweet science should come up smelling roses, too.
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Michael Katz