Pacquiao fighting for greatness, Hatton for respect
Lost in all the Ricky Hatton-Manny Pacquiao hype and big-fight story lines is that Saturday’s matchup at the MGM Grand is for the world junior welterweight championship.
It’s a fact that even the promoters of the bout have glossed over, choosing to talk more about the economic potential of the matchup during press conferences and even putting Pacquiao’s name before Hatton’s, bucking the boxing tradition of putting the champion’s name first in a fight billing.
There is no mention of Hatton’s world 140-pound title on the official fight posters.
However, while the loyal fan followings and aggressive styles of both fighters make the matchup boxing biggest event of the year, the 140-pound title that is on the line significantly adds to the stakes of the showdown.
Should Pacquiao win, the victory would earn him a world title in a fifth (some believe sixth) weight class, putting him in the elite company of Thomas Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard, Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr.
If Pacquiao (48-3-2, 35 knockouts) beats Hatton, he will become the first non-American fighter to hold world titles in more than four weight classes.
So far, Pacquiao has won title belts at flyweight (WBC), junior featherweight (IBF), junior lightweight (WBC) and lightwieght (WBC). No Asian, Latin or European fighter has ever held world titles in more than three weight classes.
Boxing purists believe that Pacquiao has already won world titles in more than four weight classes, counting his breakthrough 11th-round stoppage of Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003 as a victory that earned him featherweight champion status.
In 2001, Barrera undressed then undefeated Naseem Hamed, who held the WBO featherweight title at the time, but had also won (and subsequently vacated) the IBF and WBC 126-pound belts and defeated the holder of the WBA strap (Wilfredo Vazquez, who was stripped by the organization before the fight with Hamed).
So, Hamed had earned universal recognition as the featherweight champion going into his showdown with Barrera. After Barrera out-pointed the flamboyant Englishman, he gained that recognition but also decided that he was above the sanctioning organizations and decided not to accept the WBO title that Hamed held.
Barrera went on a win streak at featherweight that included fellow hall of famers Erik Morales and Johnny Tapia before he ran into the fireball that was Pacquiao in Texas. By winning that fight, many hardcore fans believe that Pacquiao became the featherweight champ, despite the fact that his future rival, Juan Manuel Marquez, held the WBA and IBF belts at the time.
Marquez-Pacquiao I ended in a draw, so the Mexican technician wasn’t able to usurp the Filipino’s recognition as the man at featherweight. However, both fighters went on to establish themselves as the top fighters in the world, pound for pound.
Not too long ago, Hatton (45-1, 32 KOs) was expected to fight his way to the top of the pound-for-pound ratings. He’s still considered a Top-10 pound-for-pound player, but barely, and some fans and media debate whether he belongs among the elite at all.
However, if Hatton defends his title against Pacquiao, he will regain the respect he had when he lifted the championship from future hall of famer Kostya Tszyu in 2005.
That year, Hatton’s surprise 11th-round TKO of Tszyu, who was rated in everyone’s pound-for-pound Top 5, earned him Fighter of the Year honors from both THE RING magazine and the Boxing Writers Association of America.
He would no doubt win those honors again if he beats Pacquiao, and likely punch his ticket to the boxing hall of fame.
Whoever Hatton would face following a win over Pacquiao, the fact that he is the junior welterweight champion would not be forgotten by the public, press or promotion.
A victory for Pacquiao would further cement the Filipino’s status as boxing’s pound-for-pound king, the greatest Asian fighter in history and one of the all-time best.
Doug Fischer can be reached at [email protected]