Pacquiao and a futuristic approach to boxing
Uncertainty had swept into the pressroom of the MGM Grand late last Thursday, with several journalists fleeing Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao for Ricky “The Hitman” Hatton. The preeminent sage of the sweet science, Bert Sugar, justified his choice of the Hitman based on a recent formula that he had devised: “The odds keep being wrong and too good to pass up. And look, they had it wrong with Margarito over Mosley, De La Hoya over Pacquiao, and Pavlik over Hopkins.” By Friday, over-analyzing the tumultuous styles of Pacquiao and Hatton had mixed the minds of the bookies with such chaos that the casual bettor could pick the favored Pacquiao by knockout at the odds of 20/37.
Even those who had predicted Pacquiao would win were qualifying their words as fight night approached. Hatton’s confidence was convincing in interviews, as if he guarded a secret that he looked forward to show and not tell. It brought to mind the words of his country’s old Prime Minister Disraeli: “Every man has a right to be conceited until he is successful.”
Last Saturday’s bout with Pacquiao, of course, marked the second time that Hatton was challenging a pound-for-pound champion at the MGM Grand who had freshly beaten Oscar De La Hoya. Having lost against Floyd Mayweather, Jr. in the first fight, Hatton hoped to end all other similarities between it and the second. An estimated legion of 25,000 strong from the United Kingdom invaded Las Vegas to shout the battle cries of Hatton along the Strip for all to hear. If you preferred a brass band version, they had that, too. In recent years, learning the lyrics to his anthem, “There’s Only One Ricky Hatton,” has acquired equal importance for a British citizen to pledging allegiance to the Queen.
Hatton, an instinctive brawler, exhibits what A.J. Liebling once wrote of Rocky Marciano to be, “a natural prehistoric style.” Liebling describes how the old heavyweight’s advisors thought it best to avoid teaching him the late 18th century advancements in boxing of slipping punches and moving backward, fearing such technology would only confuse their primitive brute. Such simplicity of approach might have helped Hatton for this fight. Several sources close to the Briton’s camp stated anonymously that Hatton had a complex regimen of double training sessions: one with his trainer Floyd Mayweather, Sr. and then another of which Mayweather would be unaware.
Over the past several years, Pacquiao’s punches have gotten straighter and consequently more economically profitable. His style has evolved into a honed game of both strategy and strength, using slicker boxing as a vehicle for his tactical power, and speed as one for his physical. His combinations defy prediction in part because their sheer velocity prevents the opponent any time for prognostications. Pacquiao’s head, feet, and arms can each appear to be flung outward into extremes of different geometric planes, suddenly converging on a point of contact in a flash that often leaves an opponent defenseless. If Hatton’s style is prehistoric, Pacquiao’s is futuristic, and being hit with hands moving at lightning speed can accelerate the aging process of a fighter by years in just a few rounds.
When the opening bell rang, a full 90 seconds elapsed during which Hatton seemed game enough to have made his fans’ journey worthwhile. Within the remaining half of the first round, however, Pacquiao dropped the Hitman to the canvas twice. After each descent, Hatton sat on one knee, feigning composure like a barfly having stood up too quickly from his stool after one too many shots. Pacquiao, an ever-gracious host, would happily serve his opponent several more. With moments left in the second round, Pacquiao threw his right jab wide, pristinely setting up an opening for his left hook that concussed Hatton before he could even thud onto the canvas. I looked around the crowd of the MGM Grand. Presumably, not since the first glimpse of the Spanish Armada have so many Englishmen been so silent in one place.
In the aftermath of the fight, the trainers, who had verbally sparred the past two months to no end, had a final exchange. No words were necessary, as Pacquiao’s cornerman, Freddie Roach, stared for nearly a minute toward Floyd Mayweather Sr., until catching his eye, then pumped both his fists up in the air. This defied Pacquiao’s previous instructions to Roach at an earlier press conference, when according to Roach the champ said, “Just be a gentleman, coach. I’ll take care of the rest.”
Hatton was taken to the hospital as a safety precaution, as was Pacquiao’s mother, who had been overly excited by watching her son fight for the first time. Pacman then went to sing a concert with his band from the Philippines for fans on an outdoor stage at the Mandalay Bay Beach Club. Frank Sinatra once decked a gossip columnist in 1947, and now 62 years later music did again wed the sweet science with equal bliss. The scene was so packed, security turned away anyone without the requisite wristband. Among those foolishly rejected admittance was mogul and Planet Hollywood founder Robert Earl, who said coolly and politely as he departed, “I’m going to come back here ÔÇª buy this place, and shut it down.”
At about midnight, Roach had just completed a generous two-hour session with the press, who inquired about the many potential future opponents for Pacquiao. The field now appears as limitless as Pacquiao’s talent. Roach had no single answer. He headed to dinner through swarms of loyal Filipino fans and dumbstruck British converts to his cause. “Easy fight, Freddie,” some would cheer in admiration. “I hate when they say that,” Roach sighed, shaking his head, “It’s never easy.”