Wednesday, April 8, 2009 | 2 a.m.
If You Go
- Who: Manny Pacquiao (48-3-2, 36 KOs) vs. Ricky Hatton (45-1, 32 KOs)
- When: Saturday, May 2
- Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena
- Tickets: $150 to $1,000, www.mgmgrand.com
- TV: HBO pay per view, $49.95
Beyond the Sun
To watch Manny Pacquiao interact with his fans is to witness something special.
Sure, some want an autograph or a conventional handshake.
Others, though, prefer to touch Pacquiao’s arm or rub their fingers against his sleeve, as if he were a religious figure or a living, breathing statue of a saint.
“It’s because that’s exactly the way they look at him,” said Top Rank Chairman Bob Arum, who promotes Pacquiao. “As much as any athlete I have ever known, Manny cares about the people and the people care about him.
“He spends his time and a lot of his own money to help his people, and it’s remarkable how the people respond to him.”
Indisputably the most popular public personage in his native Philippines, Pacquiao puts his reputation as the world’s best boxer on the line May 2 when he fights Ricky Hatton at the MGM Grand. Each fighter is guaranteed a base salary of about $12 million for the high-profile bout.
Legions of rabid Pacquiao fans have turned out at each of his appearances to publicize the fight — including one last month in Hatton’s hometown of Manchester, England, where more than 3,000 Filipinos showed up to support their man.
“My experience in England was unforgettable,” Pacquiao said at Nat’s Thai Food in Hollywood, where he had repaired for a meal after a training session at the Wild Card Boxing Club. “I was so happy because there were a lot of amazing fans in Manchester, especially because Manchester is the (home) of Ricky Hatton and there were a lot of Filipinos coming out.”
Freddie Roach, proprietor of the Wild Card and Pacquiao’s trainer for the past eight years, experiences Pac Man fever up close every day during training camp.
A sign at the door warns, “No Pacquiao autographs & pictures Monday-Friday.” (Actually, one day last week it read “autograghs,” but close enough.) Still, even on weekdays, fans gather hoping to catch a glimpse of Pacquiao, who favors the gym’s urban atmosphere despite boxing’s long-standing tradition of bucolic settings for training camps.
“They just want to be close to Manny,” Roach said. “Saturday in the parking lot we had over 250 people who wanted to take photographs with Manny.”
For some it was an especially lucky Saturday. Pacquiao was taping a video to show during his ceremonial entrance into the ring on fight night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Roach invited fans into the gym to take part in the production.
“They were just so excited because they were going to be on TV with Manny, part of his ring walk,” Roach said. “The fans are great, but I have trouble keeping them away. We’ve probably had 50 calls already today from people asking if they can come watch Manny Pacquiao work out. And I have to say no to all of them. I’m the bad guy.”
Pacquiao has given his supporters plenty of reasons to be excited as he has ascended to the top of boxing’s pound-for-pound rankings in recent years.
Since losing to Erik Morales in 2005, Pacquiao has won nine consecutive fights, a streak that includes victories in a historic series of three bouts last year. Pacquiao won the world super featherweight championship against Juan Manuel Marquez, beat David Diaz for the world lightweight title and stopped Oscar De La Hoya in a welterweight fight pitting two of the sport’s most prominent names.
Pacquiao will fight Hatton at junior welterweight, or 140 pounds, which Roach calls the ideal weight class for his fighter.
“Manny has fought two perfect fights in a row and I expect him to do it again,” Roach said. “I feel that Hatton is really made for us. He gets hit a lot and his chin’s up in the air. He can’t throw a straight punch. He loops everything. Manny’s straight shots down the middle and his movement after the combinations are going to be the keys to the fight.
“Hatton’s been hurt many times in fights and he’s never really fought a finisher. If Manny Pacquiao hurts him, we will finish him.”
Pacquiao, who came into the De La Hoya fight five pounds below the 147-pound welterweight limit, expects to have no problems making 140. He’s full of energy even with a rigorous workout regimen — maybe too full of energy at times, said Roach, who once had to admonish Pacquiao for participating in a karaoke party that lasted until midnight.
“I got the whole group together and told them curfew’s at 9,” Roach said. “He was a little mad I yelled at him, but he knows I’m doing it for him. I care about the kid a lot and we have a great relationship. He’s like a son to me.”
Pacquiao’s game plan for Hatton figures to resemble the strategy he developed to face De La Hoya: Use lateral movement. Stay off the ropes. Avoid clinches. Make the other guy miss.
“We see a lot of weakness in Hatton,” Pacquiao said. “I expect him to be coming forward and fight toe to toe, and I like that. We can create a lot of action in the ring.”
Although Roach has predicted a victory by knockout — perhaps within three rounds — Pacquiao is not thinking in those terms.
“Ricky Hatton is a warrior in the ring, a good fighter and a champion,” Pacquiao said. “I’m not looking for a knockout. I don’t want any distractions in my mind. I’m always thinking it’s going to be a hard fight, it’s going to be a tough fight and I have to focus and continue with my training.”
Pacquiao has been strapping on the headgear and sparring three times a week at the Wild Card. In one recent session he went eight rounds — four against Gary Young (17-1 as a pro) and four against Urbano Antillon (25-0). Young, sparring with Pacquiao for the first time, appeared shaken as he left the ring, his face bloodied.
“Against a world-class fighter, the shots are going to get through,” Young said. “It was tough to adjust to his sharp, relentless combinations.”
Later, Pacquiao would comment on the session in his native language for a Philippine news organization. The English translation was notable not only for its understatement, but for its lyrical minimalism: “Gary Young was slightly hurt because of my strong blows. His nose bled.”