Tuesday, March 31, 2009 | 2:10 a.m.
HOLLYWOOD -- Ricky Hatton and Manny Pacquaio traded life in the ring for the red carpet Monday night.
The two boxing superstars ruled a gala event promoting their May 2 showdown at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand, overshadowing movie stars Mickey Rourke and Mark Wahlberg outside of Hollywood's famed Roosevelt Hotel, the birthplace of the Academy Awards.
“That’s the first time I’ve been on a red carpet,” said a smiling Hatton (45-1, 32 KOs), who was decked out with a black army-style corduroy jacket, complete with British-style insignia on the arms and black dress shirt.
“If there was ever a fight worthy of a red carpet, I would like to think it’s this one. He’s the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. He just beat the biggest name in boxing in Oscar De La Hoya.
“I’d like to think I’m not to shabby as well. But I think the winner is boxing. I’m sure Manny will do his nation proud, I’m gonna do my nation proud. It’s going to be an exceptional fight.”
Pacquiao (48-3-2) looked equally dashing as he walked the carpet behind a T-shirt clad Wahlberg (who plays "Irish" Mickey Ward in the upcoming flick “The Fighter”), decked out in a dark suit with a light blue shirt and navy tie with white and pink stripes.
Not only did the Filipino star have his ensemble together, his quips were right on cue, too.
Hatton’s outspoken trainer, Floyd Mayweather Sr. — who with a win by Hatton would earn a four-and-a-half-foot-tall trophy engraved with “No. 1 Pound for Pound Best Trainer in the World” — recited his latest and “greatest” rhyme, dissing on Pac-Man’s trainer, Freddie Roach: “Pacquaio’s going to go from first class to coach, because of the Roach.” Afterward, a loud chant of “Man-ny, Man-ny” rose from the crowd.
Pacquio followed their lead by dropping the night’s funniest line.
“I fight for freedom. I fight for Scotland,” Pacquio said in a deep voice, mimicking Mel Gibson’s character in “Braveheart.”
Hollywood A-listers weren’t the only ones to turn out for the event that looked more like a movie premiere, complete with rotating spotlights, billboards promoting “The Battle of East and West,” a crush of media members that nearly outnumbered the fans watching on the other side of Hollywood Boulevard, and a bevy of beauties representing Rockstar and Tecate. UCLA men’s basketball coach Ben Howland and former NFL linebacker Willie McGinest joined in on the action.
And, of course, a show in L.A. wouldn’t be complete if a couple of kooks didn’t turn out.
Or in this case, a cluck.
“Hey Merryweather, kiss my chicken,” shouted a man with a stuffed chicken on a stick wearing a technicolor dream hat while perched atop his Huffy at a red light.
Rourke — who was an amateur boxer in the early 1990s and didn’t lose in eight fights — said Monday’s promotion had the feel of a Hollywood premiere.
So who does the actor who gained recent fame and a Golden Globe award for his lead role in “The Wrestler” pick to win?
“I can’t predict it, cause I’m friends with both,” Rourke said. “It’s a fight I want to see, but can’t call. Anything can happen in this one, that’s what makes it so interesting.”
Aris Tuano has already picked a side. That’s why he risked bringing his 4-year-old son, Shawn, out to the circus-style atmosphere that at one point featured a couple hundred fans rushing across the street and climbing up the steel barriers to get a better view of his favorite fighter.
“Manny all the way,” Tuano said, as his son smiled sitting atop his shoulders. “I’d say it won’t even make it past the sixth round.”
While the majority in the crowd leaned toward Pacquaio, Hatton warned not to put much too much emphasis on his last win over De La Hoya.
“Any win against Oscar is a magnificent one. Is that the Oscar De La Hoya we have come to love? I don't think so," said Hatton, who stopped Paulie Malignaggi with an 11th-round TKO in November.
“And only Oscar can say what happened on the scales. He looked a shell of the Oscar we know. I don't think it was hard to beat Oscar that night.”
If Monday’s star-studded showing offers any indication of how the main event will play out in May, then Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer has his bet right on the money.
“This isn’t gonna be the fight of the year. No, this is gonna be the fight of the decade,” Schaefer said. “You definitely don’t want to miss out on this one.”
Andy Samuelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-948-7837.