Friday, May 1, 2009 | 11 a.m.
Manny Pacquiao (48-3-2, 36 KOs) vs. Ricky Hatton (45-1, 32 KOs)
Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena
TV: HBO Pay-Per-View, $49.95
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Show host Andy Samuelson discusses Saturday's megafight between Ricky Hatton and Manny Pacquiao with Sun sports writers Jeff Haney and Brett Okamoto.
James Bowes answers the knock at his door on the 14th floor of the Circus Circus. He’s never met the reporter or photographer waiting on the other side, but he greets them as old friends.
“Come in, come in,” Bowes says. “Ask me anything you want.”
It’s rare to have an interview with someone as accommodating as Bowes. Before any questions are asked, he wants to know where he should sit and what shirt he should wear. The oversized Ricky Hatton T-shirt he’s got on works just fine.
He literally grins the entire time.
“Anything with Ricky Hatton makes me smile,” he says. “Anything makes me smile.”
The 20-year-old is in particularly good spirits this week, making the trip to the United States from Manchester, England, for the first time to accompany Hatton to the ring when he takes on Manny Pacquiao at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Saturday night.
Bowes is a bit of a celebrity back home, known across the U.K. for his close relationship with the boxing icon. Born with hydrocephalus, a brain disorder that creates internal pressure inside the skull, Bowes was given just months to live at the age of 10. For what many thought would be his final wish, he was given the opportunity to watch his hero, Hatton, train for an upcoming fight.
But something unexpected happened when the two met. Hatton inspired Bowes to fight his condition just like the IBO and Ring Magazine junior welterweight champ battles his opposition.
“Everyone noticed immediately when he came to the gym how he perked up and looked better,” said Hatton’s father, Ray. “It’s unbelievable, it’s a nice story of another side of boxing that people never hear about. They’ve stayed friends and now 10 years later, James will carry Ricky’s belt into the ring in Las Vegas for a fight no one thought he would still be here for.”
Five minutes of conversation with Bowes is enough to understand how boxing has kept him going every day through such a difficult disorder. At first Bowes seems a little shy, answering questions with simple responses from his seat at the edge of his hotel bed.
But then Manny Pacquiao is brought into the conversation, and suddenly Bowes is on his feet, throwing jabs and uppercuts as though he were in the ring.
“Guess what? You know what I’m going to say don’t you,” he says. “I’m going to say, ‘Go on Ricky, get in there and go straight to him, cause if you don’t, I will.’ And I really mean it too. I want my mate to go straight to him first and show him who’s best. I already know he’s the best one anyway.”
Although Saturday will be Hatton’s fifth fight in Las Vegas, Bowes’s physicians have been too worried about what kind of effect the long flight to the U.S. would have on his condition to allow him to attend any of them.
In another miraculous turn however, a procedure done years ago recently released some of the built-up pressure on his brain. After discussing it a bit, doctors agreed to take the chance and send him to Las Vegas.
“I found out just before I came to America. He had a bit of good health and the doctors said he was cleared to fly,” Hatton said. “I was delighted. Just a few years ago we thought we’d never see him again. I didn’t think he’d be carrying my belt again and I certainly didn’t think he’d be carrying it in Vegas.
“He’s from the same estate in Manchester that I’m from and I start to pinch myself every time I come here. So for little James, it’s amazing.”
Amazing is seeing how strong and happy Bowes is despite his deadly disease. The oldest of five children, Bowes moved in with his grandmother in 2002 after his mother, Judie, died of pneumonia while still in her 30s. Recently, Bowes moved again to live with his uncle because his grandmother was becoming too old to look after him.
Bowes responded to his mother’s passing the same way he did to the other adversities thrown down on him — he fought back. Instead of getting worse, his condition improved in ensuing years, enough to give him the opportunity to finally fly to America.
“If anyone needed a bit of good luck he did, and thankfully he’s getting it now,” Hatton said. “Sometimes he would be feeling very, very poorly, but I’d tell him he had to come to my fight and it would pick him up because he’d be so excited about doing it.
“His mum, before she passed away, told me that she actually thought I had prolonged his life.”
Shadowboxing in his hotel room, Bowes certainly appears to be in fine enough health to carry his best friend’s belt to the ring inside the Grand Garden Arena on Saturday.
He even showed off some of the moves he’s planning for the sold out megafight, dancing to Hatton’s theme song, “Blue Moon,” by the band Supra.
“It’s really magic when the first tune comes on,” he says, pounding his feet on the floor. “It really gets me in that type of way, he fights stronger when I’m there because the crowd is yelling for both us.”
After spending some time around both Brits, it’s easy to conclude the two are more similar than different, despite Bowes’ limitations from his disease. The two friends feed off each other, they’re known for their outgoing personalities and they inspire millions of their countrymen.
Most importantly, they both are fighters with plenty of heart.
“It’s like the way boxing is,” said Bowes of his disorder. “In boxing, you face an opponent in the ring. The way this is, it’s actually like if I was going in the ring with someone. Like I’m boxing someone.”
Maybe “there’s only one Ricky Hatton,” like the popular British boxing song states. There’s also only one James Bowes.
Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or firstname.lastname@example.org.