Saturday, March 7, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Ricky Hatton makes a convincing case for his prospects against Manny Pacquiao in their May 2 junior welterweight showdown at the MGM Grand.
Relying on logic rather than bluster — though his trainer, Floyd Mayweather Sr., has the trash talk covered — Hatton is hammering on a series of crucial points in his favor as the hype begins to heat up for the year’s most eagerly awaited fight.
Hatton’s elegant argument on his own behalf sounds all of the right notes ... save one.
If he fights with as much precision against Pacquiao, he’ll give the Filipino champ a run for his unofficial distinction as the world’s best boxer in any weight class.
The primary planks of Hatton’s platform:
• Hatton is unbeaten at 140 pounds, his natural weight division.
Hatton (45-1, 32 knockouts) was out of his element at welterweight in his lone loss, a technical knockout at the fearsome hands of Floyd Mayweather Jr. Sure, Mayweather’s skill had a bit to do with it, but the extra seven pounds made “a massive difference,” according to Hatton.
Even against 140-pound opponents with powerful physiques such as Kostya Tszyu and Jose Luis Castillo, Hatton has been up to the task.
“Anybody that I have boxed at junior welterweight — big, strong fighters like Castillo and Kostya Tszyu were probably the two strongest — I’ve stopped them,” Hatton said. “I’ve always said that at 140 pounds I’m too strong (for opponents), I’m too big.”
It is possible, of course, that Pacquiao is so freakishly talented he renders any distinctions among weight classes meaningless. His 3-for-3 performance in 2008, victories at super featherweight, lightweight and welterweight, had boxing historians drawing comparisons to Henry Armstrong.
• Hatton will be the biggest man, physically, Pacquiao has faced.
When Pacquiao (48-3-2, 36 KOs) moved up to fight Oscar De La Hoya in December, De La Hoya weighed in at 145, two pounds below the welterweight limit. Mayweather Sr. suspects De La Hoya overtrained for the fight and came into it dehydrated. With the exception of his lightweight title bout against David Diaz in June, Pacquiao’s other fights have taken place in weight classes ranging from 107 to 130 pounds.
After making the grade at the official weigh-in, Hatton routinely weighs as much as 154 pounds by the time he enters the ring on fight night, even in his junior welterweight bouts.
The size difference as well as Hatton’s newfound devotion to the finer points of the game could give Pacquiao fits.
“I feel with the technical stuff that me and Floyd have been working on, the hand speed, the combination punches, an all-around package of defense and boxing ability, Manny has got something else to worry about than just the sheer size,” Hatton said.
• His victory against Paulie Malignaggi proved Hatton can handle an opponent whose strength is speed.
Hatton was so dominant in his 11th-round TKO of Malignaggi in November at the MGM Grand that it’s easy to forget Malignaggi, heading into the fight, was a trendy pick to beat Hatton and perhaps even end the Englishman’s career.
It’s tempting, but it would be irresponsible, to speculate that Malignaggi was stepping way up in class to face Hatton, taking on more than he could handle. But that was certainly not evident at the time.
Neither man has fought since, so at least for now we’ll have to give Hatton credit for beating a solid opponent in a match that was quite suitable as a prelude to the megafight with Pacquiao.
Like any world-class boxer, Pacquiao has a wide range of skills. Hatton considers Pacquiao’s speed his most formidable attribute. Hatton believes he can not only handle it, but match it.
“I think you could see a massive difference in the Malignaggi fight in my boxing ability and my hand speed,” Hatton said. “Everybody thought Paulie was going to outbox me and out-speed me. In fact, I think I outboxed him and out-speeded him.
“I outboxed the boxer. I out-speeded the speed merchant. I made him quit for the first time.”
• Hatton’s association with Mayweather Sr. has reinvigorated his career.
Before hiring Mayweather Sr. to train him for the Malignaggi fight, Hatton was in a funk. His loss to Mayweather Jr. came amid a progression of uninspiring 12-round decisions against Luis Collazo, Juan Urango and Juan Lazcano.
Hatton, for his part, uses much more colorful phraseology than “uninspiring” in characterizing his performance in those fights. Always an aggressive fighter, he was doing too much “bulldozing” in the ring and neglecting other aspects of his game.
A short but effective seven-week camp leading to the Malignaggi fight convinced Hatton he made the right call in switching to Mayweather Sr. from longtime trainer Billy Graham.
“I’m aggressive but I’m also technical as well,” Hatton said. “They’re seeing the boxing side of Ricky Hatton now. I showed improvement on the technical side against Paulie Malignaggi, but I think we’re just scraping the surface, me and Floyd.”
• Just as in his fight against Tszyu, “nobody” thinks Hatton can beat Pacquiao (the latest variation on the old “I’ll shock the world” tactic).
Ah, Ricky, you’re better than that. Not only is this the most tired cliche in sports, pound-for-pound, but it’s inaccurate. An accomplished veteran fighter, Hatton should not need this sort of cheap motivational ploy.
At the very least, Hatton is overplaying his hand here. He was about a 2-1 betting underdog against Tszyu and will be about the same against Pacquiao. Underdogs of 2-1, by definition, can be expected to win about a third of the time. That’s hardly shock-the-world territory.
And he’ll have plenty of believers in his corner, especially among the British boxing fans who figure to pack the Grand Garden Arena.
If Hatton wants to bring up bygone opponents in the buildup to May 2, he should forget about Tszyu and focus instead on Erik Morales, the last man to beat Pacquiao.
In the first of their three fights, four years ago this month, Morales used a brilliant game plan that blended finesse and brute force to score a 12-round unanimous decision against Pacquiao. In various stages of the fight, Morales held off Pacquiao with his jab, answered his attack with crisp counterpunches and, particularly in the memorable 12th round, engaged Pacquiao in an all-out brawl.
That sounds like a strategy Hatton, especially the new and improved and more versatile Hatton, can embrace.