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Friday, April 24, 2009

No. 10: The biggest chapter in two champions’ storied careers

Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton, boxing's top two international superstars, square off in "The Battle of East and West" on May 2 at the MGM Grand. In the days leading up to this blockbuster bout, the Las Vegas Sun is presenting a Top 10 countdown of key points of interest for Pacquiao vs. Hatton.

As if any boxing fan needed to be told, May 2 will be the biggest fight of either boxer's career — but for completely different reasons.

Officially, the 12-rounder is for Hatton's IBO and Ring Magazine World Junior Welterweight titles. Unofficially, it's for pound-for-pound superiority, a poor country's lowest class, redemption, the “world’s best” trainer trophy — take your pick.

In the United States, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Oscar De La Hoya and Shane Mosely are just boxers. In the Phillipines, Manny Pacquiao is much more.

For a country where more than a third of its inhabitants (30 million people) live below the poverty level, Pacquiao stands for hope and pride.

When his boxing career ends, the 30-year-old has said he likely wants to enter politics to help his fellow Filipinos.

"Manny really wants to help his country and that's why the politics issue is so big," said Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach during a recent interview with the Sun at his Wild Card Boxing Club in Los Angeles.

"This is me looking in from outside of course, but it's a corrupt system from what they say. There's no welfare system. If you don't have a job, no food, you have to revert to stealing to survive. Manny wants to implement a welfare system so the people that don't have anything don't starve to death. He truly, truly wants to help his people."

Pacquiao's followers know of his loyalty to them and they believe in it. Defeating Hatton, the only other boxer that seems to represent a country as much as himself, might be the greatest gift he could give them in his career.

"They just want to be close to him," Roach said. "We'll have 250 people in the parking lot when he comes to work out wanting to take pictures of him and get autographs from him. We let them come up and they are so excited we have trouble keeping them away."

Sometimes it doesn't matter how many wins you have. Ten, 20 or 30 — one loss can overshadow them all.

In the case of Hatton, that number is 45. Until Dec. 8, 2007 “The Hitman” had never lost.

The popular British fighter came up against Mayweather Jr., and had a similar opportunity to dethrone boxing's undisputed pound-for-pound king.

Instead the bout ended in the 10th round when a left hook from Mayweather Jr. put Hatton on the mat at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Hatton got back up, but moments later the match ended with a technical knockout, still the only blemish on “The Hitman’s” sterling career record.

According to Hatton’s longtime friend and agent, Paul Speak, the loss changed him.

"He learned an awful lot from that fight," Speak said. "This will be the biggest fight of his career. The first time with Mayweather, the hullabaloo surrounding it was just massive.

“When he fought Mayweather the cards were stacked against him because he fought him with his weight at 147. This is a chance with no excuses, against a man recognized as the best in the world."

Truly, the only way to avenge that kind of loss is to win under similar circumstances. Facing Pacquiao, Hatton will receive what may be his only chance to do so.

"You know, when you first lace on gloves as a youngster you goal is to win a world title," said Hatton (45-1, 32 KOs).

"But to be regarded as the best world champion of all weight divisions like Manny Pacquiao is, you can't get any higher than that. That's the bar behind challenging him, he's the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. To say it's massive is an understatement."

There has certainly been no shortage of important fights in these two boxer’s well-chronicled careers, however none of them can be considered at the same level as this.

"I've been involved in a lot of big fights," Roach said. "But nothing as international or as big as this."


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