Boxing: Hatton puts faith in plan to box clever
'Hitman' relies on newfound discipline in the face of Pacquiao's awesome threat
Ricky Hatton almost whispered it, as though he knew most of the boxing world would hear only a desperate act of faith made in a dark corner. But he said it anyway, he had to, and now he must believe it over the next few hours more ferociously than any statement of confidence he has ever made in a long and until recently dominant career.
It has to be his fighting mantra when his opponent Manny Pacquiao joins him here, to a great swell of ovation from his fellow Filipinos and admiring neutrals, in the ring of the MGM Grand Garden arena.
Hatton nudged himself into the week that will shape the rest of his life, one that has seemed most like a week-long fiesta celebrating the explosive speed and personal grace of the little man from General Santos City, with the declaration: "I see something in myself that when I look at Manny, and hear all the praise of him, makes me believe I can be the winner."
He has to believe this because if he doesn't, if he cannot fight with the encouragement of clear-headed belief, and from the first bell, it is plain enough that he will be destroyed. Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, who over the years has watched his fighter grow into the mythic title of the world's best pound-for-pound performer, shook Hatton with the claim that he would be beaten in three rounds.
Now Roach suggests that his comment was mostly intended to be a jab aimed at his fierce and trash-talking rival trainer, Hatton's Floyd Mayweather Snr. However, the potential for such destructiveness by Pacquiao has been confirmed with growing authority over the years, with such front-rank victims as Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Manuel Marquez and Oscar De La Hoya showing the scars.
It is also true that if Roach is sending out a mixed message, the promise of his fighter is about as equivocal as a perfectly thrown hook.
"I'm not saying how I will beat Ricky Hatton, who is tough and a fighter I respect," says the Pacman, "because when you study an opponent you do not say what you have learnt anywhere but in the ring. But I know I can win because I have done all of my work, I have been disciplined, and when you know this it gives you great confidence. You go into the ring without any fear because you know you have done everything you had to do – and you also know your ability."
Hatton acknowledges the talent and the spirit of his opponent, but insists he has the means to upset all the odds and land the fight he craves above all others, a rematch with the Floyd Mayweather Jnr who 17 months ago surgically wiped out his own hopes of becoming pound-for-pound champion.
He says that he is a much improved fighter under the tutelage of Mayweather's father, but that his greatest lift comes from the gut sense that he is the bigger, stronger man.
Hatton says: "From what I have been reading and hearing I have to think, 'This guy shouldn't be fighting me. He should be fighting Godzilla.' Yet the fact is that he has fought only twice at over 130lb and I honestly believe that when he won his last fight against De La Hoya he was against a once great fighter who had nothing, who was empty inside.
"When I stand next to Manny I look at him and think: 'How are you going to hold me off?' He is a great fighter, that's why everyone accepts him as the pound-for-pound champion, but I have advantages, and one of them is that I am a more polished fighter than I was and I'm a weight which is natural for me. Defeat by Mayweather humbled me, made me realise how too many of my fights had been going the same way. I was trying to bulldoze all my opponents out of it and in the end I paid the price.
"Mayweather brought it home to me that, however strong you are, you just can't always steamroller people. I had to change if I was going to survive, and it didn't have to be so different because I always had a jab, always had good ability and great footwork. But I had to be more patient, I had to make the openings again – and Floyd Snr has taught me that I don't have to take three punches to land one."
Pacquiao (right) dismisses, with the hint of barb, Hatton's claim that he will be the stronger at 140lb. "Fighting at 140lb is my regular weight now and I am very comfortable at it," he declares. "You have to talk about discipline here. I have disciplined myself and that is why I can fight at heavier weights."
Discipline – the word is the heaviest reproach to Hatton, who still makes a joke of his notorious tendency to blow up between fights, to have a few "scoops" and a kebab or two. Roach also turns the knife when he agrees that, in the long run, such an erratic pattern is bound have its effect.
The truth, according to the Pacquiao camp, is that Hatton's limitations were cruelly exposed by Mayweather Jnr. Yes, the Manchester Hitman can hit, he can harass, he can come at you with great force, but he cannot delude himself about superior power when Pacquiao exerts his supreme asset of electrifying, disarming speed. Speed, they say, carries its own power, and a deadly cumulative effect.
An objective view is that both camps might be trapped in their own mythologies: Hatton's that the cornerstone of his career, victory over the legendary Kostya Tszyu four years ago was more of a display of his world-class credentials than an example of superbly timed match-making by his then promoter Frank Warren; Pacquiao's that the upsurge of his status after the defeat of the iconic De La Hoya was something more than the consequence of a visit to the boxing graveyard.
The rough beauty of fighting, though, is that there comes a moment when arbitration becomes as straightforward as the work of a firing squad.
Here, the main suspicion has to be that for all his natural courage, and laudable attempts to analyse his shortcomings and work to remove them, Hatton will be the man who in the end is offered the blindfold.
Another is that Roach's refusal to withdraw, at least completely, his prediction of a quick and comprehensive victory carried a certain professional significance. When you sow doubts in the mind of an opponent, there doesn't seem much point in digging them up before the first punch is thrown.
Two scenarios are available. One is that Hatton wins in the way he attempted to do against Mayweather, ugly but with the practical understanding that he had to try to neutralise superior technique and exquisite timing. In this he is unlikely to receive any more tolerance from tonight's referee, the highly rated Kenny Bayless, than he did from Joe Cortez in the Mayweather fight.
The second scenario has the southpaw Pacquiao accepting the Hatton charge, then stripping it down with bursts of irresistibly quick counter-attack. Scenario two is the one that carries the superior logic. It should be enforced in or close to the sixth round.
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