James Lawton: Hatton smiles in the shadows

All eyes are on Pacquiao ahead of Saturday's fight, but the Briton says he has a shock for the crowds who are writing him off

By the time Ricky Hatton rose to his feet here in the big ballroom of the MGM Grand packed with TV cameras it was as though the name, the presence and the meaning of Manny Pacquiao had come together to beat against those parts of his pale temples left uncovered by a rather forlorn floppy hat.



He might have been stirring and raising a hand at the interment of his most combative career. It will be worse at the weigh-in today when the fighters conduct their final rituals against the high and tinny background sound of the band Pacquiao has flown in, at his own expense, from Manila.

Worse – or perhaps, just maybe – better if Hatton can, as he says he will, indeed marshal with some control the rage which he appears to be building. It is coming in the face of his inescapable conclusion that never before has he been so firmly cast as second-best.

That status was always likely, given the Filipino's trail of glory littered with iconic victims, but on the eve of the fight for Hatton's IBO and Ring Magazine world junior welterweight titles, the issue is beginning to touch that of a formality.

Along The Strip, where sentiment rarely has the courage to raise its head, the sports books shorten their odds on the Pacman almost by the hour. By fight time it is likely he will be as prohibitive as 1-3.

Wherever Hatton turns, some boxing sage is rehashing his belief that the man from General Santos City, who spent much of his childhood in a cardboard shack, is too fast, too strong, simply too good for the Mancunian Hitman who was so methodically undressed by Floyd Mayweather Jnr here just 17 months ago.

It has left Hatton subdued almost to the point of coma when compared to his rabble-rousing, pre-fight performance against Mayweather, when he was backed by an estimated 30,000 fans.

However, Hatton did have something to say when he stood to make his case, no doubt with all the multi-layered praise for Pacquiao still swarming in his ears, and the result was strong in its simplicity and stripped-down intent.

"I'm going to make this speech as short as possible," he said. "I'm not going to say much because while reading all the websites and the sports magazines and the newspapers I see you have made your minds up.

"Well, the fat, beer-drinking Englishmen is going to shock the world again. Manny is rated the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world but this is my weight division and all I can say it that I will see you all, and Manny, in the centre of the ring."

But then, what is one show of defiance against the tide of belief flowing with Pacquiao? Even Hatton's friend Amir Khan, who has been training with Pacquiao under arguably the world's best coach, Freddie Roach, cannot offer a better than 50-50 chance. "Ricky has got to make a good start," Khan said , "because he can't go chasing a fight against this man. It would be just too dangerous. Manny has tremendous speed, he moves around the ring so well, and it's great for me to work alongside him under Freddie.

"It is amazing to see Manny work – and live his life surrounded by so many friends and supporters. I go to his house sometimes. You cannot move it is so packed. But then what you can't forget is that Ricky Hatton is so tough and fights with such pride in all the support he has."

Even Pacquiao's principal cheerleaders, who include promoter and most recent victim in the ring, Oscar de la Hoya, concede as much. "I've been to Manchester and I've seen the force of Ricky Hatton and the support he inspires, he is an incredible man," said De La Hoya. But then the former Golden Boy has also been to the corners of America which are the bulwarks of the fight business, to the Hispanic barrios of great cities like his native Los Angeles, where even the Mexicans acknowledge the weight of Pacquiao's achievements against the best of their heroes, including Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez, and finally, De la Hoya himself, the virtuoso once described as "the ATM cash machine of boxing".

"I've been in the streets of this land and the word I get is that Pacquiao means so much not just because of the excitement of his boxing but what he is as a man," De la Hoya said. "He has accomplished everything he has attempted and this is why his following has grown so quickly."

Not the least of the Filipino's achievements, some would say, is to provoke a eulogy of the purest sentiment from promoter Bob Arum, who as an idealistic young lawyer served on Robert F Kennedy's anti-crime commission and then later, after years in boxing, issued the statement that will probably always survive as the classic example of the fight game's ruling morality. When chided by a reporter about conflicting statements he had made on successive days, Arum said, "I was lying yesterday, today I'm telling the truth."

If he was telling the whole truth about Manny Pacquiao, as Ricky Hatton slipped, just perceptibly, a little lower in his seat, the fighter has a rather better chance of ascending straight to heaven than Hatton has of upsetting the odds. "Manny Pacquiao lived in a shack and then became an athlete and earned huge amounts of money," Arum said. "That is not unusual these days, but what is is the fact that he never forgot where he came from. The Philippines has the best social service in the world. It is called Manny Pacquiao."

Pacquiao, said Arum, lives in a world where it is more important to provide 500 scholarships for poor kids, or hospital beds, than walking out and buying the latest car a salesman wants to sell him. A conservative estimate is that Pacquiao hands out at least a million dollars a year to the poor of his country and Roach has said that, sooner than later, he might well give it all away.

"The story of this fight is what Manny Pacquiao is," declared Arum. Hatton resisted the idea with some force and considerable dignity. It was something which could not be said for his trainer, Floyd Mayweather Snr. He proceeded to announce that his rival Roach was a "cockroach", who would soon be obliged to crawl back into his hole, and turned to Pacquiao and said: "It's over – there's no more wishing on a four-leaf clover."

It was, in all the circumstances, unseemly doggerel, and naturally Pacquiao responded with the grace of boxing's first unchallenged saint. "All I can say," said the Pacman, "is I'm ready. I know Ricky Hatton has trained hard for the fight, and I respect him. He's a good guy. I know he is fighting, like me, to make his people happy."

This is along with the promoters and Home Box Office television, of course. The fighters share a purse of $9m (£6.1m) and apart from a sold-out arena, there is hope of getting close to a million pay-per-view sales at a recommended price of $49 (£33).

Ricky Hatton may be in a corner, but it is a well-heeled one and he is plainly intent on fighting it.

Nothing at the top of boxing pays quite like a win under the gravest pressure – not even canonisation. No doubt this cheered him somewhat when he walked out of the big room which seemed only to have eyes for the fighter who, for a few more hours at least, apparently can do no wrong.

Boxing clever: The bout in stats

1,000,000

Expected American subscribers to the Manny Pacquiao/Ricky Hatton fight on HBO ppv, at $49 (£33) each.

750,000

Estimated number of Britons who will subscribe to the fight, at £15 each.

1,200,000

British subscribers to that fight.

$1,000

Most expensive ticket for the fight.

15,000

Estimated number of Britons, many ticketless, travelling to the fight.



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