Don’t Bet The House on Manny Pacquiao
By Brandon Estrict for (May 1, 2009)  
In a sport as brutal as ours, where one punch can translate the difference between a promising, multi-million dollar career and early retirement, we are conditioned to live for the moment. And make no mistake about it, Manny Pacquiao has that moment in a stranglehold, basking in the ambiance of all that comes with being front and center of the boxing universe.

Last December, Pacquiao, 48-3-2 (36), shocked the so-called experts and casual observers of the
“sweet science” alike, when he moved up two weight divisions to give Oscar De La Hoya the beating of his life, all but knocking “The Golden Boy” into orbit.

Since that time, Pacquiao, who was already a superstar in his own right as well as the widely recognized pound-for-pound best fighter in boxing, has surged to Rock-Star status in not only his native country, the Philippines, but just about the world over. His fighting spirit has captivated the masses. The speed and ferocity of this power punching, 5’6” giant resonates around all forms of athletic competition.

Just ask standout Cornerback of the Tennessee Titans, Courtland Finnegan, who took to wearing Pacquiao’s name on the back of his practice jersey after Pacquiao beat De La Hoya, and says he, “never misses a Pac-Man fight!”

Or Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants, who recently had Pac throw out their ceremonial first-pitch before a regular season game. Pacquiao brings ‘em out from all walks of life, just check out HBO’s 24/7, where actors Mark Wahlberg and Mickey Rourke turn up at, Pac-man’s trainer’s(Freddie Roach) Wild Card Boxing Club just to get a birds-eye view of how the former Lightweight Champion get’s himself ready to deal with the task at hand. Needless to say, they were in awe, with “amazing,” being one of the many adjectives used to describe Manny.

Ah, the perks of super-stardom!

But progressively, it seems as though the people would like to enjoy and savor the moment, rather than acknowledge that “task.”

He’s the undisputed, longtime Kingpin of the Light Welterweight division, a division that Pacquiao will be making his debut in come fight time, Manchester’s Ricky “The Hitman” Hatton, an aggressive, mauling, all action fighter isn’t necessarily too moved by Manny’s status as the world’s premier fighter.

Ricky Hatton is here with an agenda. Just a little less than two years ago, he tried his luck against then pound-for-pound champion, Floyd Mayweather Jr.(ironically, he’s now trained by Mayweather’s father, Floyd Mayweather Sr.) at the summit of the sport, and putting his best foot forward before coming up short.

The loss prompted Hatton to go back to the drawing board, fighting once more under former trainer, Billy Graham, before replacing him with Mayweather Sr., a move that early returns seem to indicate was the best thing Hatton could have done for himself. He went on to dispose of top contender, Brooklyn’s Paulie Malignaggi, known as a speedy defensive wizard beforehand, in, arguably, more dominant fashion than had pound-for-pound peer, Miguel Cotto did years earlier. It was Malignaggi’s first loss since that Cotto fight, and though there may have been an instance or two where Hatton was undisciplined in his attack, when you account for the fact that he and Mayweather had only one training camp under their collective belt, he looked awesome. He was still the aggressive, no-nonsense bully of years past, but seems to have added a strong jab to his arsenal as well as a new penchant for slipping punches on his way inside.

Make no mistake about it, the “old” Ricky Hatton would be a stylistic problem for Pacquiao, but when you throw in these new attributes, a second intense training camp under the tutelage of the supremely gifted boxing mind of Mayweather, and the realization that Ricky will be the biggest, strongest, and may be the fastest and hardest puncher that Pacquiao has been in the ring with, and task could quite possibly become daunting.

Within the inner-workings of many a boxing circle, those with the knowledge and experience saw that, while Pacquiao was impressive in doing what he had to do, the Oscar De La Hoya that Manny feasted on was a depleted, drained, shell of the great fighter he once was. The writing may have even been on the wall when Oscar decidedly trounced veteran Stevie Forbes 6 months prior to the bout, but had trouble putting him away and even had his face busted up to the tune of what some were reporting to be a fractured orbital bone at the hands of a man, in Forbes, who is known as much for his power as the WBC is for their integrity. Veteran fighter/trainer and brother of Mayweather Sr., Jeff Mayweather, even went as far as to say, “Pacquiao got way to much credit for that win. Freddie Roach even mentioned that he saw the blood from the IV needle on Oscars arm (right before the opening bell)” before finishing, “That speaks volumes as to what he thought led his charge to victory that night.”

Manny may also have fallen into the dreaded habit of “reading his own press-clippings,” so to speak. It was reported the other day that Bob Arum, head of Pacuiao’s Top Rank promoter, had to cancel Manny’s meet and greet interview with the media upon his arrival into Las Vegas because the amount of people that bombarded them had Pacquiao leery of coming into contact with spreading “swine-flu.” Take that for what it’s worth.

So add up the rise to super-stardom, with the out of the ring distractions and commitments, and either way, Manny Pacquiao will be riding a tidal wave stardom, celebrity and popularity into the same MGM Grand Garden Arena that Oscar De La Hoya gave him his surfboard in. The question, though, becomes has he been blinded by the non-boxing related ventures? Remember, even before he reached this level in his career, many had concerns that Pac’s focus was slipping as he became more interested, and reportedly serious about a career in politics that saw him actually run for political office.

If the answer to the question is anything other than a definitive no, Pac-Nation could be staring disaster right in the eyes.

Just a little more than one calendar year ago, Pacquiao was fighting at the Superfeatherweight limit of 130 lbs. Just a little less than a year ago, he moved up to the Lightweight limit of 135 lbs. to crush an overrated and overmatched David Diaz.

With the fight with De La Hoya turning out to be what a farce, Pacquiao has, realistically had only one true fight above Superfeatherweight, and as mentioned, while Diaz wasn’t as up the creek as Oscar proved to be, that one was too hotly contested either.

In Ricky Hatton, Pacquiao not only is looking at a man who has spent his entire 12-year career at the 140 lb. limit and even moved up to the Welterweight limit on a couple of occasions, but a man who is the best 140 pounder in the world. And Hatton has never lost at the weight, his only loss coming at Welterweight to Mayweather Jr., a fight in which Hatton was able to give “lil” Floyd problems with his pressure style for the first few rounds.

But realize we are talking about Manny Pacquiao here, who’s done the unthinkable as often as anyone in recent memory. He possesses the ability to not only be competitive, but when on the top of his game, can beat anyone south of 147 lbs.

How will he react to tasting Hatton’s power, though? Hatton isn’t the divisions’ biggest puncher, but when he lands, and he will, can Manny Pacquiao stand up to the clean shots from the bigger man? Who’s to say right now. What can be said for him is, if his focus is there, you can fully expect him to be ready to face the music, answering with some left-handed tunes of his own.

If the he’s been swept up in his own celebrity, and the focus isn’t there? Then Manny Pacquiao will be in for a rude awakening.

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