Morales vs. Pacquiao: Can It Be Worth The Hype?
By Jocelyn Saurini (January 26, 2005) 
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It’s the buzz in Vegas. The ticket that everybody needs to get, and not just because it promises to be an amazing fight. People all over are already clamoring to get into the Morales vs. Pacquiao fight at the MGM Grand on March 19th because it promises to be some top-ranked entertainment. It’s the place to be, the fight to see and, if things go according to all predictions, probably the most exciting 12-rounds of action in 2005. After all, between them, Morales and Pacquiao accounted for what most experts and fans alike consider two of the most exciting bouts of 2004. Who wouldn’t want to see these two go head-to-head and bring their electric styles to the same ring? The question at this point isn’t even whether Morales vs. Pacquiao will be a fight of two quality fighters showing us the dazzle of near-perfect technique and strategy combined with exciting power and speed that they showed in their previous fights. The real question may just be this: Can Morales vs. Pacquiao possibly ever live up to the hype that’s being generated about it?

First, a little history. Well into 2004, opinion was that it would be hard for any fight to take the title of 2004 Fight of the Year away from the Pacquiao/Marquez draw on May 8th. That draw was a tough fought war that left the capacity crowd at the MGM feeling as exhausted and exhilarated as the fighters at the end of the final round. But then, on November 27th, Morales lost to Marco Antonio Barrera in what many consider to be one of the greatest bouts ever, and definitely the 2004 Fight of the Year. Two of the best fights of the year in 2004, from two fighters who are now going to fight each other? Can it get much better than that?

How can we not be excited at this prospect? It’s only January, and the buzz is already happening. At the race and sports book at the MGM Grand yesterday (where, by the way, Pacquiao is currently posting as a 6-5 favorite), fans and bettors alike were already excited. Old timers and young gamblers alike are watching the odds closely because they know, as one sports book regular told me, “With all the people out there caring about this fight because it’s going to be so exciting just to watch, that line’s gonna change ten or twelve times. Just watch.” That’s a lot of excitement for a fight that’s still almost three months away.

Adding to the excitement? Pacquiao, the Pac-Man, is training with 2003 Trainer of the Year and world-wide boxing celeb Freddy Roach. Any time Roach is involved in a fight, people have an interest in the phenom’s fighters, and somehow just the presence of Roach in his hipster glasses and cooler-than-you attitude in the corner gets the crowd even more juiced. Having Roach, boxing’s favorite ringside golden boy, in the arena on fight night is like having Bon Jovi open up for Bruce Springsteen in New Jersey. It’s one more power player that the fans and spectators can relate to in the drama opening up before them.

Need more excitement? Morales is flat-out the most popular Mexican fighter around today, and his popularity is going to bring a crowd of devoted fans out in mass – not to mention pay-per-view subscribers (or at least that’s what the corporate backers are hoping). Pacquiao is not going to be short on fans either, and his decidedly flamboyant style is always entertaining to watch.

So what could go wrong? All the hype, both generated by the media and coming out of the mouths of fans, would have you believe this fight was the second coming of Ali/Frazier. But don’t be fooled. There’s a lot that could make watching this fight about as interesting as the first fifty-five minutes of results night on American Idol. Firstly, Pacquiao is coming up from to 130 pounds for the fight. To the novice, that doesn’t seem like a huge deal. But we all know better. Gaining weight changes your rhythm. It impacts your speed, and even if your speed is only changed by fractions of a second, if you’re used to having that extra split second to catch your opponent, its absence can be the difference between winning and losing a fight. Roach thinks Pacquiao will overcome Morales bigger size with “speed and youth,” but the chance is just as great that neither of those things will work to Pacquiao’s advantage against the larger, more experienced fighter.

But Morales has some disadvantages, too. Most notably, he just fought a brutal fight in November. Are three months and change enough recovery time to not have Morales take the ring still feeling after effects from that many straight months of training? And Morales wasn’t great in his last fight. In fact, in the middle rounds he looked flat out disinterested in being there. Will he be able to muster some more enthusiasm for this fight?

What it comes down to is this. Two great fighters with more than sixty knockouts between them (Morales is 47-2 with 34 KO’s at 28 years old and Pacquiao is 39-2-2 with 30 KO’s at 26 years old) , who also each fought in two of the single most exciting fights of 2004 are now going to take on each other in a high-purse pay-per-view fight in Vegas with boxing’s most recognizable trainer in one of the corners and a crowd full of rowdy fans and (as usual) very famous people. It should be the event of the year. If you buy the hype. But if you look at the fighters and the challenges they’ll need to overcome to perform in prime condition for this fight, then you know the truth. The real question isn’t “Can this fight be a great fight?” The real question is, “Can this fight possibly be as exciting as it’s pre-fight hype is making it out to be?”

I guess we won’t know the answer until March 19th, but until then, we can all hope that this time around, the hype is right
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