Friday, May 1, 2009

Explosiveness Expected: Hatton, Pacquiao locked and loaded

The wait is finally over, folks.

Ricky Hatton, the RING magazine junior welterweight champion, and Manny Pacquiao, the consensus pound-for-pound best boxer in the world, will collide in Las Vegas' MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday night. And it still can't get here soon enough.

There is no shortage of captivating side stories leading into the bout, either. The rivalry between trainers Floyd Mayweather Sr. and Freddie Roach has been a focal point on HBO's award-winning 24/7 series. The two appear to be living vicariously through their fighters to attain an unofficial "trainer champion" status. The verbal jabs have been as sharp and oftentimes hilarious.

If Pacquiao (48-3-2, 36 KOs) wins, he will join only the recently retired Oscar De La Hoya in winning a world title in a sixth different weight division. Not only that, he would claim his fourth lineal championship in as many weight classes, making him the only fighter to ever achieve such success.

A victory by Hatton (45-1, 32 KOs) would not only be perceived my many as an upset but a prophecy fulfilled. After pummeling Paulie Malignaggi, a slick and speedy boxer many presumed would give the Hitman's style considerable trouble, Hatton put the world on notice by saying he would not be defeated at 140 pounds.

The Manchester Mauler might not be far off in his bold statement. He was surprisingly quicker than Malignaggi in his last outing and showed superior ring generalship to Brooklyn's biggest mouth. To put his 11th-round knockout in perspective: Miguel Cotto went to a decision with Malignaggi, who showed courage in winning latter rounds though his jaw was grotesquely swollen. Hatton won nearly every minute against the flashy slickster before trainer Buddy McGirt threw in the towel for Malignaggi.

Hatton's only loss was at welterweight to the then-No. 1 pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. His overly aggressive style was no match for Money May's defensive skills and counter-punching. The result was the Hitman assuming the role of victim as he lay on the mat in the 10th round.

But adjustments have been made in the Hatton camp, most notable since hiring Mayweather Sr. After a few iffy performances, including a close call against an over-the-hill Juan Lazcano, Hatton proved his critics wrong. The 30-year-old showed an old bloke can learn new tricks, as evident in the Malignaggi bout. And this can be attributed to "Joy" Mayweather bringing different dimensions to Hatton's game.

Still, Yahoo! Sports boxing writer Kevin Iole reported Thursday that there could be a rift in the Hatton-Mayweather relationship and that Roach contacted Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer about possibly training Hatton. Not the type of added pressure a fighter needs stepping into the ring opposite the Pacman.

Pacquiao lived up to his unofficial nickname of "The Mexecutioner" when he destroyed an obviously drained and ready-to-retire De La Hoya in December's welterweight bout. The Filipino didn't appear to have lost any speed or power with the added weight. Prior to obliterating Oscar, Pacquiao crushed an otherwise sturdy David Diaz at 135 pounds. Settling into 140 won't likely be a problem.

What is a problem is that, unlike De La Hoya, Hatton is at the peak of his career. Even if in decline, it's only slightly and by no means any indication of a shot fighter. Hatton is the naturally bigger man, an advantage he didn't have against Pretty Boy Floyd. He's still strong, aggressive and is familiar with the weight having fought most of his career at junior welter. It's a match of speed versus power, though not implying both fighters don't possess each attribute.

The fact is, once the hammer hits the bell only the present matters. Hopefully they'll give fans a gift.

Desert Storm Desserted: No.1-ranked junior middleweight Timothy Bradley, who will has an invested interest in the Hatton-Pacquiao showdown, was stripped by the putrid WBC (insert clever acronym here). Not even a month removed from a sensational victory over Kendall Holt, Bradley (24-0, 11 KOs) refused to accept an agreement to face the corrupt sanctioning body's No. 1 contender, Devon Alexander.

Who could blame him? Alexander has been the victim of Don King's horrible handling and brings nothing to the table. Bradley has the potential for star power and has his sights set on the real junior welterweight championship that will be leaving the squared circle with the one of Saturday's main event stars. For shame.

R.I.P. Greg Page: Former heavyweight champion Greg Page, 50, died Tuesday from complications following a brain injury sustained in a 2001 bout.

The Sweet Science mourns your passing, Champ.