Predictions on the outcome of what may be boxing's banner event for 2009, the Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton slugfest are split through the middle. "Hatton will be too strong for the Pacman," or "Pacquiao to take out Hatton out in later rounds." Take your pick.
After analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of both elite fighters, there is a whole lot of room for the subsequent interpretation.
Except for Oscar De La Hoya, Pacquiao has never tasted leather from anyone above lightweight in a real fight. True, he has sparred with competent light-middleweights like Rashad Evans and Melvin Cordoba, but the headgear and controlled conditions of a boxing gym make a big difference. The fact that Oscar came in less than stellar form, and was not able to land a haymaker leaves the question about Pacquiao's ability to absorb punishment from a big guy. But the question is: Can Ricky hit Manny?
The Pacman possesses blinding hand and foot-speed. As he showed against De La Hoya, he weaves in and out swiftly before any of his punches are answered. You can't hurt what you can't hit. He is more than capable of peppering Hatton with lightning-fast combinations then stepping out of harm's way before the British brawler can snag him back.
If Hatton decides to box Pacquiao, he will be at a huge disadvantage. Hatton is a big-time brawler. His best chance against Pacman is in a phone-booth type of fight.
He must clinch, push Pacquiao to the ropes, move in without absorbing too much punishment. He must take some, then land even more from the inside. From there, he will reveal whether the Pacman can take the hits of a big guy. The Hitman must continuously connect from the inside to wear the Filipino down.
To do that, he must throw Pacquiao off his game-plan with something as shocking as snow in the tropics. The Pacman is too quick on his feet and much too wise to get entangled with the brawling Brit in a phone-booth match. He must enhance his arsenal with something new and unexpected. How he does that is a big challenge to trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr.
Hatton has a problem with speed. That was evident in the Mayweather fight, and may be even more drastic a problem versus Pacman. To neutralize that disadvantage with the Pacman, his best bet—nay, his only bet is to fight at close range.
But a fight never starts at close range. He has to find a way to get close and draw Pacquiao into that kind of fight if he is to take him out. And the Filipino's camp knows this only too well.
It seems that the initial debate whether to hold the fight in Wembley, Las Vegas or even Dubai holds meaningless for Ricky Hatton. All he will need to win is the phone-booth down the street.