On May 2, at the MGM Palace in Las Vegas, Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao cemented his place in boxing history as one of the greatest fighters of all time. It took 359 seconds and 73 landed punches to nail it.
His opponent, Ricky Hatton, the Hitman from England, from whom he wrested the WBA unior welterweight title by a technical knockout, suffered only his second defeat. The 73rd punch was a left cross, which Hatton never saw coming. It landed smack on Hattons's jaw at the closing seconds of the second round.
Pacquiao's coach and trainer Freddie Roach, with whom he has teamed up since 2001, had predicted a third round KO. He missed it by one second.
Although many boxing experts had predicted a win either by decision or knockout for Pacquiao, nobody really believed the match would have ended so quickly and so savagely. Even Pacquiao himself admitted that he had planned on taking him out in the championship rounds, considered to be the last four rounds of a 12-round bout. He had planned on using the early rounds as a means for weakening and slowing down his opponent.
Tactically, this made sense, given Hatton’s strength in the early rounds, and Pacquiao’s ability to get stronger as a fight progresses. Hatton's trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr., who also trained him in the team’s spectacular knockout win against Paul Malignaggi, recently, had prepared for a tactical fight.
According to Lee Beard, his assistant trainer, Hatton became overly excited, deviated from their tactical plan, and tried to jump on Pacquiao from the get-go. The speed, defense, and power of Pacquiao, however, was simply too much for the British boxer's brawler style.
A stylistic fiasco for Hatton being matched up with a speedy and powerful southpaw, Hatton's head-up, non-crouching body stance provided open spaces that Pacquiao used to telegraph his two-fisted attacks in. In the first knockdown that occurred in the first round, a right hand hook put down Hatton, who admitted that he did not see it coming.
The jaw-crunching right hook emphatically announced the beginning of the bout's quick ending. The bout ended so brutally, it prompted Mayweather to declare that Hatton should now retire. Mayweather’s statement would signal his parting of ways with the team.
Very few boxers recover and come back strong after receiving such a tremendous beating. A legion of sportswriters echoed the same opinion and many openly urged Hatton to hang up gloves and refocus on his dream to become a great boxing promoter.
A former great world champion, Hatton's fellow countryman wrote a piece less than 24 hours after the carnage in the nation daily newspaper. He advised that Hatton's retirement from professional boxing is now a foregone conclusion. He lauded the great accomplishments Hatton had achieved in the ring. He had been the greatest junior welterweight boxer in the last four years until the shocking loss to Pacquiao.
According to Roach, who had studied Hatton's fights on films for two months prior to the fight, the British boxer had habits that they thought the Pacman could exploit. One of them was his habit of pulling back his arms before he would deliver his left hook.
In the fight, Hatton performed as expected. It was the opening that Pacquiao had rehearsed for a thousand times during his eight week training at Roach's Wild Card Gym near Los Angeles.
When Hatton provided this well anticipated opening, the Pacman promptly seized the opportunity and he uncorked a quick right hook, causing the first knockdown in the fight. It was a clean shot that was spectacularly captured on film, that found its way in numerous Youtube online videos. It was followed by a second knockdown towards the end of the first round. This time, the knockdown was delivered via a combination of punches, finalized by a straight left that brought down the stunned Hatton.
The second knockdown occurred right at the corner of the ring where he sat for the next minute, being saved by the bell, and trying to recover from the early beating he never saw coming.
The third and final knockdown took place in the center of the ring where Hatton would spend several scary minutes in dreamland, a spectacle that horrified his parents and fiance who were watching by the ringside. Pacquiao’s nervous mother, who came to America for the first time, stayed behind in the hotel and did not watch the fight on TV.
She prayed through the whole fight.
Boxing experts consider it to be one of the most spectacular one-punch knockouts in the last and present centuries. The closest parallel being cited was the one-punch come-from-behind knockout that Rocky Marciano delivered in the 13th round of his bout against Jersey Joe Walcott in 1952.
It is the sixth championship title that the Pacman has earned, putting him ahead of many multi-title holders like Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran. Manny himself was openly surprised by the shortness and ease with which he disposed of the Hitman, whose brawler's tactics had leveled more than 30 previous opponents, including the knockout of the great Kostya Tszyu, for which he is best remembered.
It was Hatton's second failed attempt to gain the title of the world's mythical pound-for-pound (PFP) best boxer designation. Floyd Mayweather Jr., the reigning PFP best boxer, whom Hatton challenged up in his first quest for the honor, knocked him out in the 10th round.
Bob Arum, who is Pacquiao's boxing promoter, was so taken by the little Filipino’s spectacular performance, he was driven to utter a hyperbole: "You are on your way to becoming the greatest boxer who ever lived!" Truly, the little Filipino had become a giant in the eyes of many who know boxing.
More objectively, we can leave that up to the boxing historians to decide. Bert Sugar, a revered boxing historian, seems to concur when he said that he never assesses a boxer's greatness while he is still in the middle of his career, but Pacquiao might be an exception.
When Pacquiao went up against Oscar de la Hoya, most boxing experts did not give him a chance. Many even caricatured the match as a circus, accusing the promoters of a farcical show whose main intent was using de la Hoya’s huge crossover popularity to ensure huge pay-per-view earnings in the midst of a financially strapped economy.
They thought Pacquiao was too small and would be fighting at a catch weight of 147 pounds, which was three stones higher than the 106 pounds he had on, when he first entered professional boxing at the fake age of 18. He was really only 16 at the time and had had to put steel in his pockets to make the minimum weight.
Every one wondered if Manny could hurt a big man like de la Hoya and also wondered how Pacquiao could take the latter's famed left hook. The rest of this story is now enshrined in boxing history. Pacquiao, without losing a single round, stopped de la Hoya at the end of the eighth round, forcing the Golden Boy's retirement from professional boxing.
Since de la Hoya is Hatton's boxing promoter, he had predicted a win for his client. In fact, he even advised Hatton that Pacquiao's punches "were not that hard."
Is it possible that this power of suggestion factored into Hatton's daredevil attempt to bring his brawler's approach to surprise Pacquiao very early into the bout, rather than utilizing the tactical plan that his handlers had carefully crafted against this little Filipino?
Someday, when Hatton's writes up his recollections from this match, we will know the reasons for his fateful miscalculation—the few steps that led him into the lion's mouth where he was promptly devoured.
To his credit, Pacquiao was humble and magnanimous in his victory. Never one to gloat at his fallen opponents, he praised Hatton.
As Hatton prepared to exit the ring, Pacquiao assured him that they are still friends and that they had a good fight. Hatton responded that it was fine by him. This was only minutes after he had awakened from an unconsciousness he had experienced as a result of a concussive punch. In the hospital where he was rushed, Hatton consoled himself for having lost two fights to the two greatest fighters of his generation.
What's next for Pacquiao? Fans are clamoring for a fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Freddie Roach feels that this is the most important bout that Manny should fight in. Although there are many potential road blocks in the way of this mega fight, boxing pundits believe that it has to happen, one way or the other.
This means that Floyd has to first take care of Juan Carlos Marquez in their July 19 bout, his first fight after being away from boxing for 18 months as a result of a self-imposed semi-retirement. Wrangling and grandstanding over money shares will have to be flushed down.
However the money split is arranged between the two greatest fighters of this decade, perhaps including the last century, it will become the fight for the ages.