Having conquered much of the civilized world by the age of 30, legend holds that Alexander the Great looked over a map of his achievements and broke down weeping, filled with despair that “there were no more worlds to conquer.”
Manny Pacquiao, who himself turned 30 a few days ago, might find soon find himself in a similar predicament. After a historic year featuring three stellar victories across four weight classes, cemented by a merciless demolition of the sport’s poster boy, the overwhelming pound-for-pound king may have outdone himself.
While he has achieved an incredible athletic feat and the mainstream fame that boxing badly craves, the sheer audacity of his accomplishment only complicates his future.
After such a virtuoso performance, is there any room for an encore?
The only way for Pacquiao to go is, quite literally, down. Despite his apparent transcendence over petty distinctions like weight classes, there is simply no conceivable way he can face a genuine welterweight like Antonio Margarito or Paul Williams.
Nor do the lightweight and featherweight divisions offer enough big names to generate the mega-fight paydays that Pacquiao is now entitled to. While hardcore fans may salivate over a bout with Nate Campbell or Juan Manuel Marquez, the general public will not shell out Pay-Per View money to watch the world’s greatest boxer wail on (perceived) unknowns.
Based on this weekend’s news, it appears that Bob Arum has found a solution. He wisely recognizes that Pacquiao rose to the top by consistently proving the old maxim that it’s the size of the fight in the dog that counts.
While the Pac-Man may be the pound-for-pound number one, his fans have loved watching him as the perennial underdog, and so Arum has lined up the one fighter who is both popular enough to merit the requisite money, and is also just big enough to be the bigger man without making it an unfair fight.
This man is, of course, the pride of Manchester, Ricky "the Hitman" Hatton.
Since we have been mercifully spared the prospect of a Hatton-De La Hoya matchup, this has all the trappings of a genuine megafight, featuring two fighters who are both popular, exciting, and at a comparable age, weight, and experience. Each draw crowds and are as gracious and likable outside of the ring as they are vicious and unrelenting inside.
If the fight, which is tentatively scheduled for May 2, actually unfolds, then both Hatton and Pacquiao will have been excellently trained, mentally prepared, and ready to come out swinging. Both would rather go home lying on his shield rather than carrying it. This matchup of brawlers will be nasty, brutish...and short.
Because Manny Pacquiao will utterly destroy Ricky Hatton within six rounds.
This is with all due respect to Hatton, whose courage and dedication knows no limits. He will put up a far greater fight than De La Hoya, who entered the ring like a sullen teenager on his way to the principal’s office and ran away, paycheck in hand, as soon as that pretty face showed a welt. Hatton will go down like a real fighter, but go down he will.
As you’ve heard far too many times from trainers, fighters, and know-it-all writers like myself, styles make fights. Hatton has compiled his impressive record by being the stronger man in the fight, wrestling and wearing down opponents and wading inside to unleash his fierce body attack.
But this simply cannot work against the Pac-Man.
Like Mayweather, Pacquiao can use his speed to catch Hatton on the approach and still avoid being cornered, all the while hitting much, much harder than Mayweather. Despite his nickname, Hatton is no Tommy Hearns, and lacks the power to finish off opponents quickly.
Therefore, in a long fight, he cannot hope to withstand the accumulation of Pacquiao’s punches, with a defense that is far less sophisticated than De La Hoya’s. Hatton has been terrific at 140 pounds, his strength and determination more than making up for less-than-spectacular technical skills.
But against a fighter of Pacquiao’s rare skill, he will simply be overwhelmed by a combination of speed, defense and power that only seems to increase with each fight.
What then, for Pacquiao? Fans can speculate endlessly over Pacquiao prompting a Mayweather comeback, but for now, through May at least, that must be consigned to the realm of speculation.
Once the Pac-Man demolishes another top-flight opponent, he will have further solidify his reputation as a once-in-a-lifetime fighter who can jump the scales with impunity. Consequently, he cannot settle in one division or ever fight anything less than the best in each new division he chooses. Each successive win must be more spectacular than the last.
Such a phenomenon can only last so long, before he exhausts both his body and qualified opposition. Before long, Manny Pacquiao will run out of worlds to conquer. His star will burn bright, but sadly for the sport, is bound to burn fast.