Saturday, April 25, 2009

A piece from Shawn O'Donnell -- the smartest, most insightful one so far in a sea of boxing analyst poseurs, on the coming Pacquiao-Hatton superfight. Whether I agree with his conclusions or not is immaterial. Enjoy...

April 23, 2009

On May 3rd Ricky Hatton will be searching for something very valuable : a chance at redemption. It wasn't long ago when Hatton unceremoniously unseated the great Kostya Tszyu in spectacular fashion. Since that night Hatton has had trouble living up to that moment in the sun. His performances have been anything but definitive, oscillating between wrestling matches and mediocre boxing exhibitions. All of the weaknesses he displayed in those fights came to the surface when he eventually fought Floyd Mayweather Junior. Floyd proved that being more willful than your opponent does not necessarily guarantee a victory.. Mayweather tied up, smothered and taught Hatton a boxing lesson of which no fighter could do before. Hatton had previously been able to use his will and desire to overcome any challenge, but against Mayweather, willfulness turned into a liability Beneath the veneer of defeat Hatton searched for answers, and deep down realized that he had to change. His conditioning, tenacity and heart were second to none, but one aspect of his style was preventing him from attaining the pound-for- pound best status:mindfulness.

Hatton is what is known as an energy fighter; a fighter that is hard to beat because of perpetual motion and relentlessness. Energy fighters are shooting stars that are young, powerful, quick and dynamic. However this style is a young man's game and is only sustainable for a brief period. Energy and work rate is the foremost arsenal that these fighters utilize and it often comes at the expense of boxing skills and ring savvy. Hatton, who is thirty, is being forced to confront this reality. He has survived the storms of combat, but survival came with a heavy price. He has struggled with weight and has shown signs of slipping in his last few fights. Seeing that things were not the same anymore, Hatton decided to approach fighting in a different way and hired trainer Floyd Mayweather.

Mayweather would introduce aspects of mindfulness, which is the awareness of where you are and what you are doing at all times. Although the Paulie Malanaggi fight did not show any noticeable changes in his style, Hatton did acquire a significant and dominant victory. It takes time for deeper learning to show, especially when your style has emerged out of instinctive abilities. To go against convention is difficult, but it pays dividends in the end. With time and patience things do change, but very slowly. With Mayweather at the helm, Hatton appears to be training more defensively, and approaching the game with an enlightened awareness of what he must do to win. The cockiness, and the invincibility were washed away with the “Pretty Boy” loss and what remains are the haunting vestiges of being caught in the act of willfulness. No longer can Hatton afford the bold and reckless advances that he displayed in previous fights. This fight , more than any fight before, presents a turning point for Hatton. It is a fight that can cement his status as a legend.

Manny Pacquiao, Hatton's opponent, is a fighter that is like no other. He is a physical marvel with conditioning , heart and determination that are beyond description . Pacquiao is the ultimate energy fighter, showing a super-human quality to put his foot on the gas time after time during a fight. Unlike Hatton, Pacquiao tempers his bursts of energy with precise positioning and timing, mixed with boxing (these were the type of skills that Mayweather used to defeat Hatton). Although Pacquiao's style bears little semblance to Mayweather, he has many believing that this fight will be an easy victory. Pacquiao looms large in boxing circles largely due to his impressive stoppage of Oscar De La Hoya. This conquest has somewhat of a hollow resonance because De La Hoya came to the ring that night as an apparition of his former self. De La Hoya's skills and timing departed from him long before he stepped in the ring that night. For those utilizing this fight to forecast Manny's success against bigger foes think again. Many points of interest must be considered.

Over the past few years Pacquiao has mainly fought fighters that were boxers and movers. He has not faced a crowding, pressure fighter for a long time. The physical pressure that Hatton will inflict on Pacquiao will be much different than he has encountered before. Pressure disrupts fighters and forces them to make mistakes. If you don't believe me, watch Pacquiao-Marquez 2 and Morales-Pacquiao 1. Marquez and Morales put all kinds of pressure on Pacquiao, and by doing so, kept him off balance and were able to give Pacquiao competitive fights. If Marquez and Morales were able to perform this way with pressure, imagine what the much physically stronger and aggressive Hatton will do. Both Pacquiao and Hatton have a similar weakness in that they do not fight well when they are stood up and forced backwards. For Pacquiao, we saw this in the Morales fight, and for Hatton this was evident against Mayweather. Pacquiao does not tie people up and nullify their punches through positioning and mauling like Mayweather did against Hatton.

Despite Pacquiao's best efforts to maintain his distance, he will be forced to engage in wrestling and inside fighting. This is Hatton's territory and a place where Pacquiao's will be at a substantial disadvantage. The physical exertion and the body attacks on Pacquiao will wear him down. Pacquiao is a fighter that is most effective when he is active from a distance using straight punches, in and out flurries and quick directional changes to disorient his opponents. Hatton has faced a slower, but heavier handed version of this type of fighter before. His name was Kostya Tszyu. Hatton took away Tszyu's advantages by crowding him and forcing him into an inside game, which is something Pacquiao will be inevitably forced to confront. Will he have enough strength to deal with this type of fight? Keep in mind that one of Pacquiao's defeats was a knockout from a body punch. Also, will Pacquiao's punch have enough power to keep Hatton at bay? After his encounter with Pacquiao , De La Hoya went on to state that Manny's punches did not carry that much sting at welterweight. Pacquiao's power is still an unknown factor and will only be evident at fight time.

And for those that propose that southpaw's have historically given Hatton problems think carefully. Examine Hatton's fights with Juan Urango and Luis Collazo; Hatton was given difficulties in these fights due to the physical strength of these fighters. Pacquiao does not harbor the same physical attributes of these fighters, nor does he impose his physical strength to overwhelm fighters either. What danger that he does possess is his speed and relentless attack. This is the single most important factor that Hatton will have to confront. He must have a plan to deal with the quick attacks, side to side movements and swift directional changes.

The stance of both fighters will be also be significant in this fight because if ever there was a fight that could create an opportunity for cuts, it is this one. With Pacquiao in a southpaw stance and Hatton fighting in a conventional style, they will be competing for the same avenues of punching. This will increase the possibility of entanglements and awkward collisions. What adds to the mix is that Hatton is a pursuer and Pacquiao fights darting in and out. Both fighters may mis-time their attacks, resulting in a fight altering head butt. My guess is that judging by Hatton's high cheek bones, and pronounced brow, he will be the one to suffer if this incident does indeed come to pass.

When I talked to Freddie Roach on the phone prior to the start of the British press tour, I told him that I thought that this fight would be an easy victory for Manny. Roach went on to assure me that this fight would be much more dangerous fight than most people anticipate. But he also stated that they would be victorious as usual. That conversation made me stop and think about the outcome of the fight. It is the reason why I delayed writing this article. After I began thinking about the fight in more detail, I saw significant signs that Hatton could win this fight. I state this cautiously, with a simple caveat.

If Hatton is to win this fight he must pay careful attention to his diet. If he compromises essential dietary fats, he will come in too lean and emaciated to win the fight. Hatton historically has ballooned up between fights and condensed himself down to make fight weight. In recent times he has paid more attention to what he consumes, but he is at the age where the body begins to settle and yearns for a comfortable weight. By shedding down to an unnatural weight he will make compromises that will effect his strength and performance. More importantly, if Hatton resorts to a diet that is high in protein and low in carbohydrates and fat, it will effect the lipids and fats in his skin. This type of diet results in a leaner body, but is also causes the skin to be thinner, drier and more susceptible to cuts and abrasion.

Hatton looked almost skeletal the night he stepped into the ring with Paulie Malanaggi. His body was lean ,but his face looked strained with sunken cheek bones. Although Hatton did not take much punishment during the fight, his face told a different story. Around his eyes , he was particularly bruised and marked. If he comes into the ring like that against Pacquiao it will be a significant detriment. Pacquiao will attack with a frequency and relentlessness that will mark and cut up Hatton. And as the fight progresses, he will be able to wear Hatton down. Hatton will be forced to take chances that he normally wouldn't, due to his impaired vision. Eventually this would lead to a stoppage which probably would occur in the eighth , or ninth round. Several weeks before the fight , Hatton is weighing around one hundred fifty pounds, his face looks full and buoyant, but he has ten pounds to lose still. It is this weight loss over the next while that will tell the story of the fight. If he loses the weight rapidly, with dietary sacrifices, he indeed will pay the price. This will effect the integrity of his physical strength, and skin, and will result in a stoppage. Despite this tale of caution, I think that Pacquiao has even greater concerns to address.

Pacquiao has returned to the same point he was at prior to facing Erik Morales. His move up in weight resulted in some awkward and uncomfortable moments during his inaugural fight at 130 pounds.. Morales' size, strength and aggression kept Pacquiao moving backwards in that first fight.. I see this fight presenting the same difficulties for Pacquiao. His survival will depend on how he can adjust to the physical differences of existing at the 140 pound weight limit. This may take a fight , or two to work out. The weight is not the only adjustment that Pacquiao has to contend with. Since Pacquiao's magnificent win over De La Hoya, his status as a sports icon has grown to an even greater level. With that kind of success comes the trappings of luxury and distractions. Will this be enough to take away from Pacquiao's focus and drive during training? Pacquiao is a pop culture icon, that spends significant time each day dealing with fans; while Ricky Hatton toils in relative obscurity, far from the distractions and comforts of home. This factor may be enough to tip the fight in Hatton's favor.

From the outset of the fight, it is critical that Hatton imposes his physical strength and not let up. If he lets up, Pacquiao will fill in the gaps of inactivity with quick combinations. And as the fight deepens, and if Hatton slows, Pacquiao will pick up the intensity of his offensive bursts. With this consideration in mind, Pacquiao will pull away and possibly be a decisive winner. But if all goes according to plan, Hatton will use a mixture of pressure and mindful caution. The fight will be exciting from stem to stern. It will have the ebb and flow that has characterized many great battles. I believe that Hatton in the end will win by the slimmest of margins, but it will be a fight with no winner, or loser. The fight itself will transcend that verdict. No effort, not an once of sweat , nor a drop of blood will be held in reluctance. It will be a fight where we will savor the bravery, excitement and the noble pursuit of victory. #

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