In the never knowingly underplayed world of boxing, Floyd Mayweather versus Manny Pacquiao is The Fight Of The Century.
The hype ignores the fact that neither boxer is anywhere near their prime anymore.
Mayweather, for all the bragging about unbeaten records and the evidence of his unblemished face, is a handful of years past his sell by date. Arguably the greatest boxer of all time, he manages to be one of the least likeable fighters of them all when the gloves are off.
And Pacquiao? The Philippino has been to war across too many weight divisions too many times. That’s 64 fights across 20 years and eight divisions, to be precise.
The May 2 fight is reportedly creating a re-sale market of around $100,000 a ticket to witness two greats getting it on five years too late. Fools and their money are, it would seem, still very easily parted.
At least Ricky Hatton fought both of them while they were at their best, although the same could not be said of The Hitman.
Hatton earned a special place in British boxing folklore – right up there with Barry McGuigan’s win over Eusebio Pedroza and Lloyd Honeyghan’s astonishing victory over Don Curry – when he beat Kostya Tszyu to take the Australian’s light welterweight belts in 2005.
If he hadn’t spent his career fighting on Sky, he would have been a national treasure (rather than guaranteed to sell out anywhere remotely northern) by the time the Mayweather fight came along.
But when he finally earned the right to challenge the very best, the years of binging on Guinness, junk food, cocaine even, between fights caught up with him.
In the end, the fights against Mayweather and Pacquiao almost cost him his life – not through the undoubted physical punishment he took in the ring, but the mental anguish it caused him outside.
He told the Daily Telegraph: “People used to say to me for years about the Mayweather fight and it fucked me off: ‘Losing to Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao is ok, there’s no shame in that.’
“No, no, no. I didn’t go there just because it was them and it was a big payday. I went there to fucking beat them. So, when I didn’t, it did my head in.”
“I felt I’d let people down. I look at those fights with pride now, but for so long I just thought, fucking hell, I got beaten by him, I don’t want to leave the house, it’s embarrassing. I told everyone I was going to beat them and I couldn’t.”
But there really was huge pride in the way he took the first of those fights, against Mayweather, to his opponent.
It was a great match-up – two unbeaten boxers with beautifully contrasting styles. The Englishman was the balls-out front foot hustler with one of the most sickeningly effective body punches in the sport. The American was quick and slick, a balanced and smart counter-puncher who knew when to turn it up and go on the offensive.
It was warrior against sweet scientist.
Most non-partisan observers felt that the only way Hatton would win was by overwhelming Mayweather early and finishing him before six rounds.
In the end, the game was up after three.
Hatton set to work. He was busy and aggressive and caught his man with some good lefts. But they were never more than good.
The American weathered the storm, kept himself out of harm’s way. And then he cut Hatton and took over. Completely.
As the fight wore on, he was even happy to work inside – an area normally reserved for some of Hatton’s best and most brutal assaults.
By the tenth, Mayweather was a long, long way in front.
If it had been Hollywood, a battered Hatton would have turned it all around with one perfect punch. But this was Ricky, not Rocky, and two massive hooks from Mayweather snuffed out the Hitman’s challenge for good.
Against lesser opponents, with the lead that he’d amassed, the American would have danced his way to the final bell. It was a strange and merciless compliment to Hatton that he finished the job as early as he could; a job that had been, in truth, an extended boxing lesson from Mayweather.
Hatton seemed to have learned from that lesson well enough, employing Floyd Mayweather Snr as his coach and seeing off Juan Lazcano and, impressively, Paulie Malignaggi before setting his sights on Manny Pacquiao.
The logic was sound – if you can’t beat one of the two best pound-for-pound fighters in boxing, have a crack at the other one; Manny Pacquiao – the first and only eight-division world champion who’d fought and won from flyweight all the way up to light middleweight.
And Hatton did beat Pacquiao…at darts during a promotional tour of the UK.
He then declared that: “Manny fights the same way all the time. He’s effective at what he does but he’s not a versatile fighter”.
In truth, the same could have been said of Hatton and, as it transpired, Pacquaio needed to show no versatility at all.
He started strongly and was home in time for tea. Hatton was downed twice in the first and knocked out in the second.
It was a brutal exposure of the effect his lifestyle outside the ring had on Hatton inside it. Pacquaio was an all-time great. Hatton’s yo-yo weight issues and the 46 fights he’d had in 12 long years left him ill-equipped to challenge such greatness.
Hatton retired. Rightly. He returned, inadvisably. And yet he clearly needed another fight to wash away the shame he felt over his destruction by Pacquiao.
His final loss, to Vyacheslav Senchenko (another world champion, if in nowhere close to the same league as Mayweather or Pacquiao) was bitter sweet. He went down with in the ninth to, of all things, a body punch.
But he hadn’t been schooled in the tenth or destroyed inside six minutes. Instead, he’d had been found out for the final time, having boxed with heart and honour.
The crowd cheered him from the ring and he talked more of pride than desolation when it was all done.
“I needed one more fight to see if I had still got it – and I haven’t. I found out tonight it isn’t there no more.”
48 fights, 45 wins, three defeats was always more than enough for a British boxer who used what he had to devastating effect and was only found wanting when he faced the very, very best.
The shame in all of it is that the very best will face each other on May 2 so far removed from what they used to be. If only they’d shown the pride and courage of a Hatton and put everything on the line when it really mattered.
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