Focused Pacquiao not blinded by star status
LAS VEGAS - The last time Manny Pacquiao displayed his many talents he stopped Oscar De La Hoya in a fight no one thought he could win. The beating he administered that night not only sent De La Hoya into retirement, but cemented Pacquiao's status as boxing's newest star.
Pacquiao returns to the ring tonight much the same fighter he was five months ago, taking on Ricky Hatton in a lucrative 140-pound fight matching two guys who love to brawl. The big difference now, though, is that everybody expects him to win.
One big fight can create a lot of expectation, and the biggest task for Pacquiao may be managing them in the ring.
His trainer isn't worried. Pacquiao, says Freddie Roach, is more focused than ever.
"The win over Oscar just gave him more confidence," Roach said. "So many people said he couldn't do it but he did."
Once again, Pacquiao will be facing a fighter who is bigger than him as he fights for only the third time above 130 pounds. But oddsmakers who saw him dismantle an even bigger De La Hoya make him a 2-1 favorite to beat the once-beaten Hatton and win a title in his sixth weight class since turning pro.
Coming off a rugged training camp that Pacquiao believes was his best ever, he's not about to argue the point.
"I believe that I am improving and everybody knows and can see that by my last few performances," Pacquiao said.
Those last few performances have made Pacquiao (48-3-2, 36 KOs) a fighter in demand in a sport desperate for stars. He's such a hero in his native Philippines that he talks about one day running for president there.
He'll make $12 million to square off for a minor title (International Boxing Organization light welterweight) against Hatton, who will earn $8 million in a fight that sold out the MGM Grand hotel's arena and will be televised on HBO pay-per-view with the main event beginning about 11:30 p.m.
Hatton, who will be backed by his usual throng of singing and chanting English fans, is coming off a knockout win over Paulie Malignaggi that seemed to help him regain any confidence lost in the only loss of his career, a 10th-round stoppage in December 2007 at the hands of Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Though both fighters love to mix it up, they go about it in different ways. Hatton (45-1, 32 KOs) tends to throw wide punches while moving constantly forward and trying to smother his opponent, while Pacquiao fights down the middle with hands held high from his southpaw stance.
Both say they plan to box more in this bout, but both have been known to start trading punches when they get hit.