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Monday, December 29, 2008

Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton fight nears reality

Manny Pacquiao’s status as the world’s best pound-for-pound boxer is nothing compared to the level of idolatry which ‘Pac-mania’ has generated in the Philippines. Tens of thousands of people lined the streets of Manila on Thursday to hail their conquering hero after his destruction of America’s Golden Boy, Oscar De La Hoya, last weekend in Las Vegas. “You defeated the most popular boxer in the world,” President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said in an address at the Malacanang Presidential Palace. “Your discipline and courage are an inspiration to Filipinos.”

The 29-year-old southpaw, who began his career as a 7st8lb light flyweight, did not so much defeat former World Boxing Organisation middleweight (11st6lb) titleholder De La Hoya as clinically end his career. De La Hoya, 35, was exposed as a shell of the fighter who has won titles in six divisions from lightweight (9st9lb) to middleweight and Pacquiao’s brilliance has elevated him into the biggest box office star in world boxing. His eighth-round technical knockout victory wrecked De La Hoya’s plans of a superfight next May at Wembley Stadium against Ricky Hatton and the Manchester Hitman’s team must compete with former pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr, who has announced his comeback from retirement, for the first shot at the sport’s new superstar.

“Manny wants to fight the best and the Mayweather fight is the one he wants, probably at a catchweight of 143lb,” Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer, confirmed. “Mayweather says that he is going to have his father and uncle [Floyd Sr and Roger] training him and I feel that Manny can definitely deal with him. Floyd’s a great fighter but he has flaws that we can take advantage of, no doubt about it.”

Roach, who is also training Amir Khan in his Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles, is responsible for Pacquiao’s transformation from a one-dimensional puncher into the all-round boxer whose virtuosity shocked De La Hoya. He has also witnessed Pacquiao’s wild popularity in the Philippines where the boy from Bukidnon, who struggled to survive on the streets of Manila before a boxing trainer, Alberto Mang Eleng, offered him lodgings, is now almost as popular as the president.

“Manny is the man and I’m a celebrity over there just because I train the man. It’s crazy,” Roach said. “I have seen Manny give away money and food parcels to people who arrive at his home in their dozens and I’m genuinely afraid that he could end up giving away all of his money. He has a very generous spirit, he cares deeply about his country and he wants to make it better for the people. He ran for congress and got defeated only because the people want to see him fighting still – even his opponent admitted this – and one day he’ll run for president and he will probably win.”

Whenever Pacquiao fights an informal ceasefire is observed in the ongoing war between communist and Muslim rebels and the Catholic government forces. “If Manny fights, the guns will be silent,” said Lt Esteffani Cacho of the military’s Western Mindanou Command. “I know that everybody will be watching PacMan.”


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