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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bernard Fernandez: Pacquiao-Hatton: A matchup with global appeal

THERE LIKELY won't be anyone chanting "U-S-A! U-S-A!" in America's living rooms or in the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas during Saturday night's pay-per-view matchup of junior welterweights Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton.

Welcome to professional boxing's new global reality, in which these United States are becoming a nice place for the sport's bigger names to visit, but less frequently is their country of origin.

Nonetheless, the arena will be filled to capacity and, if projections are met, this 12-round pairing of Pacquiao (48-3-2, 36 KOs), a Filipino, and Hatton (45-1, 32 KOs), an Englishman, will hit the 1 million-buy mark in the United States. That surely would qualify as a grand slam in a post-Oscar De La Hoya landscape in which the international economy is something less than robust.

De La Hoya's recent retirement as an active boxer was not unexpected, given the diminishing returns of his career in recent years. But even in decline he was truly the "Golden Boy," with his every PPV appearance a veritable license to print money. De La Hoya's May 5, 2007, bout with Floyd Mayweather Jr., which Mayweather won by split decision, is No. 1 all-time with 2.4 million buys.

"He was the ATM of boxing," boxing historian Bert Randolph Sugar said of De La Hoya, noting that the East Los Angeles native's likely final bout, an eight-round beatdown by Pacquiao on Dec. 6, did a very healthy 1.25 million buys even though the now-36-year-old Oscar had lost three of his previous six fights.

Hatton probably is best known on these shores for his only defeat, by 10th-round technical knockout to Mayweather on Dec. 8, 2007, but he is, like Pacquiao, an action fighter who delivers lots of bang for the buck, or the pound sterling. Few British fighters ever have been as popular in the UK as is Hatton, and his willingness to cross the pond signals his eagerness to expand his base.

"I was supposed to be this overhyped, overprotected guy who only wanted to stay in Manchester [England]," Hatton said. "It would have been very easy to stay in the safety zone of my hometown. Everyone should come to you when you're No. 1 in your division, but I wanted to prove to critics I didn't need to stay in my comfort zone."

Whoever wins this war of willing 140-pounders - "Manny goes for the knockout; I go for the knockout," Hatton pronounced - will emerge as an even more appealing global attraction, which is good and even necessary given the dearth of American fighters who can make even a semi-valid case for superstardom.

It isn't just the heavyweight division, the upper tier of which is dominated by Eastern Europeans. Take De La Hoya out of the mix and boxing's immediate future largely is in the clenched fists of foreign guys like Pacquiao, Hatton and the Ukraine's

Klitschko brothers, Wladimir and Vitali, who need to have their passports stamped to ply their trade in a nation whose pugilistic affections for the most part are usually reserved for native sons.

With a live gate of $9 million already assured, and a relatively reasonable PPV price of $49.95 (down from a $54.95 sticker price for De La Hoya-Pacquiao), it wouldn't be a shock for Pacquiao-Hatton to crack the increasingly exclusive seven-figure buy club. My guess is that it surpasses the 915,000 buys for Mayweather-Hatton and falls short of Oscar-Manny.

But if the licks are traded hard and fast, as I expect they will be, American fans without Old Glory to wave will come back for more because an adopted hero is better than none at all.

Never say never

Even Rogers Mtagwa's biggest fan - that would be his promoter, J Russell Peltz - isn't about to declare the never-say-die scrapper from South Philadelphia by way of his native Tanzania as the world's best super bantamweight.

But Mtagwa (25-12-2, 18 KOs) is or should be on everyone's short list of fighters guaranteed to always give spectators their very best effort, which in Mtagwa's case often involves coming from behind to score spectacular stoppages.

In case you didn't see it, and more than likely you didn't, Mtagwa's 10th-round knockout of Tomas Villa on Nov. 7 in Tucson, Ariz., was one of the rip-roaringest rallies of last year, or any year. That it wasn't one of the five official nominees for Fight of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America probably is attributable to low Nielsen ratings for the Telefutura telecast.

"It's one of the 10 greatest fights I ever saw in person," Peltz said of the momentum-shifting battle royale, in which Mtagwa was down and on the verge of being stopped himself in Round 9 before surging back.

Friday night, at the Blue Horizon, it will be Mtagwa against another crowd-pleaser, Mexican-born, Wilmington-based Ricardo Medina (31-33-5, 17 KOs), in the scheduled 10-round junior lightweight main event.


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