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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hatton and the pound-for-pound crown: Does it fit?

Ricky Hatton talked about it before his fight against and loss to then-pound-for-pound ruler Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2007. He's talking about it now, as we are right around 72 hours away from Hatton and current P4P champ Manny Pacquiao taking to the squared circle to settle their business.

Hatton, who has been the lineal champion at 140 pounds since beating Kostya Tszyu in 2005 and also has won a debated alphabet title at 147 pounds, wants to be known as boxing's best. The man at the top of the pound-for-pound ranks. The king of kings.

Some people go to great lengths in attempting to describe what "pound-for-pound" is supposed to mean, but all it was ever really meant to tell folks was who was the best fighter in the world, regardless of weight. It's not about how many weight classes you can succeed in -- just who "the man" really is, regardless of weight. It has often been said that Sugar Ray Robinson, the great middleweight and welterweight champion often recognized as boxing's pound-for-pound all-time greatest fighter, was the man for whom the tag was created. All it meant was that Ray was the best.

I've said a few times in passing that just because Hatton thinks that beating Pacquiao would make him the best in the sport, it doesn't really mean it's true. Pacquiao's title as P4P king is not something "real" -- it has been assigned by the vast majority of fans, boxing journalists, and those within the sport. Pacquiao is recognized as the best, a distinction he has earned.

But now that we get close to fight night, something does occur to me: If Ricky Hatton beats Manny Pacquiao convincingly, knocks him out or dominates him (unlikely as anyone thinks either result to be), does he have a great case to take over that spot?

The more I think about it, yes, he does. He would be the first man to get a win over Pacquiao since Erik Morales in 2005. Since then, Pacquiao has twice stopped Morales, smoked Marco Antonio Barrera, beaten Juan Manuel Marquez in one of the decade's great fights, retired Oscar de la Hoya, and destroyed credible if not great foes in David Diaz, Oscar Larios, Hector Velazquez and Jorge Solis. Since that loss to Morales, he's really only even been so much as tested by Marquez and Morales (in their second fight). Everyone else he has creamed as he's improved and gotten better and better, seemingly by the fight.

You'd also have to look over Hatton's record. There are good wins there, and the win over Tszyu has been discredited to an absurd degree by many, in my opinion. Kostya was not the washed-up old man some have made him out to be, in one of those boxing legends that gains momentum and just becomes accepted as fact when really it has developed into near-folklore, like the night Barrera made Hamed miss every punch he threw and beat him every moment of the bout. Juan Urango, Paulie Malignaggi, Jose Luis Castillo, Luis Collazo, Carlos Maussa, Michael Stewart, Carlos Vilches, Vince Phillips, etc. -- sure, not the most glamorous list of victims ever, but good fighters all of them.

His record right now also reveals one other thing: Who's he ever lost to? Mayweather, and that's it. Yeah, it was pretty convincing, but a big win for Hatton over Pacquiao makes two things happen: It makes Ricky look better, and it makes Floyd look even better.

The idea that Pacquiao is so far out of his weight class doesn't strike me as important anymore. I was shocked at how fit, lean, and strong he looked at 147 pounds. If there was an ounce of fat on him that night you'd have never known it. At 140, he's actually got a bigger reach than Ricky and is all of an inch shorter. I've already said it once, and I'm glad more people are starting to say it here and elsewhere, but Ricky doesn't have any big physical advantage in this fight. He appears to be the stronger man because he fights (historically, anyway) in a manner befitting a bull in a china shop. He's a rugged fighter who (historically, anyway) fights from his ass up to his shoulders.

But is he really a bigger puncher? No. Is he a bigger man? Not really. Hatton walks around (historically, anyway) between 170 and 180 pounds, but that's never been healthy weight by boxer standards. Pacquiao walks around at 155 pounds or so, supposedly, because he takes better care of himself in between fights.

Physically, I really feel the fight is even. Had Hatton been the sort of fitness freak that many fighters are, he probably could've made featherweight. Instead he's fought at 140 his entire career, save for two fights at 147.

So there's no pure, base physical advantage or disadvantage in my mind. Ricky's only loss came to one of the generation's greats, and now he's got the guts to be a real champion, put his money and his legacy where his heart lies, and fight another pound-for-pound top dog.

If Ricky Hatton is able to shock a lot of people and turn in some kind of dominant, clear-cut win performance on Saturday night, he's got his case as boxing's current king.

Other contenders, should Hatton beat Manny:

* Juan Manuel Marquez, the lightweight world champion who is rumored to be stepping up to a catchweight below 145 pounds for a fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr., who would also come back into the conversation should he return and beat Marquez.
* 44-year old light heavyweight Bernard Hopkins, though I would hesitate to put him in the top spot simply because he's a once a year fighter that may or may not take on a top opponent sometime soon. Had a deal been reached for Adamek-Hopkins, he's even more in the mix than he already is.
* Welterweight titlist Shane Mosley, who rocketed back up the ranks when he beat the plaster out of Antonio Margarito in January. Sadly, Mosley's career is essentially on hold for the time being as he waits for an opponent. He wanted Mayweather, but he's not going to get him.
* Paul Williams -- he's gotten that good. In the last 10 months he has legit wins at 147 (Carlos Quintana), 154 (Verno Phillips) and 160 (Winky Wright). At 27, Williams is by far the youngest fighter in the running.

This will all only really matter if Hatton can deliver that W over Manny, though. If he doesn't but looks great in a loss, he might climb on the Bad Left Hook P4P list (he's No. 13 right now) anyway. He's also ranked No. 8 by Ring Magazine and No. 12 by Dan Rafael of

What's really important, though, more than the P4P talk or anything else, is this: These two guys are among the best in the world, and they're going to go at it. They're not dancers, they're not runners, they're not boring. They're fighters. They're fighters who are coming to fight, and both of them are going into what will be one of the biggest tests of their careers.


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