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Friday, April 24, 2009

Hatton’s fighting chance against Pacquiao

Lem Banker, the dean of professional sports betting in Las Vegas, has witnessed just about every major boxing match since the middle of the last century.

He has made money wagering on many of them.

It stands to reason Banker has an informed take on the long-anticipated Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton fight May 2 at the MGM Grand.

In fact, whenever Banker tells me he has taken a position on a fight, I’m reminded of the great scene in “Lost in America” in which Albert Brooks explains to Garry Marshall that his ideas should command respect because, after all, he was a highly paid advertising executive for a prestigious agency. (These are professional opinions you’re getting!)

It turns out Banker, no stranger to bucking popular opinion in the betting marketplace, does not necessarily subscribe to the ballyhoo that places Pacquiao firmly atop the consensus rankings of the most talented boxers in the sport.

Banker likes Hatton, the scrappy Englishman who has used an aggressive style in the ring to dominate the sport’s 140-pound division for years, as a betting underdog of about plus 225 (risk $1 to net $2.25).

“I think Hatton has a very good shot to win this fight,” Banker said.

Banker said he has been impressed by the work done by Hatton’s trainer, Floyd Mayweather Sr., and no one — least of all Mayweather – would deny that Mayweather is one of the best in the business.

Another component of Banker’s reasoning, however, might surprise fight fans who have been closely following the buildup to the May 2 showdown. Banker thinks Hatton, with his larger frame, could bully Pacquiao in the ring, using rough-and-tumble tactics to physically push Pacquiao around. Hatton might even mix in an elbow or two in his effort to frustrate Pacquiao, Banker speculated.

This line of thinking runs counter to the shiny new image Hatton has been selling of himself as a guy who rejected his old one-dimensional brawling style only to emerge as a sort of reincarnation of Willie Pep.

“If you were to watch tapes of Ricky Hatton three, four, five fights ago, I’d have been easy to beat,” Hatton said. “I feel I’m a lot more difficult to beat now and I hope to show that.”

Mayweather as well has been on board with this supposed extreme makeover, Ricky Hatton edition.

“Defense wins fights,” Mayweather said. “The name of the game is hit and don’t get hit. That’s what I’ve been working with Ricky to do.”

Of course few boxers, with a couple of notable exceptions such as Bernard Hopkins and Jameel McCline, openly discuss their intention to push either the letter or the spirit of the Marquess of Queensberry’s code before a fight.

Hatton has allowed that he expects his power to play a role in the fight’s outcome. He’s an entirely different physical specimen compared with previous opponents of Pacquiao such as Oscar De La Hoya, David Diaz, Juan Manuel Marquez and Marco Antonio Barrera, Hatton said.

“I think size will be a big factor,” Hatton said. “De La Hoya couldn’t let punches go and was very, very slow compared with the Oscar we’re used to seeing. Diaz, I think, was a nice opponent for Manny and a comfortable win. Marquez was a very patient and safety-first fighter.

“If there’s one thing that comes to mind with Ricky Hatton, it’s that he’s all over you. He’s a handful ... I think the old Ricky Hatton is ultimately the one that’s going to win this fight. But he’s a lot more polished in other areas now.”


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