Behind the engaging smile of Manny Pacquiao is a man of steely courage. Becoming the best boxer in the world was not something that came easily, because Pacquiao had to work his way up from poverty on the streets of the Philippines and there was plenty of pain and struggle on the way. In fact, pain is something he has learnt to put himself through on a regular basis.
Pacquiao uses his training sessions not just as ways of getting fit and working on his skills and strategy — he uses them as opportunities to endure pain. The more pain he endures in training, he reasons, the less he will feel it in the ring against Ricky Hatton here on Saturday night.
One method that Pacquiao uses to toughen up is being hit by martial arts sticks. In Thailand, kick boxers use them to harden their forearms and shins, but Pacquiao uses them on his torso. “It’s a Thai method of deadening the nerves to take away pain,” Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer, said. “You’re supposed to get used to it [the pain]. They are just pieces of wood. I don’t hit him because I don’t believe in it, but he likes it. One of my guys who learnt it in Thailand does it. It goes on for 20 minutes every other day, on the arms, but mostly the stomach.”
As Pacquiao — who won his first world title at flyweight (8st) but who will face Hatton at light-welterweight (10st) — has moved up the weight divisions, he has had to answer more and more questions about whether he can take punches from bigger boxers. He leaves little to chance.
“Manny got knocked out by a body shot once at 112lb [flyweight],” Roach said. “Since that happened, he works so hard on his body, he makes sure that will never happen again. During sparring, he will put himself on the ropes, lift his arms up and say to the guys, ‘Go to work’, and just let those guys fire off at him. We also do two sets of sit-ups a day, that’s over a thousand motions.”
The confidence surrounding the 30-year-old Pacquiao remains ominous and that has been reflected in the betting here, where the Filipino has been backed down to odds-on that he will beat Hatton inside the distance.
“I’m a believer that speed kills,” Bob Arum, Pacquiao’s veteran promoter, said. “I’ve never seen such a mixture of speed and explosive punching power that Manny has. I think that carries him to victory. The sparring partners he had were top professionals and they couldn’t handle them. Manny just beat the s*** out of them. Ricky Hatton says he’s fast and he is, but his speed is just on a different level to Pacquiao.”
Las Vegas is bracing itself for another invasion of British fans, with Hatton expecting more than 15,000 to come to the city to support him. Saturday’s bout will be Hatton’s fifth in the city in less than 2½ years, but despite a drop in value of the pound against the dollar, as well as the difficult economic climate, the MGM Grand Garden Arena is sold out and venues are setting up closed-circuit screenings all along the Strip.
“When I think of how many people come over to support me, it’s incredible,” Hatton said. “I went to see Paul Williams v Winky Wright [three weeks ago] and there were just 4,000 people there. I think Vegas would have been a dull place without me. The Brits bring a party atmosphere.
“The number of fans won’t beat Floyd Mayweather Jr and there were 35,000 for that one. There were nearly 10,000 for the [Paulie] Malignaggi fight and that was just before Christmas. I think I can double that.”
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