This is a guest post by Fraser Coffeen.
Let's get this out of the way right from the start: yes, I am a boxing fan. Not as much as I am a kickboxing or MMA fan, but I do enjoy a good boxing match, and will tune in for the big events. And make no mistake about it - Manny Pacquiao is a Big Event. That said, I understand why some MMA fans are hesitant to get into boxing. With a glut of weight classes and champions, plus high profile fighters moving all over weight classes, the sport can seem impossibly unwieldy to follow. There's also the length of boxing matches. When a fight is a listless, one-sided affair, 12 rounds can be an awfully long time. Even if it's only 11 minutes more than an MMA title fight, when you add in the breaks and the sheer number of rounds, it can again seem daunting. That being said, when it comes to this weekend's Manny Pacquiao vs. Shane Mosley fight, one thing is clear:
You must watch Manny Pacquiao.
Pacquiao is one of the very top fighters worldwide in any combat sport. He is an amazing athlete who delivers on the promise of his fights, as Brent already pointed out. More than that, he is an incredibly skilled tactician, and anyone who is a fan of stand up fighting should appreciate the tools Pacquiao possesses. But you've probably heard this already. So instead of just telling you to love him, I'm going to help you get there, and I'm going to do that the best way I know how - by looking at him in the ring. Here, we examine a recent Pacquiao fight that should absolutely appeal to the MMA fan. It's action packed, short, and features a highlight reel ending. What's not to love? We'll take a look at the background, watch the fight, then break it down.
Manny Pacquiao vs. Ricky Hatton, May 2, 2009
When Manny Pacquiao met Ricky Hatton, both men were riding a serious wave of mainstream recognition. Pacquaio came into the fight just 6 months removed from the biggest fight of his career - a showdown with the legendary Oscar De La Hoya. Pacquiao dominated that fight, scoring an 8th round TKO victory that sent De La Hoya into retirement. More importantly, the fight transformed Pacquiao into a superstar, raking in the 2nd largest gate in boxing history and making Manny Pacquiao one of the sport's elite.
For Hatton, that recognition hadn't come with quite as much success. A highly popular and respected light welterweight in his home country of England, Hatton made the move up to welterweight and US recognition in his late 2007 bout with pound for pound king Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Hatton put on a game performance, earning the respect of fans and his opponent before finally falling in the 10th. Since the Mayweather fight, Hatton had moved back down to light welterweight and bounced back with a pair of wins.
The Pacquiao vs. Hatton showdown would take place at Hatton's preferred weight of 140 pounds. Hatton had never lost at 140, while Pacquiao would be making his 140 debut. With a win here, Pacquiao would become world champion in a 6th weight class. Only one other man had achieved this feat previously in boxing history - Oscar De La Hoya.
Before the fight, Hatton clearly laid out the battle lines: "This fat, beer-drinking Englishman is going to shock the world again." For many, Hatton embodied the spirit of boxing's everyman - the tough, under-respected, working-man's fighter who is ready to make history. On the other side, Pacquiao was the boxing prodigy - the superstar ring genius who seemingly could do no wrong and walked in the heavy, and beloved, favorite; the skilled technician moving up in weight to the bigger's man's comfort zone, leading some to question if the move was too much. As a match, it brings to mind Anderson Silva vs. Forrest Griffin at UFC 101. And by the time the match is over, it has more in common with Silva/Forrest than just the set-up.
We'll look at the fight and break it down in the full entry.
From the beginning, Hatton's strategy is clear: crowd Pacquiao and pressure him to keep the fight inside, while using his size advantage to wear Manny down. But it doesn't matter, because Pacquiao is just too good. There's so much Pac does right here that it's hard to touch on it all, but here are a few particularly key elements to watch for:
-Footwork - Just watch Pacquiao's feet the entire time to get a really good appreciation for his skill level. Throughout the fight, Manny always keeps his feet in the correct stance, whether he is moving away, or coming in. Also, look at how he is constantly light on his feet, until the moment he needs to throw a punch, at which point he digs his weight in to get the power from his legs, then pops right back to the light footed stepping to avoid any counter shots. One other aspect of his footwork is how quickly he can close the distance when he wants to. With one or two fast hops, he goes from being outside of range, to right in Hatton's face, then he's back out again just as fast.
-Head movement - This is an aspect of stand-up that many MMA fighters ignore, but is prevalent in boxing, and Manny shows why here. He uses small movements of his head and upper body to dodge punches, but he does it without wasting energy and motion. Typically, he moves his head just enough so that the punch misses, but doesn't move so far out of range that he disrupts his own offense or uses unnecessary energy.
-Hand speed - Not much else to say here except that Pacquiao punches fast. Really fast.
But the most impressive part to me is how he strings all of this together, seamlessly integrating footwork, hand speed, head movement, and all the other little things into every single moment of the fight. For a beautiful example, check out the first knockdown. Both men throw punches, but Pacquiao is faster and connects first. Then, before his own punch has even registered, he quickly ducks Hatton's shot. The ability to, in one motion, land a knockdown punch AND avoid a power shot is remarkable. The end result of all this skill? An all-time highlight reel KO, and one of the most exciting endings to a fight in Pacquiao's storied career.
Since this fight, Hatton has not stepped back in the ring, while Pacquiao has gone on to win titles in two more weight classes, making him the only man in boxing history to hold belts in 8 different classes. On Saturday, he defends the WBO Welterweight (147 lbs) title against Shane Mosley. Even if you don't think Mosley has much of a shot (and, to be fair, he doesn't), hopefully you'll tune in to see the artistry of Manny Pacquiao once again on display.