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Friday, May 1, 2009

Manny Pacquiao must find a ruthless streak to overcome Ricky Hatton

Michael Moorer, like Manny Pacquiao, is a southpaw, albeit a good seven stones heavier and with the sort of towering sullenness found outside late-night entertainment establishments in, say, Monessen, near Pittsburgh, where he grew up. Freddie Roach brought him in recently as an assistant trainer and, while the former world heavyweight champion is strategically valuable in talking right-hand-first boxing with Pacquiao, he is also a loyal gatekeeper of "the Pacman legend".

Moorer brings a certain order to the maelstrom that swirls around Pacquiao, a man the promoter Bob Arum calls "a global phenomenon", and is fiercely protective of the world's best little fighting man.

You are not going to get an objective assessment from the hired help, obviously, but it is easy to believe Moorer when he says in that knowing manner that intelligent boxers have: "It's in his eyes. You can see it. I can see it. You might not. He's calm. He's ready. Just look in his eyes. You might see it. You might not."

When the fighters face off in centre ring at the MGM Grand tomorrow night, what Ricky Hatton will see in those dark, brown, almost-crossed eyes, set deep in a face surprisingly well preserved after 14 years of fighting, is the gaze of self-belief and contentment. While Pacquiao, like the good Catholic he is, has faith in destiny he is not such a prisoner of fate as to ignore his own part in the journey, a waif who once lived in a cardboard hut and punched and sweated all the way to an honoured place in boxing's Babylon.

The contentment comes from the knowledge that he has tried hard not to compromise himself. He is not perfect – indeed there is criticism of him at home for bringing a swag of fat cat Filipino senators and other hangers-on with him to Las Vegas – but he is learning. What mistakes he has made, he has apologised for. Mostly the 90m people spread across the islands of his homeland, where wages can be as low as $1.25 a day, adore him.

They might not agree with Arum that he will one day be president of his country (they rejected by nearly two to one at the ballot box his bid for Congress last year), but his boxing exploits transfix Filipinos from the crowded capital Manila to General Santos City, his home town.

When Aling Dionesia Pacquiao, a doll-like, dark-haired woman barely 5ft tall, was ushered into a large room inside the MGM Grand this week to take her place in the middle of a scrum of reporters, she looked up at Emmanuel Dapidran Pacquiao and saw not a fighter but a son.

"She is scared to watch it live," Pacquiao said. "To have her here, it's going to give me more inspiration to do my best and win. It's going to be one of the best times I've had in my life."

Mrs Pacquiao did not stick with the script, though. "I'm not scared," she told reporters through an interpreter. "Manny is going to go all the way."

It is her first visit to the United States and, when she arrived at the nearby ­Mandalay Bay Hotel, where he is staying, she was shocked to see he was occupying living quarters on the 60th floor that would be the size of a mansion where they grew up.

They have battled life side by side, along with Manny's two brothers, since his father left to live in the mountains when he was a young boy. They had lived on a farm but she was forced to sell fish-crackers, an Asian crispy snack, and Manny sold cigarettes.

The fighting? It came naturally to a boy with whip-like reflexes and a wild, mischievous streak to go with his humility.

The lives they lead now could hardly be more different; she has a home next to his, which is full of the usual gadgets and has a swimming pool in the shape of a boxing glove. He is married to Jinkee and they have four children, the youngest born in January and whom they have called Queen Elizabeth. Pacquiao will add $12m from this engagement to the millions he has already accumulated in a career in which he has won world titles at four weights and all the accolades on offer.

Remarkably, in a country where the wealthy are an easy target for assassins and the jealous, Pacquiao suffers few such bad vibes. When fans go to his house, they are hungry and want food or even a little money. They, too, are embraced, even if satisfying their more basic requests involves Pacquiao in a more serious and recurring engagement with the thousands who love him. Nobody is turned away, though. Everyone leaves feeling a little better, from their stomach to the soul.

What binds Pacquiao and Hatton, apart from their fighting styles, is they are rich fighters from humble roots, albeit separated by geography and circumstance, and have not lost the connection.

Pacquiao, however, seems more vulnerable to the blandishments of strangers. He has given away considerable sums to people he barely knows for reasons he hardly questions. There is something of Muhammad Ali about his generosity.

"Everyone knows what life is like in the Philippines," he says. "I'm just trying to do anything to give happiness – food, clothes – and go out to help people have a better way of life."

His mother says of Manny's core values: "It's the way he processes everything, humbly and with kindness."

Roach worries about him sometimes.

"I had to throw a lot of fans out of the gym two Saturdays ago," he said. "After the training session, we had 350 people in the parking lot. We signed autographs and that took about three hours. He loves it.

"When the movie stars started to come – Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg, Mickey Rourke, some jockeys from the race track – I kind of felt obligated to let them in. I said to Michael [Moorer]: 'He's not focusing'. He was playing, talking to his sparring partners, he was doing thedouble punch, which he does when he plays. So, that was the last day of that stuff."

Now, though, it is time to get serious.If he is not focused, Hatton will sense it.

"For me this is not a regular fight," Pacquiao said. "I consider this fight to be the toughest of my boxing career. After all, he is undefeated at 140 pounds. We have been working on different techniques [to counter Hatton's left hook]. I don't want to tell you what they are. I want to surprise you. And Ricky. There's nothing personal about this."

Roach has trained many fighters but he has stayed loyal to one, Pacquiao. Nobody knows him better.

"Manny's a compassionate guy," Roach says. "I've seen him hurt people, then lean back off them, not finish 'em, because he doesn't want to embarrass them. That's what he's told me. But, like in the fight with Oscar [De La Hoya], I said to him: 'Manny it's your job to knock this guy out. Go knock him out.'"

Of all that has been said this week, that was the hardest to believe. Pacquiao did not knock De La Hoya out but he spared nothing in sickening him into quitting on his stool. A more reliable barometer of Pacquiao's intentions could be found where Moorer directed us. And when you looked in those eyes, well, you would not want to be in that particular argument.

Source: guardian.co.uk

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