1000 Fights: Pacquiao-Hatton

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

By Oliver Goldstein

This Saturday, HBO Boxing airs its 1,000th fight. To commemorate the occasion, HBO Boxing Insiders selected their favorite fights from the HBO catalog and wrote about them.

May 2, 2009

It’s quite something to go back and watch the HBO broadcast of Manny Pacquiao’s 2009 dismantling of Ricky Hatton. For a fight that is so much a part of this generation’s psyche, that May 2nd night looks curiously out-of-focus today, near and yet far, like an overexposed photograph. This was a time before Pacquiao and Mayweather were inextricably linked to one another, when Freddie Roach and Alex Ariza were still partners, when Floyd Mayweather Sr. trained Ricky Hatton, and when the late Emanuel Steward still sat ringside with Jim Lampley and Larry Merchant. With Oscar de la Hoya then newly retired, it was the start of an era now almost finished.

More: HBO Boxing Insiders Pick from 1000 Fights

These things are forgotten, of course, or at least tilted sidewise by the single event that mattered that night. Down twice in the first, Hatton had continued to charge like a dizzy bull through the second, rearing into Pacquiao’s range with his chin up high and hands askew. With 20 seconds to go, his face puffy and red, Hatton followed Pacquiao clockwise, took a jab, reset, took a swift combination, and reset again, before the punch that had his name on it all night crashed him suddenly to the canvas, where his head bounced back with such force that his arms involuntarily followed after, flung back, before settling lax at his sides, unmoving, undone.

The moment itself is betrayed by writing, just as it is betrayed by instant replays, and betrayed by YouTube. As the suddenness of the knockout is replayed a thousand times, and replayed a thousand more, now seen from this angle, now that, that same suddenness itself recedes further into a locked past: Pacquiao’s knockout of Hatton is a fact robbed of its sensation.

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

And yet it’s also the reason you keep watching, the reason you go to the fights, or catch them on television: because there’s nothing like that feeling when you know instinctively what’s happened, that Ricky Hatton has been divorced from his consciousness in the craziest knockout in years, without yet being able to assimilate such information: there he is, there, and Kenny Bayless is waving his hand and people are storming the ring and all the vain hopes you had of him getting up, of the fight continuing, all the hopes before the first bell, when Hatton, usually a bundle of nervous energy, shifting about on his feet like a kid on a Pogo stick, had stood taut with fear, his skin stretched out across his body in a gesture to the end still to come, all the hopes between first and second round, when you might have thought he was recovering, but when in fact he had turned away from Floyd Mayweather Sr, confused and hurt, and listened instead to his chief second, Lee Beard — all those hopes are gone. It’s 6 in the morning in London and Manny Pacquiao has knocked out Ricky Hatton in Vegas. Try going to sleep now.

Boxing does mostly messy endings, whether in fights or careers, and true to that fact Ricky Hatton returned to be stopped once again in 2012. It’s easy to understand why he did so, the Pacquiao knockout being the sort that haunts an entire career, re-coloring all the events that preceded it, and becoming in turn the single highlight that a lifetime is known by. But as a specific moment, it remains for me the most solemn, most shockingly definitive, the most statuary, to paraphrase Frank O’Hara. Manny Pacquiao knocked out Ricky Hatton. Try sleeping now.