Can you imagine Manny Pacquiao fighting Ricky Hatton or Oscar De La Hoya? Crazy? Well then call Pacquiao crazy like a fox. He's thinking big and preparing to follow the yellow brick road to perhaps more fame -- and certainly more fortune.
When Pacquiao's promoter, Bob Arum, first went on record late last year saying it is entirely possible that his 130-pound boxer might fight either Hatton or De La Hoya or both this year, more than a few people dismissed the notion as just talk.
But Arum kept saying it, and when both De La Hoya and Hatton came out and indicated they would consider facing Pacquiao, it created quite a buzz. While the axiom "styles make fights" is often true, it is also good to remember what the late great trainer Cus D'Amato said when asked what professional boxing was all about: "It's about putting asses in the seats." Buzz can do that.
"As an attraction, Pacquiao vs. Hatton and/or Oscar would be a pretty big deal," said Larry Merchant, the HBO commentator. "Because of Pacquiao's age (29), and his pound-for-pound power, you couldn't dismiss him. He might not be successful, but he'll make a lot of money and exciting fights."
If Pacquiao fights either of those two, the plan evidently is for the junior lightweight to check in first at a halfway house called the lightweight division, where fights with champions David Diaz and Juan Diaz have been seriously discussed. If Pacquiao is successful in those fights, the buzz would only increase.
"If Pacquiao beats Marquez (March 15), and then beats David Diaz and Juan Diaz, who wouldn't want to see him fight Hatton or Oscar?" Merchant said.
And while the boys hit harder at lightweight and are as fast as 130-pounders, Merchant thinks Pacquiao could conceivably mop up the division.
"Pacquiao is a freak in terms of his punching power," Merchant said. "Pound for pound, Pacquiao is the hardest puncher in boxing, and when you can hit like that it sometimes makes up for shortcomings. At 135, Pacquiao will probably still punch harder than anybody in that weight class."
Many fans apparently agree with Merchant. In a recent poll on HBO's boxing website, readers were asked who they thought was the hardest puncher in boxing. The choices were heavyweights Samuel Peter and Wladimir Klitschko, middleweight Kelly Pavlik, welterweight Miguel Cotto and Pacquiao. Over 18,000 voted, and this is what the poll concluded:
Peter (7 pct.), Pavlik (15 pct.), Cotto (21 pct.), Klitschko (28 pct.) and Pacquiao (29 pct.)
In fighting significantly bigger men, Pacquiao, who began his career as a flyweight (112 pounds), would have more than a little history on his side. There have been numerous instances of smaller men moving way up in weight and successfully challenging a much bigger champion. The most recent example is Roy Jones Jr., who began his career as a junior middleweight in 1989, and then 14 years later challenged and defeated heavyweight champ John Ruiz, while giving away three inches and 33 pounds.
Top Rank's vice president and matchmaker Bruce Trampler, who promotes Pacquiao, doesn't think the difference in weight is all that big of an obstacle.
"Would you say Miguel Cotto's skills changed when he moved to 147 (from 140)?" Trampler said. "No. He was better able to fight his fight when he went to welterweight, and it may be that Manny will perform better if he doesn't strain himself making 130."
But Hatton walks around at around 180 pounds and boils down to 140, and Oscar has fought as high as 160 and has been campaigning at 154. Isn't that a heavy pill to swallow, Bruce?
"Stop with the weight, will you?" Trampler said. "Cotto isn't tall (5'7"). Floyd (Mayweather Jr.) is only an inch and a half taller than Manny (5'6 1/2"). Each boxer has his own body, and his own physiology is different than the next man's. Alexis Arguello (Hall of Famer) kept moving up from bantamweight (118) to super lightweight (140), and would have done well had it not been Aaron Pryor (Hall of Famer) waiting for him at 140 (Pryor beat him twice). Often it depends on who you have to fight when you move up."
Asked how Pacquiao would do against Hatton and De La Hoya, Merchant had a surprising answer.
"On the basis of age, Pacquiao's chances might be better against Oscar (35)," Merchant said. "Hatton is the same age as Pacquiao (29). Pacquiao and Oscar would appear to be a mismatch, especially in height (De La Hoya is 5'10 1/2"), but Oscar is six years older, and would be fighting a big puncher, a phenomenon still in his prime."
Arum in a recent interview said pretty much the same thing: "Manny Pacquiao brings a lot to the table against Oscar," Arum said. "He has the speed, a good punch, he takes a good punch. He may be outsized by De La Hoya, but remember, when he fought Barrera (last October) he went into the ring weighing 144 pounds (after weighing in at 130). So it is not out of the question. Certainly not."
While Pacquiao has the pressure and expectation of the entire Filipino nation weighing on him, losing to either Hatton or De La Hoya wouldn't necessarily be seen as a career setback.
"The point here is Pacquiao would fight Hatton or Oscar for a huge purse, and it would be a no-lose situation," Merchant said. "If he loses to bigger men, so what?"
Should either fight actually go down, don't expect to see Pacquiao bulk up and turn into the Incredible Hulk. Speed is the first thing to go when a smaller fighter puts on a lot of extra muscle. "I think if he would fight in the mid 130s when he goes up in weight, he wouldn't lose any speed," Merchant said.
Hatton is a perfect example of the perils of putting on more weight. When Hatton first moved up to welterweight to fight Luis Collazo in 2006, he bulked up and weighed in at the limit of 147 before entering the ring at 154. Although Hatton won, he later blamed what was a less than stellar performance on adding the weight, and vowed the next time he fought at welterweight, he would not follow the same script.
When Hatton fought welterweight champ Mayweather last December, he weighed in under the limit at 145. And while he lost the fight via knockout, Hatton fought more like the 140-pound version of himself.
Perhaps the most famous example of a fighter staying at his best weight despite taking on a bigger man is the great Henry Armstrong, who in 1938 weighed in at just 133 pounds when he beat welterweight champion Barney Ross. That victory made Armstrong the only man in history to own three world titles at the same time (he also was featherweight and lightweight champ). Armstrong then defended his welterweight title eight straight times, while never weighing more than 135 pounds.
Although Hatton fought the bigger Mayweather mainly for prestige (and also got paid quite nicely), Trampler says that would not be the driving force behind Pacquiao taking on the Brit or De La Hoya.
"Forget boosting careers," Trampler said. "It's all about money. Floyd wanted to fight Oscar and Hatton for the Benjamins, as opposed to Margarito or Cotto for good, but not great purses. Everyone wants to fight an Ali, De La Hoya, Hatton, Leonard and a Pacquaio because they can get paid as opponents. Juan Diaz or (Joel) Casamayor can't make real money unless they fight an attraction. Middleweights who couldn't get arrested are now lining up to fight Kelly Pavlik."
Merchant also says money is the reason why so many boxers call out De La Hoya and Pacquiao.
"With Oscar it is strictly about money for the other fighters. With Manny, it is also about money in the sense that he can generate the most money of anybody in the lower weight divisions. Plus, if you beat him, or put on a good showing, it will get you many other fights," Merchant said.
Pacquiao fighting Hatton or De La Hoya would put plenty of asses in the seats and make everyone involved a great deal of money, which is why you shouldn't be surprised this year to see the Filipino taking on the big boys.