Who Did It Better? Part 1

With just days to go before May 2, Mayweather vs Pacquiao is upon us, and as part of our coverage of this megafight, Eliott and Rafa will perform a rigorous, scientific analysis of Floyd’s and Manny’s fights against their five common opponents. To do so, they will follow the chronological order in which Mayweather faced them because, let’s face it, that’s the way the A-side of #MayPac would want it done. This week they look at the “Golden Boy”, Oscar De La Hoya, as well as Manchester’s one-and-only Ricky “Hitman” Hatton.

Oscar De La Hoya

2007-05-05: Floyd Mayweather SD Oscar De La Hoya
2008-12-06: Manny Pacquiao TKO 8 Oscar De La Hoya

RG – You could argue that if it wasn’t for Oscar De La Hoya, Mayweather vs Pacquiao would never have become the monster of a fight it is now. Both Floyd and Pacquiao entered the ring against De La Hoya as very talented guys whom the world at large was largely unaware of. By the time they stepped out of the ring after facing Oscar, they were not only considerably richer, but also new stars of boxing, their names recognized far and wide.

That being said, and despite the fact both of them defeated the Golden Boy, there’s no doubt Mayweather and Pacquiao fought very different versions of De La Hoya. Mayweather came up to junior middleweight in May of 2007 to meet an opponent who, while decidedly on the wrong side of his prime, remained a proven talent at the weight, one who had just stomped the tough Ricardo Mayorga. Pacquiao, on the other hand, just a year-and-a-half after Floyd, met Oscar at welterweight, a division Oscar hadn’t competed at since his one-sided drubbing of Arturo Gatti in 2001.

Floyd Oscar
Floyd was the faster, sharper man against Oscar.

This resulted in De La Hoya vs Mayweather and De La Hoya vs Pacquiao being two very different fights. Mayweather eeked out a split decision over Oscar while Pacquiao earned an eighth round stoppage after winning every round. Oscar earned praise after his performance against Floyd for making it a close bout, while there was nowhere left for him to go after the Pacquiao beating but retirement. The De La Hoya who faced Mayweather was still aggressive, with a sharp jab, and with enough gas left in the tank to steal rounds with flurries and body shots. The De La Hoya who faced Pacquiao had needle marks on his arms, supposedly because he had to rehydrate intravenously after the weigh-in.

EM – Oscar should get some monetary kickback from #MayPac. Without him, Floyd wouldn’t have become the household name he is now, and without Oscar’s brutal loss to Pacquiao, we wouldn’t have such starkly different comparative fodder by which to judge the best welterweights. Oscar is a bridge connecting Manny to Floyd, but in a metaphorical sense, he’s a bridge each fighter had to cross to reach superstardom. Floyd traversed it but his journey was difficult. Manny sprinted across and detonated it in his wake.

Manny Oscar
Manny walked through a weak Oscar.

As you point out, the starkly different versions of Oscar that each man faced must be accounted for when assessing who impressed more. Floyd fought a nearly-optimal version of De La Hoya at 154, a weight the Golden Boy was more appropriately suited to at that stage of his career. Against Pacquiao, De La Hoya came down to 147, killing himself in the process. And, weak and emaciated, he was thoroughly outclassed by the faster, sharper, more energetic man. A stoppage is more impressive and definitive than a knockout, but is it more impressive, given the circumstances?

Truthfully, I don’t really know what the correct answer is. Though their fight was unmemorable and he had few dominating moments, Floyd’s task was more difficult: Oscar was bigger and fresher, and not so wholly out of his comfort zone. Then again, Pacquiao was overwhelmingly dominant against De La Hoya, to a far greater degree than Floyd, and Oscar never fought again afterwards, which could either gesture to Manny’s greatness or highlight how close to the end De La Hoya was when they met. Is it a stretch to think the diminutive Manny would have won so easily at 154? My instincts say yes, although I don’t know if that matters, because it’s the physical state of the opponent that’s operative here. I don’t see a clear winner, but I think its greater degree of difficulty and the fact he faced Oscar first make Floyd’s win more impressive. He fought and beat a live fighter at a foreign weight while Manny fought a walking corpse.

So, Floyd gets the nod, but it’s a narrow victory, wholly predicated on De La Hoya’s diverging physical states, and could probably go the other way.

Score: Mayweather 1 – 0 Pacquiao

Ricky Hatton

2007-12-08: Floyd Mayweather Jr TKO 10 Ricky Hatton
2009-05-02: Manny Pacquiao KO 2 Ricky Hatton

EM – Floyd’s next opponent presents us with the same problem, doesn’t he? Circumstance and round results wrinkle the analysis.

Manchester’s Ricky Hatton was a hard-hitting super lightweight who just knocked out Mayweather foe Jose Luis Castillo and had ended the career of Kostya Tszyu. Hatton was the perfect foil for Floyd: an aggressive boxer-puncher full of “quiet English confidence” who was charismatic on camera and provided a friendly contrast to Mayweather’s loathsomeness. Vital to the fight’s buildup was the idea that Hatton’s belligerence would trouble Floyd. In one of their stare downs he asked Mayweather when he last knocked someone out, as if Floyd fought too prettily to inflict damage. (The answer to Hatton’s question was Sharmba Mitchell, two years before.) Then, at the beginning of the fight, a Hatton bull-rush sent Floyd backpedalling furiously into the ropes, somewhat off balance. In a momentary, superficial sense, Mayweather, for once, looked vulnerable.

Of course, there was a canyon-sized gulf in talent between Mayweather and Hatton, and this became obvious over the subsequent nine rounds. It was like watching a pitching ace duel with a minor league hitter. Floyd repeatedly landed his sharp, stinging shots, which ripped Hatton’s head back. It was a vintage Mayweather performance in that he threw less than his opponent and landed far more. The aggressive-come forward Mancunian couldn’t execute his fight plan because his elusive counter-punching target was too difficult to hit. This boxing exhibition quieted the many inebriated Brits at the MGM Grand, as their “Hatton Wonderland” failed to materialize. The bout climaxed beautifully in the tenth when Floyd baited Hatton into the corner and tagged him with a left hook. Ricky rose, dazed and confused, but a prompt Mayweather flurry convinced Joe Cortez that he’d absorbed enough punishment.

Floyd Hatton 2
Floyd gave Hatton a boxing lesson and eventually knocked him out.

After taking his first loss by way of knockout, Hatton beat Juan Lazcano and Paulie Malignaggi and then signed on the second super fight in his career versus Manny Pacquiao. This time his termination came faster. After being knocked down and beaten up in the last minute of the first round, Hatton was spectacularly kayoed by a brilliant left hand at the end of the second. It was the sort of punch Manny Pacquiao threw at his peak, when he boxed with the fury of a tornado whirling across a Kansas plain. Lying flat on his back in the center of the ring, Hatton looked as if he’d been hit by a bus, and it remains one of the great stoppages of this century. Hatton said afterwards that he shouldn’t have fought so aggressively but his style was made to order for that version of Manny Pacquiao.

It took Manny only two rounds to do what Floyd did in ten. Then again, Floyd knocked out Hatton for the first time in the Brit’s career. To what extent should we attribute Hatton’s degeneration, which Manny capitalized on with his spectacular one-punch stoppage, to Floyd Mayweather? Should we at all? How does this change how we view Manny’s performance?

RG – This case is less-clear cut than the De La Hoya affair, because only the blind and C.J. Ross could fail to spot the huge gap in quality between the Oscar that faced Floyd and the one that faced Manny; the Hatton that faced Manny, on the other hand, still had a lot going for him after the Mayweather loss. Against Pacquiao the Hitman would be fighting at junior welterweight, which was his natural weight and where he remained undefeated; he’d had two fights back since his first professional loss, with good showings against Lazcano and Malignaggi; and, finally, Manny was fighting above lightweight for only the second time in his career. Moreover, and as you pointed out, while De La Hoya sported the physical constitution of Skeletor when he took on the Pacman, Hatton was considered a very live dog going into the Pacquiao fight; more specifically, he was a 2-to-1 underdog. Can you guess who was Hatton’s opponent the last time he’d been given those odds? I’ll give you a hint: his last name rhymes with fairweather.

Pac Hatton
Manny’s spectacular one-punch kayo of Hatton remains one of the highlights of his career.

Hatton’s fighting style and weaknesses played to the strengths of both Manny and Floyd, but it took Floyd a lot longer to time and figure out a still undefeated Hatton. And while it’s true Floyd’s victory was emphatic — hooking Hatton into the corner post that turned off the lights inside his head — he also lost one or two rounds to a blown up Hitman. Let’s remember Hatton weighed in at 145 for the Floyd showdown, despite his infamous propensity to balloon up in weight between fights, in only his second fight at welterweight. Also, despite the fact Ricky lost most of the rounds he fought against Mayweather, the Brit put up a very spirited fight in the early stanzas, bullying his way inside and landing some good shots before Mayweather took over. Pacquiao had none of those difficulties, evading most of what Hatton sent his way, counterpunching mercilessly with his powerful right hook and launching an onslaught of left-hand bombs reminiscent of the London Blitz.

In closing, even though the sight of Ricky’s head smashing into the corner post never gets old (nothing against the Hitman by the way, I’ve always been a fan of the Mancunian’s), I think Manny decidedly upstaged Money May by scoring the most stunning one-punch KO seen since Hasim Rahman iced Lennox Lewis. I have to give Pacquiao the edge on this one.

Score: Mayweather 1 – 1 Pacquiao

Keep checking in with us, our assessments of Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley and Miguel Cotto are on the way along with lots more on #MayPac. In the meantime, to satisfy those neverending cravings, check out Lee Wylie’s excellent Signature Techniques series.
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