The biggest non-heavyweight title fight for years tomorrow will not just have boxing fans glued to their TVs.
The whole of the Philippines will come to a standstill to watch their hero Manny ‘Pacman’ Pacquiao take on Britain’s Ricky ‘Hitman’ Haton at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas.
Both are superstars in their respective countries but Pacquiao has transcended sport and is feted like a demi-god in his homeland.
He intends to go into politics upon retiring and such is his popularity that if he ran for president right now he would win hands down.
Pacquiao is regarded as pound-for-pound the world’s best fighter, but Hatton is not far behind.
Hatton has only lost once – by knockout to Floyd Mayweather Jr – in 46 fights and is unbeaten as a light-welterweight.
This bout is for the IBO light-welter title. Pacquiao, like Hatton is 30 and in the prime of his career.
He battered Oscar De La Hoya into retirement last December in his biggest win to date. Thirty-six of Pacquiao’s 48 victories have come by knockout but he’s lost three times – twice by knockout. He has also drawn twice.
Hatton is regarded as the stronger of the two and his 32 knockouts emphasise that.
Pacquiao is the betting favourite and, naturally he is the pick for Filipinos living in Cayman.
Shelby Carlos is the owner of the Little Tokyo restaurant on Seven Mile Beach. He is also the founder and still a player of the Philippines Amateur Basketball League here. Little Tokyo will be heaving tomorrow night.
Carlos said: ‘Obviously, it’s going to be a good fight. I’m looking for Pacquiao to win, of course, but it will be a tough one. Pacquiao on points is my prediction. I don’t think he can put Hatton down, it’s not going to be easy.’
Jan Barrozo is president of the Filipino basketball association. Naturally, he feels the same way as Shelby.
‘It’s not just because I’m a Filipino, but I feel Pacquiao has the power and footwork to win. Hatton will be no match. Pacquiao trains well, far more than he’s supposed to and he is like a hero. He has a big heart.’
Stanley Walton is the owner of Jillian’s pool hall and bar. Business will be booming for him there tomorrow night but Walton will be sitting ringside at the fight with pal Donie Anglin, head coach of the Cayman Islands boxing programme.
‘I’m going for Hatton,’ insisted Walton. ‘He has a new trainer, Floyd Mayweather Sr, who has made him more elusive. And if he can be his usual aggressive self but not such an easy target, he can do it.
‘For the first time, Pacman will be chased. Pacquiao is used to doing the chasing, stalking his opponents but this time the stalker will be stalked. I’m on a winning streak myself, having picked 10 in a row in big fights and I think my run will continue.’
Anglin does not agree. ‘I think Pacquiao is the better fighter,’ he said. ‘Hatton cuts easily and his new trainer won’t make any difference. Hatton might start off fast but Pacquiao will be the better man.’
Charles ‘The Killa’ Whittaker is Cayman’s only professional fighter who is hoping for a world title fight this year.
He said: ‘It’s a toss-up but I think Pacquiao has the slight edge. But then again I wouldn’t be surprised if Hatton knocked him out.
‘He is by far the biggest fighter Pacquiao has met. Pacquiao’s confidence is high after the De La Hoya win but he was so weight-drained that my mother could have beaten Oscar that night.’
One Filipino who can see only one winner, no matter what the outcome, is Marjorie Lao. ‘I really believe in Pacquiao,’ she said. ‘I’ve followed his career for years and whatever happens, win or lose, I’ll support him.’