Sunday May 3rd, 2009

LAS VEGAS -- We're baaaack. You missed The Blog, didn't you? Well, here we are, sitting at a wobbly folding table blanketed by a cheap black tablecloth four rows from ringside at the MGM Grand Arena to bring you play by play and instant analysis from the Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton junior welterweight title fight.

Let's get right to it: this is a tough fight to call. Pacquiao's career appeared to take off after his defining win over Oscar De La Hoya last December. But that victory has been slowly devalued over the last few months as the focus has shifted from Pacquiao's brilliance to De La Hoya's ineptitude. Even Hatton, who earns a living in De La Hoya's Golden Boy stable, likened Pacquiao hitting De La Hoya to a man pounding a punching bag.

So there's that. There's also the fact that Hatton, despite being flattened at 147-pounds by Floyd Mayweather (more on him later) in 2007, has been the unquestioned king of the 140-pound division for the last four years. He's fighting at his natural weight (compared to De La Hoya, who hadn't fought at welterweight since 2001) and by all appearances looks to be in terrific shape.

Which is why the winner of this fight is so difficult to predict. Put a gun to my head and I'm taking Pacquiao. While I think both have the punching power to win by KO, I have a feeling this one goes to a decision. If that's the case, Pacquiao's volume punching should win him a lot of the early rounds and give him enough of a cushion to win a decision. (Editor's note: Scroll down to 11:36 p.m. to go straight to fight action blog posts.)

10:40 p.m.: The big news earlier today was the announcement that Floyd Mayweather Jr. will return to the ring against lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez. I'll get into this topic more in my Monday column on SI.com, but my first impression is this: very risky fight for Floyd. Marquez is a brilliant tactical fighter whose power has increased as he has moved up in weight. There are so many variables to consider but one thing is certain: Floyd shouldn't chalk this one up as a tune-up before a potential fight with Pacquiao or Hatton in the winter.

Just finished an interview with Marquez in the Golden Boy offices here. He's confident. Thinks maintaining his focus through a probable circus next few months is the key. Still plans on training in Mexico City. Wants me to come down and spar with him. Again. I passed.

10:45 p.m.: The Hatton fans have completely enveloped the upper bowl of this arena. Humberto Soto is in there now with Benoit Gaudet and they are serenading them with a Hatton chant. Unbelievable.

10:56 p.m.: Sat next to young middleweight Anthony Dirrell on the flight from L.A. to Vegas this afternoon. Good kid with a great story: a cancer survivor. More on that next week, too.

10:59 p.m.: Not a great undercard. Daniel Jacobs won a wobbly decision over Michael Walker and Matt Korobov flattened unheralded Anthony Bartenelli. Soto is in there now struggling to dispatch the light-hitting Gaudet.

11:02 p.m.: For the record...I chose not to bet this fight. Blog favorite Cheapo Tony was willing to pony up $100 for my pick but the truth is, I don't have one. Again, it's too close to call.

11:04 p.m.: If you ever wanted to cover a fight, chances are you could. Press row is littered with credentialed people from publications I have never heard of and guys with beers are walking around with All-Access lanyards. So start a blog, send and email and I'll see you at the next fight.

11:07 p.m.: Humberto Soto with an emphatic knockout. OK, the undercard is improving.

11:08 p.m.: That's it for the undercard, the tension in here is building. When Hatton comes out, the roof might actually blow off.

11:15 p.m.: Oh God...here we go. The obligatory introduction of celebrities no one cares about. I hate this. It's a 10-minute waste of time. Is it really relevant that P-Diddy is here? Or that John Cusak has graced us with his presence? Honestly, there is a better use of Michael Buffer's voice.

Pacquiao's supporters are here en masse, too. I would estimate that 65 percent of the crowd is either British or Filipino. I bet Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is watching this. Spo once told me he is the third most popular Filipino behind Manny and the lead singer of Journey.

11:17 p.m.: It's electric in here. The Brits are bringing down the house. And no one is even in the ring yet. The Brits are now singing their national anthem. Before the girl in the ring can actually sing it.

11:22 p.m.: Tom Jones is singing the British national anthem. Where is Alfonso Ribeiro when you need him?

11:23 p.m.: Here's a question: who is more popular, Hatton or recently retired Joe Calzaghe. Noted British scribe Brian Doogan, sitting next to me, says it's even. "They both have strongholds," Doogan said.

11:25 p.m.: Whoever the idiot is who put up shots of Hatton and Pacquiao backstage during the anthems should be fired. The images send the crowd into a frenzy and disrupted some really well-done performances. Disrespectful.

11:28 p.m..: Hatton is on his way to the ring. Crowd remarkably quiet. Guessing that won't last. ...Nope, didn't last.

11:29 p.m.: Hatton may be the palest man I have ever seen. That's coming from one of the palest people you have ever seen. But he looks pretty good in there. Strong. Confident.

11:30 p.m.: Pacquiao's turn. The Hatton fans are trying to drown out Pac Man's fans. Good luck.

11:31 p.m.: Strange, you would expect the IBO champ Hatton to be introduced last. The IBO belt isn't anything to get excited about but Hatton is the recognized 140-pound champ.

11:33 p.m.: Buffer is introducing the trainers. This trainer war between Freddie Roach and Floyd Mayweather Sr. continues to be taken to new levels. 11:36 p.m.: I'm pretty sure one of Manny's cornermen is WWE wrestler Batista. Kevin Blackiston just confirmed it for me.

11:36 p.m.: HERE WE GO!

Round 1: Pacquiao comes out and lands a big right. Hatton ties him up. Some wicked body shots by Hatton. They are brawling now. Heavy shots by Hatton! Hard right hand by Hatton! He's got Manny backing up. Neither man looks comfortable with the jab. Good power shots by Manny. Hatton down!!! Hard right hand did it. Manny is coming hard now. Hatton hurt again. He's down! Two knockdowns by Pacquiao! Saved by the bell! 10-7 Pacquiao.

Round 2: Hatton trying to jab more. Still looks uncomfortable. Manny winging punches. Hatton trying to get inside. Hatton still jabbing. Hatton's fans have been silenced. Manny jabbing and winging that right! Hatton warned for a low blow. Manny not hurt. Another hard right by Manny. Hatton is target practice. More rights by Manny. Just assaulting the champ! Hatton down! He's out! It's over! Hard right hand did it!

11:44 p.m.: Unbelievable. Manny just destroyed him. Spectacular performance. Freddie Roach called it. The man knows his stuff.

11:45 p.m.: This crowd is a mix of excitement and stunned silence. What a victory for Pacquiao.

11:48 p.m.: That's it, fight fans. Shorter than we thought but far more exciting. 'Til next time...

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