Three and a half years ago, a Filipino boxer named Manny Pacquiao traveled to the MGM Grand, in Las Vegas, to fight a scrappy Briton named Ricky Hatton. After years of obscurity, Pacquiao had emerged as perhaps the best and most exciting boxer in the world; in his previous fight, he had ended the career of Oscar De La Hoya. Hatton was the underdog, but he had brought with him thousands of British fans, some of whom might still have been stumbling back from the concession stand when, with one minute left in the first round, Pacquiao hit Hatton with a right hook that sent him spinning down onto the mat. The fight continued, but not for long: in the second round, Pacquiao caught Hatton with a neat left cross that put Hatton flat on his back; as Pacquiao celebrated, Hatton lay in the middle of the ring, hands at his sides.
A boxing defeat can be definitive in a way that losses in other sports usually aren’t: the damage can be permanent, and so, too, can the dent to a fighter’s reputation. Certainly, Hatton seems to have regarded his knockout loss as definitive. Some time after he regained consciousness and made his way out of the ring, he declared that he was retiring from boxing, and he spent the next few years exploring the assets and liabilities of life as a British celebrity with lots of free time. Earlier this year, Hatton announced that he was making a comeback; he was knocked out, again, this time by Vyacheslav Senchenko, and promptly re-retired. “I don’t have it anymore,” Hatton said.
By contrast, the long-running rivalry between Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Márquez, a crafty Mexican veteran, was compelling precisely because it wasn’t definitive.