Boxing: New faces for 1999: Hatton the natural phenomenon

New faces for 1999: Britain's `next boxing superstar' has already attracted comparison with one of the all-time greats

SPORTING SUCCESS and the sky blue sector of Manchester have hardly been joined at the hip in recent years. But the decade could yet end on a happy note for the long-suffering side of town thanks to the former Manchester City apprentice, Ricky Hatton. It seems cruelly unnecessary, however, to point out that the Stockport-born 20-year-old called time on his football career some years ago.

Soccer's possible loss is boxing's considerable gain - there is no hotter prospect than the unbeaten light-welterweight in British boxing today. Hatton's promoter, Frank Warren, has described the 5ft 7in pressure fighter as "the nearest thing I've ever seen to a certainty". And few who have seen the exciting body-puncher go to work would argue. "His potential is unlimited," said Billy Graham, the Manchester manager-trainer who became the boxing equivalent of a lottery winner by securing Hatton's services when he turned professional two years ago.

A truly outstanding amateur career had made Hatton's head the most hunted of any British amateur in recent years. On the home front, Hatton won an impressive seven junior national titles and an Amateur Boxing Association championship, the highest honour available in domestic amateur boxing.

But it was Hatton's achievements on the international scene that left professional managers salivating over his signature. The youngster had proved himself to be as rare as a City success - a British fighter capable of taking on and actually beating crack opposition from the amateur boxing world's superpowers. Twice he defeated Russians on their home ground, while at the World Junior Championships staged at Havana in November 1996 Hatton not only beat but stopped his Cuban and American opponents - absolutely unheard of for a British amateur. The stage was set.

Hatton was 17 when he first entered Graham's gym in Manchester's Moss Side district, the blue-collar powerbase of the successful Phoenix Camp stable that has produced fighters of the calibre of Carl Thompson, the World Boxing Organisation cruiserweight champion. "He was sold to me as just a strong kid who had knocked everyone out as a junior amateur," said Graham, a former pro himself. "But from his first day of sparring I could see there was so much more to Ricky than a big punch. Even at that stage he had exceptional balance, skills and strength - he's a natural. Everything I try to teach him, he picks up straight away.

"He can do anything. He reminds me of Julio Cesar Chavez in some ways; Ricky can pile on the pressure all night long, but he's just as comfortable as a counter-puncher. And like Chavez, his left hook to the body is excellent."

Comparison with Chavez, the magnificent Mexican whose mastery of the pressure-fighting style brought world titles in four weight divisions, is flattery of the highest order for a youngster such as Hatton. And trainer Graham, known as "The Preacher", is aware of the pitfalls inherent in heaping on the hyperbole at such an early stage. But where Hatton is concerned, Graham cannot stop himself from spreading the word. "I just wish I had two of him," said the trainer. "Some of the things he does in the gym makes my hair stand on end."

However, it is in the competitive ring that fighters are judged and Graham, while fully confident in Hatton's ability, is determined that his prospect's career will be advanced at a sensible rate. Graham preaches caution. "It's a really exciting time for us, but things can happen too quickly - and I ain't gonna mess this chance up, believe me," he said.

"Ricky could win one of those Intercontinental titles right now, and he could beat the British champion, Jason Rowland, too. But we don't want the British title yet; once Ricky wins it, he's on another, higher level. Ricky has enormous potential, but the kid's only just 20 and he's still learning his trade."

However, Graham recognises that if Hatton continues at his current rate of development it will be damaging, if not impossible, to hold him back. He conceded: "If he's ready young, he's ready young. And to be honest, I believe Ricky will get there early. He'll be this country's next boxing superstar."

And he is being groomed as such. Already Hatton has received American exposure, having featured on the undercards of the featherweight champion Naseem Hamed's two title defences across the Atlantic. But while Hatton has been placed on the fast track, his trainer insists that the fighter's feet will remain firmly on the ground.

"He just seems to take everything in his stride," said Graham. "He's tough mentally now, but when he becomes a man..."

Hatton still holds a Maine Road season ticket, perhaps due more to a sense of professionalism than previous ties with the club for which his father and grandfather both played. After all, he must learn to soak up punishment somewhere and, after nine fights, there has been no sign of this happening in the boxing ring. That will not always be the case, but the early signs suggest that when the day comes, Hatton is one blue nose who will not catch a cold.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea