Boxing: 'Flat' Hatton takes long road to victory

Ricky Hatton again brought his brand of phone-box warfare to the MEN Arena in Manchester and for the 36th time in his professional career it proved far too much for his opponent to handle. Last night it was the turn of the Argentinian Carlos Vilches to suffer the same fate as every other fighter who has faced Hatton as the British light-welterweight defended his WBU title by winning every one of the 12 rounds.

Ricky Hatton again brought his brand of phone-box warfare to the MEN Arena in Manchester and for the 36th time in his professional career it proved far too much for his opponent to handle. Last night it was the turn of the Argentinian Carlos Vilches to suffer the same fate as every other fighter who has faced Hatton as the British light-welterweight defended his WBU title by winning every one of the 12 rounds.

However, had it been someone of a better calibre than the rugged South American in the ring, Hatton might be reflecting on what went wrong.

For, despite overall superiority, there were some distress signals thrown in the second half of the fight. "I felt comfortable, but flat. I did what I pleased but felt tired. I just didn't feel as strong as usual, having had to cram in my training," Hatton said.

Like all of his previous fights, the outcome was writ large the moment the first bell went. Blessed with a phenomenal work rate - which dropped in the second half as Vilches refused to fold - his trademark hooks to the body, ripping uppercuts and relentless punching proved too much for an man who was a class below him.

Despite the absence of Joe Calzaghe on the bill, Hatton again pulled a capacity crowd. How they love him, but every one of the paying customers baying for blood last night will also be hoping that Hatton is matched against an opponent capable of stretching him.

The fighter himself has asked his promoter, Frank Warren, to get the biggest names in the division to step through the ropes with him, and word is that the former IBF lightweight champion Paul Spadafora might be next. A shrewd match, but one Hatton would expect to win handily, being naturally bigger.

One of the problems Hatton has is meeting expectations. Last night he tore into Vilches with his full repertoire of punches for five rounds, but the Argentine, engaging in his 49th contest, came here to go the distance. Which he did, something the crowd - and Hatton - hadn't expected him to do after the explosive start.

For all the crowd-pleasing all-action of Hatton, the one question mark against him is that he appears to run out of ideas once his initial barrage is successfully soaked up. As he has done previously, he tended to crowd his man too much, whereby taking a step back and opening up his target from long-range might have better served him.

Surprisingly, Hatton didn't appear to be enjoying his work, and while sitting on his stool between the seventh and eighth rounds he told his mentor, Billy Graham, that he wasn't feeling too great.

The longer the fight went the more Hatton became one-dimensional. He wasn't helped, though, by some abysmal refereeing by the South African Darryl Ribbink, who should have been stricter on Vilches for deliberately punching south of the border.

But Hatton is far too good a fighter, and too honest a one to be continually put in with fighters who come to survive. Only the best will bring the best out of him.

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