Boxing: Hatton bewares fall-guy factor

Hit Man versus Danger Man

Boxing has suffered a few ups and downs this year, beginning with the whack on the whiskers thrown by the South African Corrie Sanders which blighted the immediate future of world heavyweight champion wannabe Wladimir Klitschko.

Subsequently both of Scotland's favourite fighting sons, Scott Harrison and Alex Arthur, went down to embarrassing defeats in their homeland against Manuel Medina and Michael Gomez respectively, while in the United States the game's golden boy, Oscar De La Hoya, was surprisingly beaten by Shane Moseley and James Toney ended, we hope, the over-extended career of Evander Holyfield. More recently the much-fancied (largely by himself) Roy Jones seemed fortunate to cling on for a controversial split decision over Anthony Tarver.

The biggest name to come a cropper was Marco Antonio Barrera, Naseem Hamed's nemesis, who was stopped in 11 rounds by Filipino Manny Pacquiao.

Harrison redeemed himself by regaining his World Boxing Organisation featherweight title against Medina last week, but another bout on the same night again emphasised that in boxing there is no such thing as a foregone conclusion. Wayne Elcock, also a prized member of Frank Maloney's stable, found his World Boxing Union middleweight title flying out of the ring alongside his gumshield when he was knocked out in the first round by Lawrence Murphy, for whom the tag "journeyman" might have been invented. Having had to console both Harrison and Arthur, Maloney was philosophical: "At least it proves the game is straight."

It also proves that whatever your record or reputation, the best corner advice you can absorb before the bell goes is: "Don't forget to duck".

Ricky Hatton admits the thought will be lodged with him when he steps into Manchester's MEN Arena ring on Saturday night for what he considers potentially the most dangerous encounter of his unblemished 33-fight career. Opposing him as the 11th challenger for his WBU light-welterweight crown is Ben Tackie, a true warrior from Ghana with the tribal scars on his face to prove it.

In 28 fights the 27-year-old Tackie has never been stopped or floored, and carries a formidable dig in both hands. Just the sort of opponent who, if Hatton is even a tad out of touch, might add to the heap of upset applecarts. Manchester's "Hit Man", pale of face and raw of bone, acknowledges the threat. "There certainly have been a few upsets this year, and it's a good shout to suggest it could happen again," he admits. "But hopefully not in my case. When you see other fighters slipping up it makes you all the more focused that you don't join the list. To go into the ring fretting about something like that is the wrong attitude for any professional."

Tackie's last two contests ended in defeat, but they were points losses to the world's best in the division, Kosta Tszyu and Sharmba Mitchell. "This doesn't mean he's on the slide," says Hatton. "He's a dangerous puncher, and comes forward all the time. I'll need to be a bit scared in this fight because the tension brings out the best in me. It gives me an edge.

"It should make for a brilliant contest. I like to think I give value for money and this could be the most exciting of all. I'll need to use my head to work him out."

Tackie is also known to use his head, more in a physical than cerebral manner. Hatton is aware of that. "He's better with his head than Denis Law. Cuts will always be a problem with me, but at least I've got a fantastic cuts man in my corner."

Bradford's British and European champion Junior Witter, ceaselessly clamouring for a showdown with Hatton, may have to rethink his ambitions if he fails to end the unbeaten record of Brazilian Kelson Pinto on the same bill. It is a high-risk fight for Witter because, as he says himself: "Pinto just blasts people away." He adds: "He's pretty frightening, but I don't run from anyone."

Witter reckons the 25-year-old Hatton has the far easier task, even predicting a three-rounds victory for the title-holder against a man who has seemed unstoppable. "I think he's been opening the Christmas crackers a bit early," retorts Hatton. "This fight could be lots of things, an epic, a war. The one thing it won't be is easy. Or dull."

A Hatton fight never is, which is why the BBC would give Audley Harrison's right arm to have him on their screens rather than Sky's. However, they should not be disappointed with their own rival offering on Saturday when the former two-times world champion Robin Reid, who is on an 11-win sequence, returns to the international spotlight in an intriguing attempt to relieve the unbeaten German Sven Ottke of his World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation super-middleweight titles in Nuremberg.

Decisions are hard to come by in Germany but Ottke, a renowned spoiler rather than a scrapper, has struggled of late, and with a bit of luck and some venom in his attack, the 33-year-old Runcorn fighter might neatly round off boxing's Year of the Big Upset.