Boxing: Hatton can show Amir the ropes

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The Independent Online

A Brixton heavyweight and a Bolton lightweight may be hogging the boxing headlines, but when it comes to the box office, Manchester's Hitman remains the top man.

A Brixton heavyweight and a Bolton lightweight may be hogging the boxing headlines, but when it comes to the box office, Manchester's Hitman remains the top man.

Ricky Hatton's return to the ring - and, it is to be hoped, to his old self - in defence of his World Boxing Union light-welterweight title against the American Mike Stewart at the MEN Arena on Friday is a timely reminder that for the moment no one does it better in Britain when it comes to putting bums on seats.

And no one has greater admiration for the recent accomplishments of Danny Williams and Amir Khan than Hatton. In return, both have spoken of their respect for the man who was among the first to offer them his personal congratulations for their achievements in Louisville and Athens respectively.

Although he is still only 25, Hatton is regarded as one of British boxing's senior pros, and as such he is well qualified to pass judgement on the pair of performances that have given the sport a welcome resurgence of public fervour. One boxer is a current stable-mate, the other could well become one. "It was great to see Danny knock out Mike Tyson," Hatton says. "No matter which way you slice it he beat a legend, and I hope that he will now win the world title, because it couldn't happen to a nicer fellow.''

As for Amir, Hatton not only has words of praise for his Olympic silver lining but also an offer of assistance. "He is a fantastic talent at 17. I know him personally. He lives just up the road, and my door is always open to him if he wants to come to me for advice. He's a nice lad with his feet on the ground - just like me!

"He has a great future whatever he decides to do. If he stays amateur for another four years it would be no bad thing. Nor would it be if he turned pro now, or next year. He is the flavour of the month and there may never be a better time than now for him to capitalise on it. He could move along very quickly in the pro game. Either way, he is in a wonderful situation.''

Hatton is also ready to show Amir the ropes by sparring with him: "Whatever he decides I think he should go to the professional gyms and work with pros like myself to get the feel of the game. That's what I did from the age of 16. But unlike Amir my ambition was never a gold medal. I always wanted to be a professional.''

Friday should be an oppor-tunity for Hatton to start showing Amir those ropes - from the inside - as the young man who is now in the middle of boxing's biggest, and most lucrative, tug of war for some years is expected to be at ringside as the guest of the promoter, Frank Warren. He is sure to receive as tumultuous a welcome as Hatton himself now that the North-west has a new hero to savour.

On paper this should not be the most arduous of tasks in Hatton's career, but it is certainly one of the most significant, as it is also a final eliminator to fight for the more highly regarded International Boxing Federation title against the winner of the forthcoming contest between two light-welterweight mon-archs, the Australian Kostya Tszyu and the American Sharmba Mitchell.

Beating either man would bring the global recognition Hatton craves, and he promises he is now over the summer blues which saw him question his own future after top-level bouts against Mitchell and Vivian Harris fell through. "I'm a lot more positive now. I know if I come through this I am going to get my chance to fight the best. I have got my hunger back.''

He admits: "To be honest, I've been a little cheesed off with boxing. The situation was getting me down. I really wanted that Harris fight because of all the bad-mouthing he'd been giving me, and when it didn't happen because of his financial demands it really pissed me off.

"I feel I've underperformed in my last couple of fights [against Denis Pedersen and Carlos Vilches]. Technically, things weren't right - my foot movement and getting in those sneaky shots, things that put me apart, make me different from a lot of other fighters. That's going to be put right. I can't wait to get in the ring again.''

Stewart, 26, is, like Hatton, a go-forward fighter. He has lost only twice in 40 bouts, one of them on a Hatton bill in Manchester in April, when he was dropped three times and unanimously outpointed by Mitchell. Judged on that performance, Hatton should be the first man to stop him.

The nom de guerre of the fighter who as a teenager served 18 months following a shooting incident is "No Joke''. Hatton himself can be a bit of a joker, as those hearing the message on his mobile phone will confirm, but now is the time for him to take care of serious business.