Ricky Hatton flew to Boston yesterday aware that he could be courting trouble, in the ring and out. The outcome of his contest next Saturday with the New Yorker Luis Collazo is as much in the hands of the real judiciary as the ringside judges. Whether The Hitman's quest is approved as a legitimate challenge for Collazo's World Boxing Association welterweight title is a decision yet to be determined in a Manhattan courtroom.
Since his acrimonious split with his long-time promoter, Frank Warren, last year, Hatton has spent as much time dealing with writs as he has right-handers. "It has been," he says with typical bluntness, "a proper pain in the arse, to be honest."
Now devoid of the WBA light-welter crown he acquired in beating Carlos Maussa in November, having relinquished it rather than go through with what a United States court decided was a legal obligation for a mandatory defence against the Warren-managed Frenchman Souleyman M'Baye, Hatton was hoping that moving up to the 10st 7lb division would catapult him back on to a world throne. But even if he beats Collazo he may still return to Manchester empty-handed if the increasingly complicated legal proceedings go against him this week.
Moreover, a couple of days after the fight he was due to f ace Warren in the High Court in this country to contest a lawsuit for alleged breach of contract. But he has a respite, as this has now been postponed until next month. None the less, it has all been an unwelcome distraction for the Mancunian warrior, unbeaten in 40 fights, who harbours ambitions that his new three-fight deal with the US television network HBO will culminate in his dream showdown with possibly the world's greatest fighter at the moment, Floyd Mayweather.
Hatton reckons he will be cheered on by several thousand British supporters in Boston's new 17,000 TD Banknorth Garden, which sounds more like a shopping complex in Milton Keynes but actually stands on the site of the old Boston Garden, a venue steeped in boxing history dating back to Rocky Marciano. His opponent, a slippery southpaw beaten only once in 26 bouts, is ominously managed by Don King, which suggests he is no mug and that no favours will be forthcoming for Hatton in his first major fight in the US. His action-man aggression may be what Americans usually appreciate, but the 25-year-old Collazo, more awkward than potentially damaging, warns: "They've picked the wrong man. I'm the wrong style for him."
Hatton's extra poundage should make him more comfortable and add to his punching power. "To say I'm excited is an understatement," he says. "Topping the bill in the States is any fighter's dream, but I have to look on this as just another fight and not be too eager in the early rounds, when I'm more likely to get cut. But I want to put on an exciting show for the American audience."
Hatton says conquering Kostya Tszyu was his Everest, but he would be unwise to treat Collazo as merely an excursion into the fistic foothills. If he does, it may not be the Boston glee party he and his fans anticipate.
The bout, which starts around 3am UK time on Sunday, heads a Sky TV package which also features Clinton Woods' second defence of his IBF light-heavyweight title against the Australian Jason De Lisle, in Sheffield, surely a formality as Woods has stopped this opponent once before, albeit after being on the floor.
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