Boxing: Hatton faces brutal test to realise Vegas dream

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A mile or so from the sordid wedding chapels another partnership will begin tonight when Ricky Hatton and Las Vegas formally unite in a brutal ceremony with wild riches at stake.

Hatton (below) fights Colombia's Juan Urango, an unbeaten, unlikely and unknown champion, for the International Boxing Federation light-welterweight title at the Paris complex in what is likely to be an old-fashioned brawl. The presence of over 2,000 British fans will no doubt add to the moment.

The two boxers, who embraced like lost friends at the last press conference, are not expected to use up too much of the ring canvas once the first bell sounds. Hatton seldom wastes any time using his fists and it is likely that the American media's impression of him as a funny guy wandering with a smile and a quip under the neon of this city will end inside 10 seconds.

According to sages of the sport, who congregate like hungry religious fanatics for every free buffet and big fight, Urango is either the best kept secret in boxing or the most fortunate champion of the world at the moment. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle but close enough to the alarming end to make Hatton wary.

Urango has stopped or knocked out 13 of his 18 opponents and is a southpaw, which is always a concern. "He has power, he comes forward, he switches from southpaw to orthodox, he's hungry and he moves well. I don't know what I'm doing fighting him," Hatton said yesterday. The American press has fallen in love with him and his use of the word "erection", which he used to describe the sensation he experienced when he first saw his name in lights and grabbed the headlines.

But beating Urango, even if he folds in two rounds, will not be as easy as some in Hatton's entourage believe. There are several potential problems for Hatton, including Urango's willingness to use his head as a third fist, a deplorable but increasingly accepted tactic in modern boxing.

Urango and his men have tried to appear like a group of village yokels trapped in a big city on their way to market to sell a goat. Urango did once live in a shanty town on a hill in Colombia, where from the age of 12 he worked excavating sand from a riverbed, but he has been in Miami and managed by a slick bunch of Cuban lawyers for three years.

Hatton and his trainer, Billy Graham, have watched 100 hours of Urango's fights on tape and dismiss any suggestion that the fight will be easy. The two boxers' descriptions of each other are almost identical. "He comes forward. I will not have to find him. I like it that way," each has said. But the difference is Hatton's greater experience and that there has not been a single telltale sign that he is ready to lose.

There is also a fight for a lot of money planned for 2 June, when Hatton is expected to meet Mexico's Jose Luis Castillo here, and nothing concentrates the mind better than the prospect of a few million quid. The announcement of the Castillo fight moves Hatton even further away from his great verbal rival Junior Witter, who defends his World Boxing Council title tonight at the Alexandra Palace, which sounds like a Las Vegas outpost, against another Mexican, Arturo Morua.

The problem for Hatton could well be cuts and even with his special cuts man, Mick Williamson, in the corner to seal any wounds, there could be a crisis if the American ringside doctors end a bloodbath early. Hatton has fought with terrible cuts in the past and several of the wounds could have led to defeat in a Las Vegas ring where the doctors are notoriously squeamish.

Hatton is likely to get closer than normal from the very first bell and try to overwhelm Urango and go for a stunning quick win. If that fails, he will work inside the wide arcs of Urango's relaxed punches, blocking the assault as he lands with his own punches.

So Hatton will win his 42nd fight, the Las Vegas crowd will love him and HBO will look to extend its contract with the little fighter from Manchester. No wonder Hatton has talked endlessly this week of being stuck in his own private fantasy.