Boxing: Hatton retained his World Boxing Union light-welterweight title

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The Independent Online

Last night at the MEN Arena, Manchester it took Ricky Hatton less than two minutes to finally recover from a dull and frustrating year.

Hatton connected with the sweetest and shortest of simple left hooks to American Michael Stewart's stomach and he immediately collapsed to the canvas. There was a look of pure pleasure on Hatton's face at that moment.

Stewart somehow regained his feet but was sent crashing down once more in the opening round from a short right to his chin. Once again he somehow managed to beat the referee's count, stand up and last until the bell ended the round.

For Hatton it was the type of round that he expects whenever he steps through the ropes. And it was the kind of round that his faithful fans have come to expect from a career that started in 1997 and had seen him win 35 times in a row before last night's fight.

Stewart looked unsteady at the start of round two and Hatton was incredibly vicious in pursuit of his clearly dazed opponent. In many ways last night's performance from Hatton was the best so far in a career that has often contained fights against men with little or no chance of beating him.

Twice this year Hatton has fought and left the ring despondent after easy victories and in the days before last night's fight he spoke honestly about his frustration. Last night he cleansed his fighting soul and looked happier than he has done for over a year. Stewart had never previously been stopped but as he struggled through rounds two, three and four it was becoming clear that his resistance was in steady decline and his reputation as a hard man was slowly been torn apart.

Close to the end of round five and unusual series of three left hooks finally dumped Stewart on the canvas but for the last time in the fight and for the first time in his career the brave American was counted out. It was the only ending that Hatton wanted and once again he had a smile on his face.

Hatton retained his World Boxing Union light-welterweight title for the 14th time but there was more at stake in last night's fight because it had been declared a final eliminator for the International Boxing Federation light-welterweight fight. The current champion at the weight and one of the sport's so-called super champions is Kostya Tszyu, a Russian who is based in Australia.

Tszyu is not a very active fighter and often withdraws from scheduled fights but in theory he will defend his titles including the IBF against American Sharmba Mitchell in November and the winner of that fight, if it takes place, should agree terms to meet Hatton. That is the plan but in boxing plans mean nothing and unless there is a bundle of money available it is unlikely that Hatton will met either of them.

Hatton wants a big fight, his promoter Frank Warren wants a big fight and the crowd at the MEN, which was four or five thousand smaller last night than usual deserve a big fight. During the next few weeks hopefully everybody will be satisfied. But then again, this is boxing, and anything is possible. And that includes disappointment.