Boxing: Hatton risks his shot at the big time as Oliveira lies in wait

Tonight really will be the last of Ricky Hatton's world title fights against somebody from one of boxing's forgotten lists.

Tonight really will be the last of Ricky Hatton's world title fights against somebody from one of boxing's forgotten lists.

Hatton will defend his World Boxing Union light-welterweight title for the 15th time when he steps into the ring at the Excel Arena, in London against the American veteran Ray Oliveira. Hatton has fought too many capable veterans during his seven-year career.

Oliveira is 36 and retired a year ago before changing his mind and winning three more times. He is undoubtedly tough and has never been stopped in 58 fights but then again Hatton has fought men with capable hearts and chins in the past.

This will be Hatton's first fight in London since a meaningless blow-out of Australian Justin Rowsell in 2001, and no doubt tonight's fight will be a lot more difficult.

It will be, in theory, the last fight before Hatton sits down and puts his name on a contract for a fight against either Kostya Tszyu or Vivian Harris. Tszyu is originally from Russia and holds the International Boxing Federation version and Harris is from the Virgin Isles and he is the World Boxing Association champion.

The trouble with Hatton, without any doubt the most popular professional fighter in Britain, is that his waiting game has simply been going on for too long. Just two months ago Hatton declared that he was "sick and tired" of waiting for a big fight. However, he stopped Michael Stewart in five rounds in October and now meets Oliveira in yet another small fight.

Many of Hatton's recent defences have been relatively easy but there is very little chance that tonight's confrontation will be as kind on his features. Oliveira is one of the sport's most genuine hard men and even at 36 years of age he is still very capable of ruining Hatton's comfortable career.

Oliveira has met about a dozen quality fighters during his 14 years in the ring and has only been on the floor twice but the fact that he has not yet failed to hear the final bell should provide Hatton with a chance to do something different that will make his TV backers in America sit up and take note again.

Hatton, 26, is unbeaten in 37 fights and he has stopped or knocked out 27 opponents. He is a quality operator, a fighter of genuine world class but there will surely be a night when he gets his sums wrong and loses his unbeaten record and with it his chance of a truly meaningful fight.

Oliveira is the type of man that could ruin everything.

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