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Boxing: Hatton takes gruesome road to glory

At 2am yesterday, Ricky Hatton was finished with the plastic surgeon and the cuts above his eyes were finally closed. A few hours earlier Hatton had ignored the two gaping wounds above each brow, one of which was described as a hole rather than a cut, to retain his International Boxing Federation light-welterweight title and win the World Boxing Association version at the Hallam arena on the outskirts of Sheffield.

Over 12,000 fans watched as Hatton slowly put into place a devastating plan that culminated after 60 seconds of round nine when the sweetest of left hooks separated Carlos Maussa from his senses and sent him to the canvas in a heap for the full count of 10. It was quite simply a brilliant and stunning ending to what had been one of modern British boxing's most gruelling and gruesome affairs.

When Hatton arrived back from the hospital with 10 stitches above his left eye and four more through the brow of his right eye he finally admitted that he had not fought a clever fight. He said: "I knew I was in trouble when I could feel the tears in my eyes before the first bell. I was too wound up. I wanted to get him out of there and that was not very clever of me.'' It was not, for three rounds, a tactical affair but it was pulsating and vicious and as the blood covered both boxers and stained the shirt of the referee there was always a chance that Hatton's unbeaten run of 39 would end because of his facial injuries. A lot of boxers have been led back to their corners as losers with smaller wounds.

However, Hatton employs a man called Mick Williamson, a London cabbie by day, to clean his cuts, stem the flow of blood and patch him up during the 60-second breaks between rounds. On Saturday night in front of the packed arena Williamson performed like a genius, using both hands in a whirl of activity to keep both cuts under control for most of the fight and, by the start of round eight, shut both wounds completely.

"In Britain a doctor has to be invited into the ring by the referee but in America all the doctors want to be movie stars and they jump in at the first sign of blood to get their faces on television," said Williamson. "That could be a problem with any fighter who cuts, fighting anywhere in America," he said.

Hatton will, in theory, fight in Las Vegas once his wounds have healed and the readiness of the ringside doctors will clearly have to be looked at closely.

On Saturday night Hatton led with the outside of his head and not the inside and within 30 seconds the first and the most serious of the cuts was caused by a clash of heads. At the end of the round the referee, Mickey Vann, indicated to the ringside supervisor that the cut was due to a clash of heads. What Vann did was set in motion a rule which allows a boxer who is cut by an accidental clash of heads to basically withdraw his services after four completed rounds and then the fight will go to the three judges' scorecards.

This was fine for cut number one, but in round three the second of the lacerations occurred and this time Vann clearly told the supervisor that a punch had caused the damage. Had the second cut, the one above the right eye, worsened throughout the fight and forced the referee to intervene then Hatton would have lost his IBF title and blown his chance of a multi-million dollar pay-day under the bright Las Vegas lights.

The 12,000 fans, clearly unaware of the IBF rules, could barely watch as the rounds passed and the blood continued to flow. But, by the start of round eight Williamson had done his job and Hatton was in control. The chilling knockout occurred in the next round.

Now Hatton will sit down with his new promoter, Dennis Hobson, and consider their future, but the wounds will keep him out of the ring for a minimum of six months. It has been a great year for Ricky Hatton and he clearly deserves and needs the rest.

* Johnny Nelson did just enough to retain his World Boxing Organisation cruiserweight title in Rome on Saturday night and pave the way for a projected new year bout with the Welshman Enzo Maccarinelli. The Sheffield veteran overcame a knockdown in the ninth round to win a split decision over the Italian challenger Vincenzo Cantatore.