Boxing: Hatton the perfect target for a Witter riposte

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The Independent Online

"Ricky Hatton is a terrific fighter, a beautiful body- puncher, but I'll tell you what, my man would stand him on his head." So says Brendan Ingle, the boxing guru whose busy Sheffield gymnasium has honed some of the game's finest talents, not least Naseem Hamed.

"Ricky Hatton is a terrific fighter, a beautiful body- puncher, but I'll tell you what, my man would stand him on his head." So says Brendan Ingle, the boxing guru whose busy Sheffield gymnasium has honed some of the game's finest talents, not least Naseem Hamed.

Never minus a bit of blarney, Ingle these days supervises the fistic education of a host of aspiring juniors and one special Junior. Witter by name, the 30-year-old from Bradford has long cherished the ambition of sharing the same ring as Britain's most popular fighter, who last weekend completed the 12th successive defence of his World Boxing Union light-welterweight title with the brutal dismantling of a desperate Dane in Manchester.

But it seems Hatton v Witter, a surefire sell-out as a full-blooded domestic showdown, is not to be. Not for the want of trying on Witter's behalf. He has been haranguing The Hit Man for two years, and even offered to step in when the undefeated Kelson Pinto pulled out of last Saturday's fight.

Witter had himself withdrawn when matched with the bolo-punching Brazilian on an earlier Hatton bill, citing a wrist injury. Inevitably the word went about that he did not fancy the fight, a suggestion he vehemently disputes.

Ingle suggests that it is not Hatton, but his promoter, Frank Warren, who is running scared. "Frank knows how dangerous Junior is and he can't afford to get Hatton beat." Warren counters that he cannot interest his US backers, Showtime, in the fight.

Witter, too, was until recently under the promotional wing of Warren's Sports Network, but on Friday he fights the Italian Salvatore Battaglia for the vacant European title in Bradford for rival Mick Hennessy. Such are boxing's promotional politics that Witter's hopes of challenging Hatton have probably receded from slim to none.

Which is why he says he will be using Fridayas a springboard towards a world label of his own. "There are plenty out there," he says. "The WBC, WBA, IBF, IBO - they actually all mean more than Hatton's WBU title, which has no credibility in America."

So switch-hitter Witter, who talks almost as good a fight as his manager, consoles himself with this thought and the prospect of adding the European championship to the British and Commonwealth belts he already owns. Becoming a triple title-holder would make Junior very much one of boxing's senior citizens. "It will announce to the world that I'm a serious competitor,"he says. The presence of BBC cameras will assist the process.

Boxing for the first time in his home town, at the 2,000- seater Town and Country Club, Witter should be too strong and elusive for a tall opponent who likes to come forward but has lost three of his 21 bouts. Witter has been beaten only once in 27.

That was when he went 12 rounds with the IBF champion, Zab Judah, four years ago. Witter was not particularly pleased with his own back-pedalling performance, but points out: "I took the fight at nine days' notice. It annoys me when they say I ducked out of fighting Pinto when Judah was a far more dangerous fighter than him - or Hatton."

Ah, Hatton again. Witter just can't get him out of his hair. Or, more frustratingly, on the end of his fists.

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