Boxing: Hatton worth a flutter in Vegas but the artist should beat the artisan

The people's champion will make Britain proud even if Mayweather earns likely victory on points. By Alan Hubbard

If will, grit and conviction win world titles, then Ricky Hatton will be overlord of the ring in Las Vegas next Saturday night. The gambling citadel is where dreams sometimes come true if you get lucky. But Manchester's cheeky chappy needs more than a fortuitous roll of the dice if he is to wrap Floyd Mayweather's World Boxing Council welterweight belt around his own now tautly trimmed waist.

This is Hatton's chance to make boxing history and it is one he will take with both hands, fighting the only way he can, driving forward relentlessly to seek a chink in Mayweather's defensive curtain. And he is determined to rough up the Pretty Boy along the way. "The last man Mayweather wants to fight is a nasty little shit like me," he said, relaxing on the veranda of a house Team Hatton have rented just off The Strip. "I'm going to be his worst nightmare."

No matter that the oddsmakers don't agree. "I think a lot of people are going to lose money because I don't just think I'm going to beat Floyd, I'm going to make him quit. He doesn't have the firepower to stop me coming at him. I'll make him miss, and there's nothing more tiring than hitting fresh air.

"I expect him to pick me off and lead me a merry dance early on, but can he keep it up for 12 rounds and stop me rolling all over him? I've got his number."

Hatton says that he is "delighted" with the appointment of the respected Joe Cortez as referee in light of the Mayweather camp's claims that he is a dirty fighter. "I expect him to let us fight up close and not keep breaking it up, which Floyd wants. If he had his way, boxing would be a non-contact sport. The only way he can beat me is to hit me and hope I don't get up. But he is going to have to hit me very hard indeed."

After 43 fights and 10 years as an unbeaten pro, the 29-year-old Hatton has made top billing in the citadel of clout for the third time. "This is the pinnacle for any fighter," he says. "It does not get any better than this."

Indeed not. Moreover, Hatton could always return to casino-land as a stand-up patter merchant. He has always been the joker of the ring, not so much a Jack-the-lad but a natural comic with the people's touch, a homespun folk hero who takes his washing home to mum, likes a jar, a jape and a game of darts down at his local and prefers a bacon buttie to boeuf en croûte.

"It costs nothing to be nice to people," he says. "When you start to believe in your own hype, particularly in boxing, it's the worst thing you can do. What's the point of winning titles and being on the telly if everyone thinks you're a bit of a tosser? I'd be devastated if I walked into a pub and people thought I was up my own arse."

The American cognoscenti have light regard for Hatton. "A good blue-collar fighter" is the dismissive view of one of their top promoters, Gary Shaw, though Saturday's ringmaster, Oscar de la Hoya, who took Mayweather to a split decision in May, says he believes Hatton will win the battle of the undefeated. Should the Hitman achieve a seismic upset, it will arguably be the greatest victory by a British boxer over an American since Randolph Turpin outpointed Sugar Ray Robinson 57 years ago. Artist versus artisan, then. Mayweather, for all his bling, bullshine and braggadocio, is a class act. His is the Star Spangled Manner. Cute is not an adjective you would affix to him out of the ring, but once inside that is exactly what he is. And sub-limely skilled with it. Yet, objectionable as he can be in his crude, Ali-like dissing of opponents, behind the hype and flash faade there is, as with Ali, an engaging character. Callers to his backstreet gym in downtown Vegas find the world's best pound-for-pound fighter a mellow fellow.

"Everyone is entitled to judge a person as they want but I've got a good heart and all I've ever done is dedicate myself to boxing. I just believe in my own skills. But each fight has to have a good guy and a bad guy. I don't dislike Hatton. I find him quite amusing and I think he's a hell of a fighter. But you don't see me in a pub after a fight drinking beer. That's unhealthy."

Hubris could be his middle name, but Mayweather is the best of his age, though he somewhat overstates his claim to be the greatest of all time. Interestingly, the 30-year-old trash-talking hip-hopper has been troubled only by go-forward fighters such as Jose Luis Castillo and De la Hoya in his 38 fights. There is a suspicion too that his hands, as brittle as Hatton's eyebrows, have been damaged in training, because he has done so little work on the bags. If so, it could be critical, as he hasn't really had a knockout punch since his lightweight days, though his quicksilver blows have the sharpness of a chiv.

One concern is whether Hatton's diet-driven quest for the perfect condition has been achieved a tad too soon this time rather than too late. How much has been left in the gym? While Hatton gets fit to fight, Mayweather is a natural athlete who is in shape every day. Also, in his only previous excursion into the welterweight ranks, against Luis Collazo, Hatton was at his least effective.

He promises to do proud the 4,000 British fans who have tickets for the 15,500-capacity MGM Grand Arena and the 20,000 more who will be in town but have to watch on closed-circuit TV. There is some merit in the argument that in his 43 fights Hatton has yet to encounter a man at the peak of his power. Even when he beat Kostya Tszyu into sit-down submission he was facing an ageing opponent who was past his best. As wasCastillo, whom he felled with a brutal body punch. But Hatton says: "I raised myself against Tszyu when people did not give me a prayer. They've written me off in America for this one but I don't care, because winning will be all the sweeter.

"When people look back on Ricky Hatton, I want them to say, 'By God he could fight. He was in some right wars'." No doubt this will be one of them, a $25 million (12m) match-up that potentially has echoes of an Ali-Frazier epic, so contrasting are their styles. Hatton doubts he can break Mayweather's ribs but he hopes he will break his heart, and he is certainly in with a shout. Quite a lot of fellow pros give Hatton hope. Barry McGuigan, who knows what it is like when the heat is on in Las Vegas, says: "Mayweather figures Hatton is a one-trick pony who will simply be a punchbag for him. He seriously underestimates Ricky."

Hatton admits Mayweather is more gifted but argues that the man with the most talent does not always win. Alas, in Las Vegas, that's the way to bet.

If he hasn't already been cut, one fears that in the later rounds the blue-collar man will be labouring towards a points defeat. He may lose this fight, but as a people's champion he will always be a winner.

The team behind 'the hitman'

The Manager: Hatton's father, Ray, once on Manchester City's books as a midfielder, has taken care of business since the fighter split with Frank Warren two years ago. A former publican, he runs a chain of carpet shops Ricky once worked in one and says he takes only a nominal 1 a year from their company, Punch Promotions, for negotiating his son's multi-million-pound fight deals "to keep things legal". Hatton is already worth more than 12 million.

The Trainer: Billy "The Preacher" Graham is a ringwise ex-pro and fellow Mancunian who has been Hatton's strategist, task-master and conditioner for 11 years: "The first time I saw Ricky in action he made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end."

The Cuts Man: If Hatton's fragile eyebrows the most vulnerable part of his anatomy, upon which he has twice required plastic surgery are sliced open, Mick Williamson, a London cabbie, will be on hand with the swab sticks and adrenalin solution. Quickly stemming the wounds of boxing's "bleeders" is his speciality.

The Nutritionist: It is the job of Kerry Kayes, a former British bodybuilding champion, to design and supervise the diet which unclogs Hatton's digestive system after those happy between-fights hours spent in the local pub and greasy spoon. Hatton regularly sheds three stones to make the weight.

The Cheerleader: "C'mon Ricky! C'mon son!" Mum Carol's exhortations can be heard above all others at the ringside. "She's an effin' monster," jokes Ricky. "That's where my left hook comes from." Carol retorts: "He gets all his best lines from me"

The Belt Bearer: Best pal Wayne Rooney can't make it this time, but David Beckham comes on as sub at the MGM Grand even though Hatton is a dyed-in-the-blue Manchester City fan, owning one of their VIP boxes.

The Sparmate: Brother Matthew, 26, winner of 32 of his 36 fights, provides ready-made workouts as he is himself holder of the IBO Inter-Continental welterweight title.

The Minder: Not that Hatton really needs one, but ex-policeman Paul Speake also acts as his PR go-between.

The Girlfriend: Jennifer Dooley is his live-in partner. Hatton has a six-year-old son, Campbell, by a previous relationship.

Watch Hatton against Mayweather on Sky Box Office next Saturday from 11pm

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