Boxing: Hatton's fists of frenzy force Tszyu to throw in towel on dream night

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The Independent Online

Ricky Hatton started dreaming about nights like these when he was just a boy of 10.

Ricky Hatton started dreaming about nights like these when he was just a boy of 10.

He admitted in the early hours of yesterday morning that even in his wildest imaginings nothing could compare to the sensations that he was feeling, both painful and joyous, after beating Kostya Tszyu in possibly the best world title contest to take place in Britain.

Before the fight, which started at 2am, two and a half hours after the doors were locked at the packed MEN Arena, nobody predicted that Hatton would come back from what was looking like a lost cause to break the heart of a man that many in the boxing business considered the finest fighter in the world. But that is exactly what happened and it most certainly was not a dream.

When promoter Frank Warren finally persuaded both Hatton and Tszyu to attach their signatures to a slip of paper he knew that, after 25 years in the business, he had finally secured the big one. Warren quickly put together a package to finance the fight and the end result was that over 22,000 people rose out of their seats and somehow inspired their idol to a victory that ranks as high as, if not higher than, any of the other shocks in British boxing history.

The 35-year-old Tszyu - born in Russia and now a naturalised Australian - entered the ring in peak condition and was already planning a multimillion- dollar fight later this year in Las Vegas before Hatton's fists and the constant howling of desperate fans persuaded him that he was fighting in vain.

No one present or watching on television in any of the 80 countries that screened the fight will ever forget the few seconds that followed the bell to end round 11. Inside the steaming venue nobody had sat down for several minutes and as Hatton bounced back to his corner, punching the air and further inciting the frenzy of his fans, Tszyu walked back to his corner with his head low and blood seeping from a cut under his left eye.

Then the drama to cap all the previous highlights of a torrid and unforgettable night took place and it was like watching something in slow motion.

In Hatton's corner, his trainer Billy Graham, who has progressed from being a lost talent as a fighter in the 1980s to a man with such knowledge that nobody will ever doubt his credentials again, was furiously telling Hatton that he needed just one more round and then he would be the best light welterweight in the world. Hatton, whose face and eyes were swollen and red, nodded brightly in agreement.

In the opposite corner, a man called Johnny Lewis, who has handled the careers of hundreds of fighters during the last 40 years, placed his hands tenderly on Tszyu's shoulders and looked at his beaten fighter. He shook his head and whispered in Tszyu's ear: "You've not got a knock-out in you and you need one to win. I'm pulling you out, son.'' They were surely the bravest words that any trainer can ever utter.

There was bedlam when the crowd realised that their night of anxiety and exhilaration was over and that the man many of them have followed for the last five or six years had finally achieved what very few imagined he could.

Tszyu had pulled out and Hatton, the captain of his local darts team in Hyde, was the new International Boxing Federation light- welterweight champion. It was his 39th victory in 39 fights and British boxing had a fight to rival, if not better, anything from its past.

There were moments in rounds three, four, five and six when it looked likely that the calculating and precise Tszyu was actually toying with Hatton and lining him up for a painful and concussive finish.

However, that all started to change in round eight and by the end of round nine Tszyu, who was dropped by an illegal low blow in that round, had started to lose his clinical composure and his features were regularly being distorted by Hatton's scorching punches.

It was quite incredible to watch and by the end of round 10 Hatton had firmly overcome Tszyu's points lead and it was starting to look like the upset that so few predicted could actually take place.

In round 11, the round that will for ever be remembered as the one in which Hatton firmly and beyond any doubt established himself as a genuine player on the world stage and as one of British boxing's best, Tszyu finally relinquished his title and ended his 10-year reign of terror in the light-welterweight division. Hatton had him beaten and Tszyu knew it long before Lewis whispered that it was over.

Now Hatton must be left to heal because physically and probably mentally he will suffer from the exertions of the fight. He will go on a cruise, get a suntan, buy something nice for his mum and only then will he sit down and arrange a future that he secured during 11 fabulous rounds early yesterday morning.