Boxing: Hitman languishes in the shadowlands

Britain's leading talent left in the doldrums
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These are vexing times for Ricky Hatton. By rights, as well as the left hooks he throws to the body with such rib-cracking venom, he should not only be the most popular pugilistic figure in Britain but the perfect candidate in such lean times for Sports Personality of the Year.

Yet since his wondrous conquest of Kostya Tszyu 14 months ago, when he established himself as the outstanding 10st fighter in the world, Hatton's career has more or less been on hold. True, he did move up to acquire a version of the world welterweight title with a somewhat fortuitous victory over Luis Collazo in May. But he has now decided to scale back down to his former weight to rechallenge for the IBF title he relinquished, against a little-known but unbeaten Colombian, Juan Fernando Urango.

The fight is likely to take place in Atlanta on 9 December, which means that Hatton's gameplan of a mega-bucks meeting with one of the ring's superstars at Madison Square Garden or in Las Vegas remains a distant dream.

Since the acrimonious split with his long-time promoter and mentor Frank Warren following the Tszyu fight, things do not seem to have developed quite the way Hatton and those now advising him had foreseen.

Floyd Mayweather, the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, who was his cherished target, has now put himself beyond Hatton's immediate reach by taking on Cory Spinks in November for the IBF light-middleweight title. In view of Mayweather's weightier ambit-ions it is evident that Hatton no longer looms on his horizon.

So where does The Hitman go from here? To Atlanta, it seems, and back down to light-welter. The irony here is that Bradford's Junior Witter, a domestic rival Hatton steadfastly declined to meet as he was not considered sufficiently box- office, is himself about to fight one of Don King's men, DeMarcus Corley, on 15 Decem-ber in London for the most authentic version of the world light-welter title, the WBC belt left vacant when Mayweather elected to move up. Should he win, a fight with Hatton would appear an infinitely more attractive proposition - not least to Hatton, who needs to project himself back into the public consciousness with his Sky backers.

The upside is that may find his former division a more profitable pasture, with names such as Miguel Cotto and Jose Luis Cast-illo on a possible 2007fixture list.

But another consequence of the contractual divorce from Warren is that Hatton, 28 in October and the best supported boxer in the land, can no longer fight at the 22,000-capacity MEN Arena in Manchester, where he made his name. His vast army of Mancunian fans have since had to travel, first to Sheffield, where he relieved Carlos Maussa of the WBA light-welter title, and then to Boston, US, for the Collazo fight, which failed to ignite the American TV audience.

And now, apparently, to Atlanta. Moreover, by now Hatton would surely have the national recognition his bristling talent deserves had he been part of the ITV boxing package that has already shot Amir Khan to terrestrial stardom and witnessed the Ali-like performance of Hatton's erstwhile stablemate Joe Calzaghe in unifying the world super-middleweight title at Hatton's Manchester alma mater.

The other concern surrounding the see-sawing Hatton is that between bouts he continues to be more of a middleweight - in terms of the weight he carries around his middle. He has always enjoyed a liquid celebration, and the fact that after moving up to welterweight he is now about to go back down to light-welter no doubt will come under close scrutiny from the British Boxing Board of Control, always anxious about the effects of rapidly induced weight-loss.

But, in fairness to Hatton, who is supervised by a diet expert when in training, he has always seemed more comfortable at 10st - certainly more so than he did weighing seven pounds heavier against Collazo. His trainer, Billy Graham, maintains he is still a natural light-welter.

And Hatton himself is, as you might expect, unfazed by suggestions his career has hit an impasse. He has no regrets, he insists, about gaining his indepen-dence. "Sometimes I feel grateful for all Frank did for me. At other times I just want to strangle him," he has said. Warren maintains that any ill-feeling on his part is not directed at Hatton but at his father, Ray, a former Manchester City footballer, who now controls his son's business affairs. "I have never had a cross word with Ricky himself," Warren says.

For all this, Hatton remains unbeaten after 41 fights and believes he will get even better. "When you beat someone like Tszyu, every fight after that is something of a comedown, but there are still mountains I want to climb."

Whether or not Hatton comes to rue cutting himself off from a mainstream promoter while at the peak of his career, one hopes those mountains do not harbour slippery slopes.