Boxing: 'I want it written in capital letters that I will fight anyone, and it's not about the money'

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Britain's world champion Ricky Hatton is annoyed. He tells Steve Bunce why .

It is obvious that Ricky Hatton is in a bad mood according to his dad, Ray. He will no longer make the tea at the family carpet shop. According to the boxer, he will no longer meet inferior boxers in fights that he has no heart for either. He needs a test, he wants a test and he insists that inside the next six months he will finally get one.

"Everybody that knows me has seen me change during the last year or so and that is because it has been very frustrating being Ricky Hatton," said Hatton at his gym in Denton earlier this week.

"I've not been happy with the opponents and I've not been happy with the way some things have been going and I'm not one to keep my mouth shut if I'm annoyed. This year I've been pissed off and I've let everybody know," said Hatton. That includes his dad and his promoter, Frank Warren.

Today Hatton is a happier man than he has been since last December and that is because at about 10 o'clock this evening he will step into the now familiar ring at the MEN Arena, in his home town of Manchester, for what he considers a real fight against a proper fighter. In the opposite corner will be the American Michael Stewart, who will step through the ropes knowing he is the underdog but willing, as ever, to test his limited skills against a better opponent.

The winner of tonight's fight will leave the ring with the World Boxing Union light-welterweight bauble, which Hatton is aiming to defend for the 14th time, and the right to challenge for the International Boxing Federation title sometime next year. It is the uncertainty of a real fight that has made Hatton so irritable and angry this year and he knows that a quick win this evening will not bring a big fight closer any quicker.

In theory, the winner of tonight's fight will meet the winner of the optimistically scheduled bout on 6 November between Australia's Russian emigré Kostya Tszyu and the American Sharmba Mitchell. However, Hatton has seen this fight announced and postponed too many times in the past and he has heard the rumours that it will be put back until next April or May.

"I really don't want to be sitting here hearing the same accusations that I'm avoiding the world's top fighters and just banking bundles of cash," said Hatton in the gym's tiny back room which doubles as a video parlour and tea kitchen.

"I want it written in giant capital letters that I will fight anyone, anywhere and it is not about the money. I know what people say behind my back and I want to put an end to that," Hatton said.

Back in April Hatton was less than 48 hours away from finally getting a fight against one of the sport's leading young contenders, but for some reason Kelson Pinto withdrew.

At the time, and with a capacity crowd of 17,000 already planning their Saturday night celebrations, a selection of absurd excuses appeared to shield the truth of Pinto's withdrawal. It was said that he had an injury, he was in dispute with his management, he had missed the plane and that he had remained in Brazil to be at his pregnant wife's bedside.

"I'm sick of hearing the excuses and this year I've heard plenty. Excuses mean nothing and excuses are bad for me because they make me look like the one that never wanted the fight so I have told Frank [Warren] to not give me any more excuses in the future," Hatton said.

"At the same time I understand just how difficult it can be to make big international fights happen and I know that there has been some bad luck involved and that Frank, with his justifiable reputation for delivering, will come through in the end. I know that and I'm sick of hearing people doubt both me and Frank," Hatton said.

When Pinto failed to appear, a Danish boxer called Dennis Pedersen was acquired for slaughter and fell in six easy rounds, but that was a quality fight, an entertaining match compared to Hatton's dismal appearance in June when he required 12 one-sided and unimaginative rounds to outpoint Carlos Wilfredo Vilches, of Colombia, in the same MEN ring and in front of the same faithful crowd.

"Both of those fights were disappointing to me and I don't wish to be disrespectful, but there was simply no way that I could lose either of them and I know that I went through the motions both in the gym and in the ring," said Hatton.

"That has all changed now and since Stewart was announced as an opponent I have felt totally different. I felt like I did last year and that is fantastic for me and I know it will be a good night for the fans," continued Hatton.

The fans had initially been slow to react to Sky's decision to switch their boxing schedule from Saturday night to Friday night, but during the last five or six days the box office at the MEN has been busy and a crowd of more than 12,000 is now expected.

There had been some concern, less than a week ago, that fewer than 3,000 tickets had sold which is not surprising considering that Hatton had become part of a Saturday night out and that Friday, in Manchester, is a night for a good drink and not a good night out.