Manchester City fan Ricky Hatton may have had reason to be rueful after watching his beloved Blues counted out in the Old Trafford derby but his consolation is being catapulted into boxing's premiership by virtue of a scintillating points victory over probably his most seasoned opponent to date, Ben Tackie, here at the MEN Arena last night.
Hatton, Britain's boxer of the year, had his finest hour, taming Tackie over 12 rounds by mixing his trademark body shots with a bewildering array of head punches. The game Ghanaian was never really in a fight Hatton ruthlessly controlled from the start. The 11th successful defence of his World Boxing Union light-welterweight title had more than his usual blend of brilliance and brutality, as reflected in the judges' scorecards, two of which showed him winning 11 of the 12 rounds. It was an old-fashioned boxing lesson and he has rarely performed better.
Now Hatton must be heading the queue for a shot at the world's best in the division, perhaps meeting the winner of the February showdown between the American Sharmba Mitchell and the light-welterweight supremo Kostya Tszyu, the Australian Russian who holds the WBC, IBF and WBA titles. Both have beaten Tackie but neither so comprehensively.
It was a fight in which blood was curdled but never spilled, though tempers frayed at the end of the fourth round when Tackie threw a punch after the bell. He did so again at the end of the fifth and Hatton responded angrily, the pair having to be separated by the referee Mickey Vann, who subsequently hauled them together for peace talks before the start of the sixth.
Tackie was warned for late blows, low blows and head butts but Hatton handled him magnificently. "Now,'' he said, "it is time to start stalking the really big game. I may hold a world title but what I want to be is the best in the world and I know there are men I must beat to prove this,'' he said.
A 16,000 crowd was again evidence that 25-year-old Hatton is the most popular fighter in the country and arguably the most effective. Last night he showed a maturity and ringcraft that augurs well for his ultimate ambitions.
Fellow Mancunian David Barnes added the Commonwealth title to his British welterweight crown when he stopped the Scottish champion Kevin McIntyre with a destructive barrage of head blows in the eighth round.
Although billed to appear, Danny Williams, the British heavyweight champion, did not because of difficulty in obtaining a short-notice opponent, but his decision to re-sign last week with his former promoter, Frank Warren, throws into doubt a possible championship fight with Audley Harrison. Warren deals exclusively with Sky while Harrison insists he will box only for the BBC, who bankrolled him when he turned pro.
Harrison may prefer to extend his stay in America where on Friday night, deep in the Nevada desert in what was scheduled as his first 10-rounder, he stopped New Yorker Brian Nix in three rounds. It was impressive but it will need someone of more substance to determine whether he really is a potential world champion.
In many ways, the 33-year-old journeyman was the perfect opponent. Nonetheless, in technical terms, this was the best performance of Harrison's 14 fights, notably his combinations of uppercuts with which he twice floored Nix in the third. Harrison says he will be "mixing it among the contenders'' towards the end of next year and if he continues to sharpen his punches as effectively on better quality opposition, that may well be the case.