Boxing: Witter's bitter body blow

Senior Junior of battling British trio looks on in dismay with Hatton now out of reach
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The Independent Online

For years he has harangued Ricky Hatton, unsuccessfully trying to entice the evasive Hitman into the ring. Hatton always claimed that he had bigger fish to fight than Junior Witter and now, of course he has, hooking Floyd Mayweather in boxing's biggest fight of the year.

Which means that Witter has to acknowledge that his long-cherished dream of sharing the same ring as Britain's most popular fighter in what he believes would have been a surefire sell-out domestic showdown is never to be, even though both hold versions of the worldlight-welterweight title.

So is Witter bitter? Well, understandably, just a bit. "Obviously I regret I've never got to him but boxing's like that," says Witter, who has also been British, Commonwealth and European champion. "The politics of the game kept us apart as much as anything when Hatton was with Frank Warren but even so, I know deep down he never fancied fighting me because he knew I had the style to beat him, just as Mayweather has. Floyd will box his ears off, as I would have done."

Witter has never been short of self-belief and he certainly has the record (only one defeat, on points to the highly rated Zab Judah, in 10 years) that would have merited a serious payday with the undefeated Hatton. "But you don't always get what you want, or what you think you deserve," he says. "You have to take what comes."

So while Hatton prepares to fight the world's best pound-for-pound fighter in Las Vegas's 20,000-seater MGM Grand on 8 December for around £5 million, Witter has to settle for a fraction of that in making a Sky-televised second defence of his World Boxing Council title against the US-based Guyanan Vivian Harris before a crowd of 2,000 at the Dome in his new home town of Doncaster on Friday night.

Witter's is regarded as the most authentic version of the world title, one that the once multi-belted Hatton, now the International Boxing Organisation champion, has never held. Remarkably, Britain now has a trio of world champions at this weight, with the little Welsh terrier Gavin Rees having acquired the World Boxing Association crown last month.

This makes Junior the most senior of Britain's champions, And he has no intention of letting his status slide against Harris, 29, a former WBA champion who has two defeats in 31 bouts and made three successful defences before he was stopped by Carlos Maussa, who gave Hatton some trouble too.

Harris can bang a bit, with 18 knockouts, and Witter, a product of the Brendan Ingle school of self-protective skills, which has honed some of the nation's finest hit-and-hop-it talents, not least the unlamented Naseem Hamed, knows he must be on his toes. "I know his style. He's smart, has power and will be looking to set me up for some bombs," says Witter. "He's also about four inches taller, but that doesn't bother me. I'm used to fighting bigger men."

Warren always maintained that a Hatton-Witter fight would not draw because Witter has too frequently looked pedestrian when he needed to put on a show, especially for American TV audiences. But switch-hitter Witter argues that he is "a late bloomer" and is boxing better and punching harder now than he has ever done. "I'm 33 but I reckon I could go on until I'm 40. I've never been damaged. The time would come if I ever slow down and start getting caught, but I don't see it."

He admits that sometimes making the 10-stone limit can be troublesome. "I've never had the problems Hatton's had but it's not easy," he reveals. "The hardest part of boxing is controlling your weight. I have a dietician and stay on track. I've always tried to look after myself out of the ring. I don't overindulge to the extent that Hatton does but I like a drink, though a couple of Red Bulls is more my limit. He really likes to live it up between fights, and good luck to him, but how long can he go on doing it before that sort of lifestyle catches up with him? If I allowed myself to get that much out of shape I'd never get back into it.

"Ricky is a terrific body- puncher, as we saw against [Jose Luis] Castillo, but he's easy enough to get away from, and easy enough to read. He's never made a mandatory defence of any of his titles and never really met an opponent who was at his peak.

"But Mayweather is right on his game. He's slick, and far too cute for Ricky. I'd have fought Hatton the same way I think Mayweather will, keeping him at range with long, straight shots, picking him to pieces. I can't see any way Hatton can beat him. I think he'll lose to Mayweather and then retire."

Witter, who has moved to Doncaster from Bradford – "my girlfriend has even got me following the Rovers" – insists he will not spend much time fretting about what might have been. "Of course I'd like to have had a marquee fight against Hatton," he admits, "but there are others out there for me, like unification fights with Rees or the IBF [International Boxing Federation] champion Paulio Malignaggi.

"And I'd certainly be in the market to meet Mayweather, Shane Moseley or Oscar de la Hoya. I've always been confident that whoever I box, I'll beat."

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