Boxing: Witter's broadside for bloated Hatton

Hint of peace between Hit Man and former promoter - and talk of a duel to make fans drool

"Look at the state of his face," observed one ringsider as Clinton Woods posed for the snappers, hands raised wearily aloft in triumph, after retaining his IBF world light-heavyweight title against Glen Johnson in Bolton last weekend. But it was not the gutsy Sheffield man's visage, bruised and swollen as it was, that caught the eye - it was the bloated features which belonged to the famous figure by his side, Ricky Hatton.

"I thought he looked more like Bernard Manning," observed Junior Witter after watching the live telecast at his Bradford home. "It was disgraceful. How can any professional allow himself to get so out of condition?"

It is true that puffy, podgy Hatton, who was was doing the mentoring bit in Woods' corner, seemed more like a super-middleweight than a light-welterweight, the division he once dominated. "He had a double chin and a beer belly," added Witter disparagingly.

For years he has harangued Hatton, unsuccessfully trying to entice him into the ring, but the Hit Man always claimed that he had bigger fish to fight. "We all know Ricky likes a drink 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."

Witter, of course, has a vested interest in Hatton's welfare. On Friday, at London's atmospheric Alexandra Palace, he meets the American DeMarcos Corley for the vacant World Boxing Council title, generally regarded as the most authentic and hardest to win. It is one that the once multi-belted Hatton has never held.

Corley, who has campaigned with distinction against the best in the division and held the WBO version himself, is smart, experienced but beatable, a tad past his sell-by date. It should be a cracking scrap for the Ally Pally audience, which might well lead to Witter's long-awaited showdown with Hatton some time next year, though he isn't banking on it. But with the litigation between Hatton and his estranged former promoter Frank Warren suddenly shelved, there is talk of a rapprochement once Hatton's remaining two-fight contractual deal with the American TV network HBO has been fulfilled.

Hatton v Witter, in the former's old stamping ground at the MEN Arena in Manchester, would be an appetising domestic duel on a par with Woods v Joe Calzaghe, which, if last week's public handshake between Warren and Woods' promoter, Dennis Hobson, can be taken at face value, might also be realised.

But looking at Hatton, one wonders whether he has two more fights left in him since giving up the version of the world welterweight title he won somewhat fortuitously against Luis Collazo. He may diet and dry out yet again to boil down to the 10st limit for his next bout - now rescheduled for January - but at what cost to his body? Might he be going to the light-welterweight well once too often?

That is not Witter's immediate concern. The European champion knows he must box far more positively than he did in his previous world title attempt, when he came in at short notice and fought on the back foot towards a tame points defeat against Zab Judah on a Mike Tyson undercard in Glasgow six years ago. "I kicked myself all the way home afterwards," he admitted.

The counter-punching Witter is 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 currently unlamented Naseem Hamed and the enduring, though not endearing, Johnny Nelson. Ingle has always reckoned that Witter would "stand Hatton on his head". "Ricky's a terrific body puncher but he's easy enough to get away from, and easy enough to read," argued the fast-paced switch-hitter Witter.

Getting Friday's even-money bout, to be screened live at 10pm by Sky, has been a major coup for the energetic London promoter Mick Hennessy. Corley, like Witter, is 32 and has mixed in quality company, with the redoubtable Floyd Mayweather, Miguel Cotto and Judah featuring prominently on his 36-fight record. He lost to all three, but gave them trouble.

"He's quick and dangerous," says Witter of the Washington southpaw. "The real deal. I was 26 when I fought Judah [his only defeat in his own 36 bouts] but in boxing terms I was still a boy. I hadn't even fought for a domestic title. Now I'm a man, stronger and punching harder."

A rhythm and blues man, too, when it comes to dancing - his main passion outside boxing. Witter has always been as nifty on his feet as he is with his hands. It is a formidable combination which could be enough to see off the fading Corley on a night when the late-blooming Junior finally becomes one of boxing's senior pros.