'Hitman' to map out route back to the elite

Ricky Hatton against Oscar De La Hoya at Wembley Stadium next summer was just one fight that was over before the contract was drawn here on Saturday night and it was probably dropped in the opening few rounds.

So Hatton will need to win again and then win again to rejoin the elite of the sport and it is an elite group that, thanks to his two other fights in Las Vegas this year, he was very much a member of. Hatton will fight on and endorsements for his continuation in the fight business started with his mother, Carol, and ended with Floyd Mayweather, the man whose brain and fists ruined him.

"There are still a lot of big fights out there for Ricky Hatton," De La Hoya said. "He has established himself as a major player in boxing in the USA and he will be back."

However, his own planned fight with "the Hitman" is for the moment a non-starter. Billy Graham, Hatton's trainer for the last 12 years, echoed De La Hoya's claim but insisted that his days of fighting at welterweight were over.

"He's a man in his physical prime and if I thought he was slipping in any way I would tell him to retire. He will fight on but it will be at light-welterweight and I don't care how much money there is at welterweight," Graham said.

Hatton will take a break from the gym and relax before looking at the options but there will most definitely not be a shortage of offers. It is always the same when an unbeaten fighter loses and suddenly every promoter thinks his fighter can be the next to inflict a loss.

"Ricky will move back down to 140 pounds [light-welterweight] because there are fights there that have been talked about. He will remain popular because he lost like a champion in the ring," said Richard Schaeffer, who with De La Hoya runs Golden Boy Promotions.

Mayweather claimed he was bored with boxing and would go back into his retirement until the right offer arrived on his desk.

"Ricky will be a champion again. Me? I'm going to wait until another fight comes along that will bust the bank. That's the truth in this business," said Mayweather.

One option for Hatton is a long overdue domestic fight with Bradford's Junior Witter, the current World Boxing Council light-welterweight champion, who has been goading and chasing Hatton for five years. There would probably be a huge dispute over cash with Witter demanding a 50-50 split and Hatton, assuming his people promote it, rejecting the notion.

There is also a chance of a fight with New York's Paulie Malignaggi, the International Boxing Federation champion, and the possibility that having fought three times in Las Vegas, a move to America's other coast and a fight at Madison Square Garden would help with Hatton's appeal. It is also a fight the men at HBO would be likely to fancy providing Hatton gets a win first.

But long before there are any big adventures on the American market there will be a fight back in Britain. It will be Hatton's first since November 2005 and it will get the boxer back into his winning mindset and in some small way thank the fans who have followed him on his unique tour of Las Vegas this year.

But Hatton will stay a little longer in Las Vegas to take care of business and there is a night in the company of Tom Jones and the Spice Girls to consider. He will, hopefully, shut himself away from the press and cry on the shoulders of his family and loved ones.

He looked close to tears late on Saturday night as he stood on a podium at the post-fight press conference next to Mayweather, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marco Antonio Barrera, Bernard Hopkins and De La Hoya. He must know that it will take something special to get back in their company.

Who next for Ricky Hatton?

* OSCAR DE LA HOYA

He and Hatton have begun talks about a projected showdown at Wembley next year. But the weight discrepancy may prove crucial and it's no longer the best option for Hatton to bounce back to the top.

* JUNIOR WITTER

Such is Witter's contempt for his British rival that the chances of a domestic super-fight remain slight. But Witter is the WBC light-welterweight champion and public interest dictates that this remains by far Hatton's most attractive option.

* GAVIN REES

The Welshman holds the WBA 140lb title so there's something in it for Hatton but it is unlikely Rees would be up for the challenge. Promotional rivalries also make the fight almost a non-starter.

* RICARDO TORRES

The big-punching Colombian holds the WBO light-welterweight crown and boasts a record of 32-1. A good and a potentially explosive fight.

* PAULIE MALIGNAGGI

New York's IBF junior welterweight champion is a sharp stylist. His attraction is his ability to sell tickets at Madison Square Garden where he is eager to top the bill.

* MIGUEL COTTO

Cotto is now making his mark as a fully fledged welterweight so a fight which once seemed natural is now almost out of the question.

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