Now or Never: Hatton must box with his head not his heart to tame the untameable
The talking is over as Ricky Hatton goes for boxing immortality against Floyd Mayweather in Las Vegas
Saturday 08 December 2007
Forget 14 weeks of talk and hype because tonight, with nothing but a virgin canvas between them, Ricky Hatton and Floyd Mayweather will gaze in hate across 22 feet of a fighting square in the last moments before they go to work.
There is a story, and it is one I truly believe, that tonight's fight was made in the minutes after Hatton returned to his dressing-room in June after knocking out Mexico's Jose Luis Castillo here at the Thomas and Mack Centre.
A few miles away from the jubilation, in a private house hefty with bling attachments, Mayweather was on his mobile to his lawyer. He had rage in his voice having just heard Hatton ruin him in HBO's post-fight interview. "There was more action in the four rounds tonight than the whole of Mayweather's career," Hatton was saying. The crowd roared their approval and the men in tight tuxedos ringside for HBO appeared to nod in agreement. Mayweather told his lawyer: "Get me Hatton."
A few seconds later Hatton's own mobile sounded and he left the shower to take the call. It was Oscar De La Hoya, who is tonight's promoter, and he said the magic words: "Let's go get Floyd." The fight was announced about six weeks later and the rest is history.
In simple terms tonight's fight, which is officially for Mayweather's World Boxing Council belt and unofficially for the title of best pound-for-pound boxer in the world, is between a defensive genius and an aggressive slugger. One guy is good and the other guy is bad, one guy is quiet and the other guy is loud. That is the simple take, but it is not the real story of this truly remarkable fight.
Mayweather at 30 is older in years but younger in fight days than Hatton, who at 29, has pulled his frame through a lot of hard nights of pain. Mayweather has developed a style so elusive that, combined with the 22-foot ring which he insists on using, he has become virtually unbeatable. Hatton knew all of this when he signed and it is Mayweather's apparent invincibility that made "our Richard", as his parents call him, agree terms.
I am sure that there is a Roman general somewhere who talked about knowing your enemies better than you know your own strengths. Well, Hatton is aware of what it takes to beat Mayweather and has spent his days and nights in the gym plotting an overthrow that few in this illuminated casino sea of a city believe he is a capable of. He has been dismissed as a one-dimensional club fighter with guts and blood, but, deep in preparation, he has ignored the words of his critics. He has found moves to counter the inventions of Mayweather and it has to be said that many great fighters have failed to break through the American's system in the past.
In May, De La Hoya divided the spoils from the sport's most lucrative ever fight with Mayweather and lost on a split decision courtesy of a misguided judge.
The story of the fight the real story of the fight that night was De La Hoya's failure to find a way to work a spell and somehow beat Mayweather by knowing too much. It needs to be quickly and bluntly pointed out that Hatton is not a master tactician like De La Hoya, but he is a quick thinker on both sides of the ropes. De La Hoya remains slightly ashamed at his failing in that fight.
Hatton studied the first few rounds of the De La Hoya and Mayweather fight and, working late into the night with his trainer Billy Graham, searched for the gaps, the openings and the weaknesses in his opponent. Hatton has made no secret about his learning methods and has spent time behind closed doors with De La Hoya going over patterns. This fight is a long, long way from a being a brutal slugfest.
The easy money, in a town kept afloat by silly money, is on a Mayweather victory on points with every inch of the massive ring put to good use by the American in order to avoid Hatton. But, forget the easy money because this fight will be special.
Mayweather is angry and getting angrier by the day, getting more irate each time he hears his opponent's name screamed in his direction. There is no respect in Mayweather's head for what "Hatton the Hobbit", as he has recently been dubbed, can produce after the first bell. He has a picture of a dumb, short fighter falling short with punches and even shorter with ideas. The level of delusion is not a joke.
Hatton has also let Mayweather inside his heart and that could be a problem for the usually controlled fighter. He was wild in a previous fight, let it get too personal and was twice dropped by Belfast's Eamonn Magee. Speaking two days ago, Hatton insisted that he had his heart in control and that his head was once again pushing him forward.
The opening round will be a definite indicator of the next 11 and Mayweather will not run until he has tasted Hatton's punches. Hatton will be ready to tuck up and hold and think before lunging. It will be a tense opening minute with a struggle taking place inside both the boxers for control of their emotions. Anybody who thinks that this fight's build-up and tonight's atmosphere will not be a factor is crazy because there is simply no diversion here for either of the boxers.
By round six Hatton has to be in front and his eyes need to be open and uncut. It is a trio of dreams that Hatton and his people chant like maniacs. When the bell sounds to start round seven remember the moment because I believe we are all about to go somewhere very special. It will be, at this point, a fight for the ages.
And when it is over? Hatton on points is at last sounding like a possibility, but to get there the kid from Manchester will need to travel through the darkest of places pursued by a ring genius. I can just about see the light, but I admit that it is not burning too bright.
Who will win and why
IRAN BARKLEY (former world champion)
Who will win? Mayweather won't knock Hatton out, but he will beat him.
How? Decision or cuts.
Why? It won't come easy, but Mayweather has the talent to make it look easy. He does not have power like Hatton, but he's got more than enough speed and he knows how to make things happen. If Mayweather's hands don't fail him, he might be able to cut and stop Hatton. But I'm leaning toward a decision.
GERRY COONEY (former heavyweight)
Who will win? Mayweather.
How? Probably on cuts in the seventh or eighth.
Why? Hatton is a tough kid, but Mayweather should be able to pick him apart and chop him up. Hatton will keep him on the ropes all night long, but Mayweather will pot-shot him.
CAROL HATTON (Ricky's mother)
Who will win? Ricky, of course.
How? In the seventh.
Why? Seven's my lucky number. I'm telling you don't go to the kitchen to stick the kettle on in the seventh round. You'll miss my boy winning, if you do.
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