Boxing: Hatton opts for ring rehab with 55,000 in his corner

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The Independent Online

Thankfully Henmania is no more at Wimbledon, but Hitmania will take over in Manchester next Saturday night. A crowd of 55,000, the biggest for a boxing event in post-war Britain, will celebrate the homecoming of sport's favourite cheeky chappy, Ricky Hatton, at his beloved football shrine.

Just as it has been said that the Wimbledon strawberry- munchers would have been happy to queue to see Tim Henman meet an orang-utan on the Centre Court, so those who worship at the fists of Hatton couldn't care less whether he was fighting Juan Lazcano or Juan Antonio Samaranch at the City of Manchester Stadium.

Hatton played fair with fans who have supported him throughout a career that has seen him become bracketed with Henry Cooper and Frank Bruno as Britain's best-loved fistic icons by making it a family affair, with most tickets costing less than for a Manchester City game. Hence the sell-out. These are the fans who do not care how comprehensively Hatton was dismantled by Floyd Mayweather five months ago. This is their eulogy to a homespun hero.

The Mexican Lazcano is one of those gnarled old Latin gladiators who, at 35, has known better days in the coliseums of clout from El Paso to Las Vegas. He has fought at the top level, though not since losing to Junior Witter's victim Viv-ian Harris 15 months ago. With four defeats in 42 fights, he seems the perfect opponent for Hatton's ring rehab.

At the start of the year, Britain had seven world champions; these were soon reduced to three, which goes to show that the fight game is swings and roundhouse rights, as Witter will testify after his loss to the young American Timothy Bradley last week. With Witter out of his hair, Hatton can concentrate on rebuilding his international status in what he says is likely to be his final appearance in the UK.

After defending his one remaining world title, the International Boxing Organisation light-welterweight belt – in truth little more than a luggage label – on Sky Box Office, he is scheduled to head to the US for more formidable opposition in Paul Malignaggi, who meets the Australian Lovemore N'dou on Saturday's undercard.

Hatton has had a chest infection, but the fans can breathe easily. "I'm over the worst," he said. "I had a few days off training but there's no way I would let these people down. I want to repay them for their loyalty with a fantastic performance.

"It's great to have 55,000 in your corner, but with it comes pressure. I don't want this to be remembered for being a stinker. I want peopleto walk away saying: 'Wow, this is the best boxing night we've ever been to'.

"Also, a lot of people are waiting with their daggers out. They are expecting me to nosedive after Mayweather, and not living life as maybe I should. But I ain't finished yet. My pride's hurt but my ego isn't. I know I can come back stronger.

"I get upset when people say I was convincingly beaten. OK, the knockout was convincing – you can't get more convincing than that – but I thought it was only in the last couple of rounds that he started to pull away. I laid my heart on the line against Mayweather, I gave it everything. I went out as a true champion and fans appreciate that. That's why they are coming."

However, if Lazcano is still coming after five rounds, it may be that more than Mayweather has caught up with Hatton. This is an open-air fight – in Manchester. May weather, eh? Let's hope it doesn't rain on his parade.

Wither the champs?

Still standing

Joe Calzaghe: Undisputed super-middleweight; may vacate to fight Roy Jones.

David Haye: Giving up WBC, WBA and WB0 cruiserweight titles to fight at heavyweight.

Ricky Hatton: Defends IBO light-weltertitle against Juan Lazcanoon Saturday.

Alex Arthur: New WBO super-featherweight champ after Joan Guzman vacated.

Knockdown prices

Enzo Maccarinelli: WB0 cruiserweight, lost to Haye. Gavin Rees: WBA light-welter, lost to Andreas Kotelnik.

Clinton Woods: IBF light-heavy, lost to Antonio Tarver.

Junior Witter: WBC light-welter, lost to Timothy Bradley last Saturday.

the contenders

Gary Lockett: Meets WBC/ WBO middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik in Atlantic City on 7 June. Prospects: slim.

Carl Froch: No 1 WBC super-middleweight challenger, may meet Jermaine Taylor if Calzaghe vacates. Prospects: reasonable.

Amir Khan: Expects to fight WBO lightweight champ Nate Campbell eventually. Prospects: good.

Alan Hubbard