Boxing: Lose this one and I'll have to pack in, says Hatton

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The Independent Online

While Joe Calzaghe sends out mixed messages about whether his comprehensive conquest of a shop-soiled Roy Jones Jnr was his final curtain-call – the probability is that he will be tempted with an encore against the similarly undefeated American champion Chad Dawson in Wales next spring – his former stablemate Ricky Hatton admits that he has been on the brink of quitting himself.

On Saturday, the Hitman returns to the scene of his only defeat, against Floyd Mayweather Jnr at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, to take on the Sicilian-born New Yorker Paulie Malignaggi for the little-regarded IBO(International Boxing Organisation) light-welterweight title. Like Calzaghe, he will be entering the combat zone for the 46th and possibly the last time. And he revealed to The Independent on Sunday that he has been close to retiring following the Mayweather knockout and his undistinguished homecoming fight, against Juan Lazcano, in May. Only the persuasive influence of Mayweather's father, Floyd Snr – now his new trainer – encouraged him to give it one more shot.

Speaking from his training camp in the foothills of Mount Charleston in the Nevada Desert, Hatton (right) said: "I started thinking to myself whether I was past it, that my best days were behind me and maybe I'd had too many fights. I started believing I may have seen better days. I genuinely thought of quitting. I'm a sensible lad, and in a sport like boxing you need to be honest to yourself. The defeat against Mayweather got me thinking, and against Lazcano I wasn't myself. It looked a shit performance but I'd had a chest infection and there were other reasons. It's hard coming back after a knockout and first defeat as far as confidence goes.

"The warning signs were on and I felt that if I didn't see any improvement after this training camp I would have to think seriouslyabout retiring. I had all those demons in my head about being knocked out by Floyd. But his old man has had me jumping out of my skin. He's picked me up. He's been up with me at 5.30am, running up the mountain, always by my side. It's the best camp I've had for three years, and what has happened here has put my mind at rest."

But he does admit that if he does not turn it on against "Magic Man" Malignaggi he is almost certain to turn it in. "Malig-naggi is a fantastic talent, a hard man to look good against. But when you look at his arsenal and compare it with mine, well, if I was to lose to someone like him, I'd have to take a good look at myself. I can't afford to put on a stinker. If I did and I lost then I really would have to think about packing it in."

This fight carries Hatton, now 30, into unfamiliar terrain. He has partedcompany with his long-time trainer, Billy Graham, and diet guru, Kerry Kayes, the mates who whipped him back into shape after his infamous between-bouts bingeing. It remains to be seen what the voluble May-weather Snr has brought to the Hattontable, although Frank Warren, the promoter from whom Hatton also walked away, says: "The only thing he can teach him is how to swear better."

Hatton argues: "I needed something to pick me up. In the last few years, because of his hand problems, Billy [Graham] wasn't able to do as much as previously. What Floyd has done is remind me that I am not just a power-house, there to bulldoze my opponents. I'll be my usual aggressive self – plenty of crash, bang, wallop. But I will go back to my boxing. Malignaggiwill expect me to come at him a hundred miles an hour with my body- punching. Well, he is gonna get it, but with a lot more subtlety. The daggers are out, but I'm going to show thecritics up again."

We pray he is right, and that it is not to be the fateful night when his Rabelaisian lifestyle finally overtakes him, leaving him as wide-eyed and legless as he was when mauled by Mayweather. His new drill sergeant may have given him fresh heart, but what he can't provide are fresh legs.

Hatton needs to win quickly, for while the mouthy Malignaggi, 27, whose sole defeat in 26 fights was against the top-rated Miguel Cotto, may not be able to break the proverbial egg, his defensive skills and ring mobility may be sufficient to break that Hatton heart when the multimillionaire Mancunian is tired in the later rounds. If the Hitman can't make the Magic Man disappear, it is surely time to go, hopefullywith money and marbles intact.

Hatton v Malignaggi is live on Sky Box Office: 08442 410 888

The new bernard manning?

When Ricky Hatton does retire, he plans a career as a comic. He already has his own cheeky chat show on Nuts TV, and is a regular on the after-dinner and stand-up circuit, delivering expletive-ridden punchlines that owe much to his late Mancunian mate Bernard Manning. "Say what you like about him," says Hatton, "but the way he told gags was second to none."

This is how the Hitman tells 'em:

"What an absolute pleasure it is to be entertaining an audience without someone trying to smash my fuckin' teeth in."

"Pavarotti? He was a miserable fucker. I went to one of his concerts and he doesn't like ya joining in, does he?"

"One thing I can't stand more than Man United, it's that Cristiano Ronaldo. What a dickhead. He was on TV the other day while I was Hoovering. I bumped into the TV and he fucking fell over."

"My dad's so small, he uses a Dorito as a hang glider."

"I love my mother more than anyone on this earth. But she's a monster. When she walks in the kitchen in the morning, the Rice Krispies don't say, 'Snap, crackle, pop'. They say, 'Shut the fuck up! She's coming!' "

"Don't adjust your telly," he tells viewers. "That's exactly what she fuckin' looks like."

"I fought a Puerto Rican guy who had so much hair under his armpits it looked as if he had Don King in a headlock."

"My trainer once told me touse the rowing machine toget in shape. I got on it, andit sank."

To a heckler: "Save your breath mate – don't forget when you get home you've got to blow up the missus." Boom boom.

Alan Hubbard