Boxing: The 'Fat Man' strikes back
Ricky Hatton was at his dazzling best on Saturday and now aims for a bigger prize on home canvas, writes Steve Bunce in Las Vegas
Monday 24 November 2008
It looks like the crisis is over inside Ricky Hatton's head and it is business as usual in boxing land for the fighter and his dreams.
On Saturday night at the MGM, another capacity audience of devoted British fans and converted Las Vegas fight people watched in appreciation as a vintage Hatton ruined the world-class Paulie Malignaggi in 10 completed rounds and 28 seconds of the 11th in their IBO world light-welterweight title bout.
Malignaggi was totally outclassed by the holder Hatton before the American's trainer, Buddy McGirt, broke the fighter's heart by sending a sensible towel of capitulation into the ring to halt the massacre. Malignaggi complained bitterly, but the truth is that he just about won the opener and had taken a steady beating since the start of round two.
There was, in the harsh surrounds of the ring, no room for retreat for the smart-boxing New Yorker. He was hit from all angles, and the pace and ferocity of Hatton's assault were relentless. It was a relief to watch after too many predictable fights.
It was one of the best performances of Hatton's career in many ways and the fact that Malignaggi, who had held a real world title, is such a light puncher only added to how impressive Hatton could look. Hopefully, on Saturday night Hatton finally overcame the haunting memories of last year's painful and shocking loss to Floyd Mayweather Jnr in the same ring at the same venue.
In the long and solitary days before Saturday's first bell there was a creeping sense of finality about Hatton's quite stunning preparation. He spoke of having nowhere to go in defeat and hinted that he needed this win not only to get on with the boxing but to get on with his life. "My brain was all over the place," he said when talking about his win in May against the Mexican Juan Lazcano.
On Saturday, I'm convinced that Hatton, who entered the arena sporting a joke "fat man" suit, was fighting to find his confidence and with each passing round and each successful short or long combination it was clear that he was getting back the old feeling. He spoke before the fight of feeling like he had five or six years ago, and there were moments against Malignaggi when he looked as good as he has ever done in any of his 46 fights.
His new partnership with Floyd Mayweather Snr, which was forged in a hurry and in a bizarre twist because of the damage that his new trainer's son had inflicted on Hatton, worked smoothly. However, a degree of caution should be attached to excessive praise because it was not a new Hatton in the ring – it was simply an appearance by a fresher and faster Hatton from a few years ago. Hatton's split, after 12 years and 45 fights, with Billy Graham deserves more than just a footnote under the tributes for Mayweather's contribution.
"Ricky is a great learner and a great listener," Mayweather said. "He did what he had to do – he carried out my plan and he knew that what I told him was what he needed to do." Before the contest, Mayweather had read a five-minute poem detailing the fight's outcome and he has never been shy of taking credit for his boxer's performances.
In the moments after McGirt put an end to the fight, the celebrations inside the Hatton family area at ringside were understandably ecstatic. Once again there exists a mood of optimism inside Team Hatton and already their gaze is fixed on the outcome of a fight that takes place in Las Vegas on 6 December between Oscar De La Hoya and Manny Pacquiao.
That fight took more than $17m (£11.4m) on the first morning tickets were on sale and is expected to generate close to $200m. Hatton has placed himself firmly in the leading position to meet the winner in a fight that will shatter the record for a fight involving a British boxer. De La Hoya, whose promotional company Golden Boy works closely with Hatton's, has agreed in principle to fight the Mancunian at Wembley Stadium next summer. There are, it has to be said, dozens of potential problems because that is the way business in the world of boxing takes place.
"I have been saying for a long time that I'm ready to go back to 147lb [welterweight] for a fight with Oscar or Manny," Hatton said. "What kind of champion would I be if I was not prepared to step up for a big challenge?"
A poorer one is the obvious answer ,because Hatton has a trio of potential fights at light welterweight that could be made in about three seconds, but none of them would generate 20 per cent of his end of a showdown against De La Hoya.
It is worth remembering that the only thing that ever makes sense in the boxing world revolves around the cash. Hatton has eyes for a big fight and a big fight only and he is convinced that it can be made. This week, Hatton and his people will consider their options and take long looks at proposals, but there is no chance of anything serious being reached until after the 6 December fight. Hatton will be a ringside guest and the wheels of the fight machine for a night of glory at Wembley could be rolling before Christmas.
On Saturday night, there was something gloriously familiar about the way Hatton moved and bent his knees, and tucked his head from side to side and launched his attacks. It was the old Hatton and one that in so many ways got lost last year during two wins and the defeat in the gambling city. And he knows that not many losers ever get to win in Las Vegas.
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