Boxing: Time for Hatton to fight back to reality
Saturday 24 May 2008
Forget 55,000 people, forget the millions made and forget the 43 wins because tonight at the City of Manchester Stadium Ricky Hatton is fighting for something far more elusive than the facts and figures that so neatly explain the boxing business.
Last December Hatton was left exposed, bloody and dazed on the canvas in Las Vegas by the furious fists of Floyd Mayweather and tonight's return to the ring against Mexican veteran Juan Lazcano is about finding out just how much it hurt Hatton.
Bruises fade and cuts heal but men like Hatton, dedicated and devoted practitioners in the fight game, often struggle to find their true form after shocking defeats, which have turned into lost causes long before the painful end. In the ring against Mayweather there was simply nothing that he could do to bridge the gap in class and instead of using his brain to find a passage, Hatton used his heart and exposed himself to a vicious beating. At the time he wept in frustration at this mistake and not in pain.
In the emotional hours after the first loss in his glittering career, Hatton and the men and women supporting his every move seemed resigned to the calamity and their appraisal of the disaster was painfully honest. Sadly, there is a new interpretation of the fight and it is in my opinion at odds with the reality of a night when Hatton simply got it all wrong and boxed the perfect fight to get knocked out.
Hatton is arguably the sport of boxing's biggest attraction and that is why fights in Las Vegas, Madison Square Garden, the Millennium Stadium and Wembley are being talked about in bold terms with £10m, £20m and even £30m being named as the bounty. The kid from Manchester who still likes a curry, a pint and a karaoke in a local boozer is a major player and if he is matched with any of the sport's other stars the figures could break all box-office records. Last year over 40,000 British fans traipsed out in glory with their pockets bulging for Hatton's three fights in Las Vegas.
Tonight, however, as I mentioned earlier is not about figures, which is a pity because they are impressive. The show sold out in two weeks and 44,000 tickets went on the first morning and, trust me, Lazcano had absolutely nothing to do with a single sale. It is the Ricky Hatton show and that is why the Americans – Oscar de la Hoya and his partner Richard Schaeffer – are in town to keep an eye on the fighter and their future partner in the promotional business.
Lazcano, a Mexican who has mixed in decent company, will only become a danger if Hatton has little left and displays his faults like a shot fighter. The interest is in the method of Hatton's victory and I want to see how he responds if cut, how he responds if Lazcano starts to use his elbows and forearms or simply refuses to fold and fall over. I want an assurance that Hatton has not been scarred forever by the loss.
Hatton blames the referee for his defeat last year and Mayweather's dirty tactics, and I get the impression that every time Hatton sits down to watch a DVD of the fight he gets up truly believing that he was robbed or jobbed. It probably does not help that the men and women watching with him are unlikely to sit back and contradict his interpretation. It is not just Hatton reinventing the fight and its outcome because back in March, Schaeffer, who runs Golden Boy Promotions with De La Hoya, declared at a press conference in London that Hatton was winning after six rounds which he most certainly was not. Having the most fans, the biggest heart and charging forward does not a victory make.
This time last year I would be happily predicting a Hatton win inside 10 rounds but that was before the night of horrors in Las Vegas. Hatton has to think his way to victory by using his head and feet and not lunge like a maniac. Lazcano has not fought in 15 months and will be rusty, and that should leave him tentative early on as he attempts to balance his distance and timing. There is a chance that Hatton, urged on by the his devoted flock, could end it quickly with Lazcano's inactivity complimenting Hatton's short hooks.
It is in many ways the most important fight of Hatton's career and suggestions that it will be an easy win miss the truth lurking behind the sold-out venue and the bright expectations of a lucrative future. This is a fight to find out what Hatton really has left inside; it is a measure of his heart and his ability to recover from defeat. There is the possibility that he will crash into a previously unknown deficiency and that is what makes tonight's 12-round fight such an attraction.
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