Ricky Hatton: 'This is my big shot at building a legacy'
For the boxer, now 30, Saturday's bout with Manny Pacquiao is about more than world titles. In Las Vegas, he tells James Lawton why he'll be remembered among the truly great fighters of all time
Wednesday 29 April 2009
The word sounds a little solemn on the lips of Ricky Hatton, who has done all of his fighting, and so much of his living, for good or bad, in the moment, but he likes the sound of it and he rolls it around his mouth as though it is a perfectly poured draught of Guinness.
It is Legacy, with that capital L, and as he drives down Las Vegas Boulevard on his fifth assignment here and sees again the neon flashing his name, this time in the company of Manny Pacquiao, the pound-for-pound champion who each day seems to be invested with new and mystical powers, the meaning of it for Hatton, aged 30, has crystallised into some epic detail.
"I'm thinking about my legacy now because I know that while I believe I'm still at my prime there isn't that much time left and I have learnt that a fighter only gets one shot at being something special and it can go very quickly," he says.
"So, yes, I know how I want it to end. I don't think of myself as too long in the tooth, but I'm wiser than I was, and I love it that the odds are so much in favour of Manny Pacquiao. I know I can beat him and then I also know what I want to do after that.
"I want to fight Manuel Marquez, who is rated No 2 pound-for-pound in the world, and then I want to rewrite the Floyd Mayweather Jnr business – maybe at Wembley. That would be a good way to go, that would be some legacy, wouldn't it? And I believe I can do it. And, then, well, you wouldn't see my arse."
Some of the hardest judges would say that Hatton has quite enough on his hands measuring himself against the brilliantly marshalled furies of the little big man Pacquiao, who has turned a cult following in the streets of the Philippines capital Manila into worldwide recognition of his extraordinary power and technique, here on Saturday night. But then it is also true that as Hatton considers the challenge of the Pacman to his Ring Magazine and IBO world junior welterweight titles, his only defeat, by Mayweather, plainly remains utterly central to both his psyche and his strategy.
"I know all of Floyd's qualities, his brilliant defence, the way he throws punches, but I can't get it out of my head that I made it so easy for him. I ran in a straight line and before the fight I got involved in bullshit that really just wasn't me.
"I believe that with the help of Floyd Snr [Mayweather's abrasive and disaffected father] I have got back to the real Ricky Hatton, one who knows how to jab and has good balance – and I know my strength. I look at Manny and I think, 'Why should I worry about his power, he's not big enough to hold me off?' – but then again I'm not planning to just jump down his throat. Of course he is clever, of course he punches well, but the way he comes in after back- pedalling, gives you opportunities and if he misses, well, then, you get a real opportunity. I haven't seen Manny's Plan B."
Hatton's A Plan presumes that the lessons of his one defeat remain vivid enough to prevent him slipping into the traps which Mayweather Jnr exploited so clinically and that if it is indeed so, there is solid evidence that Pacquiao's ability to put away a naturally bigger and stronger man may have been seriously overestimated.
With relish he cites as his chief witness Oscar de la Hoya, the man on whose broken form the Pacman's image of destructiveness was so dramatically augmented last December.
"Oscar has made it clear how bad he felt against Pacquiao, how at one point he was thinking, 'Fire one punch and put me out of my misery.' Oscar had nothing, didn't have a leg under him, and that's how he felt, wishing that he could be put away with one punch. But Manny couldn't throw that punch and when I think of this, of course, it gives me confidence.
"Manny's trainer Freddie Roach is talking about me being put away in three rounds. Freddie is a nice man and normally he doesn't say so much so maybe he's getting a little concerned. Look, I'm not stupid, I know Manny looked good against Oscar, but then why wouldn't he when you think of the reality of how it was, how Oscar was? However you look at it, I'm in a tough fight because you don't get to be the pound-for-pound champion of boxing without having a hell of a lot of ability. But I am going into this feeling better than I have before, and more certain about the way I have to fight.
"Two fights ago I might have thought, 'I'm bigger than him and I'm going to jump down his throat, I'm going to be King Kong, but I know now it can't be as simple as that. I have to recognise how good he is at certain things, bringing you to the punch, leaving you a little short, but I've always been able to cover the ground well, and you know I've never been in better shape.
"In the past they've said I've been too fat or too thin, but not this time. Floyd was delighted by the way I came into camp and when we had our last serious sparring session last Wednesday, and I gave the sparring partners a really torrid time he said, 'It doesn't get any better than this.' Normally, we have another serious session on Friday, but Floyd said, 'No, we're just right.' I haven't become a Buddhist monk overnight, but I'm well prepared for this, I am right."
Right enough, he believes, to give Pacquiao the fight of his life – "Filipino reporters keep asking me, 'How are you going to deal with Manny's power?' and I just say 'Fuck off'" – and build on that legacy which he believes is already not so inconsiderable. "Not many British fighters have been the world's pound-for-pound champion and that would be a tremendous achievement. To be mentioned alongside my heroes like Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank and Barry McGuigan has always been my ambition."
In the meantime, as a rather grander legacy is submitted to the anvil of the Pacman, he reflects on the journey that has taken him from Widnes Leisure Centre to huge box office here. "Sometimes," he says, "I think of Widnes, 12.30, rain pissing down, and then how it was when I brought 35,000 fans here for the Mayweather fight, how I made old Vegas rock and roll. When I think of this it's not been a bad old road."
Whether Manny Pacquiao represents the end of it, as most of boxing suspects, is a possibility that Hatton is defying with some rough and trademarked eloquence. As legacies go, it is not a mean one. It speaks of a fighter who has fought real fights – and has plainly kept his appetite. So, for the absorbing moment at least, you can still feel the beat of that authentic old rock and roll.
The Hitman's record: Ricky in the ring
Richard John Hatton
Born: 6 October, 1978, Stockport.
Height: 5ft 6in.
Fights: 46 W45 (32 by KO) L1
Titles held in career:
IBF, IBO Light Welterweight, WBA Welterweight, WBU, WBA Light Welterweight, WBC, WBA, WBO Inter-continental Light Welterweight, Ring Magazine Junior Welterweight.
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