Boxing: Hatton out to win over America's armchair fans

Steve Bunce
Thursday 30 January 2014 02:49
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Two weeks ago, Scott Harrison fought in front of 7,000 people; last Saturday, Audley Harrison was watched by a TV audience of nearly three million; but tomorrow a crowd-pulling British boxer will face a real test when Ricky Hatton defends his World Boxing Union light welterweight title against American veteran Vince Phillips.

Hatton seldom fights in front of an empty seat and the meeting with Phillips is sure to generate the type of spectacle that has helped make Hatton the No 1 boxing attraction in Britain. But he risks it all if Phillips means business.

There is no suggestion that Phillips is past his best even at 39, but there comes a point for all fighters when they are simply unable to do the things they have done previously. Phillips is a noted former world champion, with a formidable record for starting fast and catching his opponents cold. However, if Hatton remains tight and compact he should be able to survive any vicious early onslaught and then slowly take control of the toughest test he has faced in his 31-fight career.

Phillips arrived in Britain earlier this week, but has opted to prepare in private for a fight that could propel him straight back to the top of the light-welterweight division.

Hatton accepted Phillips because he knows that the real test will not be confined to the ring at Manchester's MEN Arena but will include the living rooms in America, where armchair fans will decide whether the Manchester fighter is the real thing.

Phillips has the look of a weary campaigner, but reports from Las Vegas suggest he is far from finished and that he is confident of winning. It was in 1997 that Phillips was accepted as a challenger for Russian-born Kostya Tszyu in an International Boxing Federation light welterweight title fight. Tszyu was unbeaten and many considered him the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world but Phillips stopped him in round 10. Tszyu went on to regain his title but not from Phillips, who believes he has been ignored and kept waiting.

Tomorrow night both boxers will enter the ring with different objectives. Phillips is looking past Hatton at a rematch with Tszyu and Hatton is looking past Phillips at a unification fight with Tszyu.

* The Amateur Boxing Association of England finals return to London tonight for the first time since 1995, with the BBC screening the event from York Hall, Bethnal Green. The pick of the finals looks likely to come in the new weight category of 69kg between Jimmy Fletcher, of Bradford's Carmand Club, and Danny Happe, the England No 1 from the local Repton club.

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