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22 SEPTEMBER 2018

 

Fighter of the Year: Ricky Hatton


Hatton crushes Tszyu (pic Mr Will)
Hatton crushes Tszyu (pic Mr Will)

By Ant Evans: Before we opened the online polls on December 11 for the week of public voting, there had been five SecondsOut Fighters of the Year. These five modern day gladiators can be divided into two general groups, let's call them the 'thoroughbreds' and the 'stalking horses'.

Inaugural winner Felix Trinidad and his 2001 successor (and conqueror) Bernard Hopkins were giants, straddling the sport at the end of their respective 12 months of dominance like the popular conception of the Colossus of Rhodes. Both men went about their year of glorious effort with a sense of purpose, even destiny. And, long before the end of December it was clear that it was they, and no one else, who had thrust their achievements and reputation far beyond the compass of any other fighter during the turn of the calendar.

However, the three men who followed, Vernon Forrest (2002), James Toney (2003) and Glen Johnson (2004) probably didn't enter their respective annum's of achievement expecting to attain a level of greatness. Unlike Trinidad and Hopkins, they set about their memorable accomplishments under the banner of the underdog.

Ricky Hatton, who we can confirm was voted the 2005 SecondsOut Fighter of the Year by at least ten lengths, has elements of both. He began the year as a stalking horse, smouldering determination and defiance as people scoffed at his chances of besting junior welterweight king Kostya Tszyu in their June 4 collision. Yet the Hitamn finished 2005 as an acknowledged thoroughbred, dealing the strong Carlos Maussa an anticipated beating November 26 to add the Columbian's WBA belt to the one he'd already annexed when he forced Tszyu to quit in the summer.

Re-reading material written about Hatton pre-Tszyu, you get the misleading impression that Hatton somehow metamorphosed from a figment of the British imagination to a powerhouse of world boxing overnight.

But big things had been expected of the body-snatching Briton for some time; in fact he place third and second, respectively, in the 2001 and 2002 SO honours list for Prospect of the Year. And yet, when the marauding Manck's career meandered past the 35 fight mark with only faded names Ben Tackie and Vince Phillips to offer up as evidence of a future world title reign, many - including the fighter himself - began to question his rate progress. And international belief in Hatton, like the fighters' own in-ring performances, stagnated a little.

Oh, how long ago all that seems now.

Hatton entered 2005 as the WBU title holder in the 140lbs (10stone) division. He finishes it as the IBF & WBA, consensus, linear and true junior welterweight champion of the world. From early January, when the June fight with Tszyu was first seriously negotiated, to his awesome one-punch KO of Maussa in November, it has been a remarkable journey Hatton has travelled this year.

"Just when I thought this year can't get any better," Hatton exclaimed when SecondsOut telephoned with the news he'd beaten off runners up Winky Wright, Floyd Mayweather, Jermain Taylor and Antonio Tarver to become the sixth recipient of the SecondsOut Fighter of the Year honour.

"I been told I'm up for other awards but what makes the SecondsOut one so special is that the fans have voted for me. I've always said I'm just like the fans sitting in the stands, a boxing fan like everyone else, and to be accepted by them to the point where they vote for me in something like this... all I can say is I'm proud that they are proud of me. Thank you everyone who voted for me. I'm glad you enjoyed my fights in 2005 and I hope I'll give you reasons to think about voting for me in 2006."

Hatton added: "I can't believe I'm winning awards that Felix Trinidad and Bernard Hopkins have won. When I turned professional I never thought for a second about getting phone calls and getting told that hundreds of fans have voted for me ahead of all these great fighters. I can't believe the year I've had; 2005 has probably been the best year of my life and certainly the best year of my career."

Easily. And not only is Hatton now regarded as one of the best, his new status as a pound-for-pound attacking talent has only expanded his already enormous fanbase.

The Hitman's remarkable relationship with his paying public goes beyond the aluminium thin PR exercises most pro athletes pantomime and goes to the core of his appeal as a fighter and as a personality.

"I always make a point after my fights of grabbing the microphone and thanking the fans for all their support," Hatton said. "I always want to say thank you because it's the fans who buy tickets or watch on telly who've helped me get to where I am. I'd absolutely hate for anyone to think of me as a big shot or say that 'Ricky Hatton thinks he's better than us' now he's earned a quid (money). I would give up my belts and retire if I thought I was turning into a Flash Harry."

In winning this gong, Hatton finished over four hundred votes ahead of the nearest runner up, Winky Wright and the Hitman's WBC counterpart, Floyd Mayweather, finished even further adrift in the cyberspace census.

Is that significant?

"Well, everyone who's a fan of boxing will appreciate how good Mayweather is," Hatton began. "But I feel that, with respect, I've had a better year than him and have established myself as the top man in the (junior welterweight) division. I stopped Tszyu and he didn't, and Kostya was the real champion in the division which makes me the real champion until I lose or give up the belts."

And, no matter when that happens, no-one will ever be able to deny what Richard Hatton achieved in 2005. Congratulations, Ricky.

***
Hatton v Tszyu has gone to form, and the Hitman had lost, runner-up Ronald 'Winky' Wright may well have one this award single-handedly. "Single-handedly" because the former undefeated junior middleweight hurt, humiliated and humbled Felix Trinidad in May almost exclusively deploying his southpaw right. It was an absolutely astonishing middleweight debut, almost beyond the realms of hyperbole.

A December 10 encore against the winner of Bernard Hopkins v Jermain Taylor, which took place shortly afterwards, was not possible. Young gun Taylor scored a wafer-thin win over Hopkins, who promptly exercised his rematch clause for December 3. Not wishing to sit out for perhaps 12 months, Wright signed to fight Sam Soliman, the awkward Australian who was ranked No.1 by the IBF. Despite Soliman's 1200 punches and his best effort - and that would be enough to beat most middles - Winky had his second point win of the year.

This year saw the end of one middleweight era, as Bernard Hopkins lost his grip on the division he has ruled since 1993. However, whether 2005 will be regarded as the beginning of the Jermain Taylor era will depended on what 'Bad Intentions' achieves from here on out. Certainly, SecondsOut's readers clearly believed a controversial win over Hopkins in July and then a close points victory in December was not good enough here.

Floyd Mayweather produced three breathtaking performances in 2005 but he lost points - and ground in his race towards ring immortality - by not seeking out competition at the highest peaks of junior welterweight as he had at super-featherweight and lightweight in previous years. January opponent Henry Brussels wasn't even a destitute man's Miguel Cotto and November's sacrificial lamb Sharmba Mitchell is so far removed from his prime he needs an international dialling code just to recall it.

Only Mayweather's WBC title winner of Arturo Gatti in June was worthy of this supremely skill fighter's time and talent. His brutalising of 'Thunder' in Atlantic City in June was difficult to watch for some; at times it resembled an alien autopsy on a slow, lumbering creature who was still alive on the operating table. But Mayweather, as Ricky Hatton, noted, went though his entire bag of tricks and it was mesmerising stuff.

Conesus light heavyweight Antonio Tarver avenged his December 2004 defeat to last year's Fighter of the Year Gen Johnson in a fine 12 rounder in June and then dominated the best boxer of the last 15 years, Roy Jones Junior, in November to win their trilogy 2-1.

Yet, somehow, the 36-year-old Floridian didn't make the impression on the public perception like he wanted to. Perhaps his turn as the villain in next year's "Rocky" flick will do the trick.

Previous winners of SecondsOut's Fighter of the Year honour
2004: Glen Johnson
2003: James Toney
2002: Vernon Forrest
2001: Bernard Hopkins
2000: Felix Trinidad



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