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27 NOVEMBER 2014

 

Ricky Hatton in Las Vegas: Dreams vs. Reality


Ricky
Ricky

By Thomas Hauser

“Every so often,” essayist Arthur Krystal writes, “two men arise with differently cast minds representing different constituencies, who capture the attention of people not normally disposed to view a fight. Perhaps each battler embodies the interested spectator’s own hopes of how the world works.”

On December 8th, Floyd Mayweather Jr and Ricky Hatton met in the last big fight of 2007. The differences between them and their constituencies were self-evident.

Mayweather looks like a sleek high-powered precision fighting machine unscathed by the ravages of his trade. Undefeated in 39 fights, he’s boxing’s reigning pound-for-pound king and brings to mind the words of Tommy Loughran, who proclaimed, “They have to hit me to hurt me, and they can’t hit me.”

Tim Keown of ESPN the Magazine calls Mayweather, “the most cartoonishly self-absorbed boxer in the world.” Once known as “Pretty Boy Floyd,” the fighter now refers to himself as “Money Mayweather”. That sobriquet is founded on Floyd’s victory over Oscar De La Hoya earlier this year in a fight that engendered 2,400,000 pay-per-view buys for a domestic gross of $134,000,000. “Money Mayweather” now fantasizes about “the Mayweather brand” and the future of Mayweather Promotions, which he hopes will become a Fortune 500 company. “Skills pay the bills,” he says.

Mayweather has been trying to reinvent himself lately, or at least change his image from that of a serial abuser of women to a good family man and charitable benefactor. He also sought to enter the mainstream of American culture earlier this year with an appearance on Dancing with the Stars. “You got twenty million people watching Dancing with the Stars,” Floyd explained. “My goal is to make some of them boxing fans and Floyd Mayweather Jr fans so they’ll buy my fights. That’s the businessman in me.”

Thereafter, Mayweather’s image took a hit when a profanity-laced video featuring MF (Money Floyd) surfaced on YouTube. It wasn’t the image that Mayweather was seeking to create on Dancing With The Stars.

Hatton, by contrast, has pale skin that accentuates every bump and bruise on his face. His fighting heart is visible in the scars around his eyes. Prior to meeting Mayweather, he was undefeated in 43 fights and had staked a claim to being boxing’s best 140-pound fighter (seven pounds beneath the contract weight for his challenge against Floyd).

Mayweather tells everyone what a great guy he is. Hatton shows them. Ray Hatton (Ricky’s father) has a memory of his son that’s instructive. “As a boy,” Ray recalls, “Richard liked to play on the slide in the playground. He always waited his turn with the other children; he never jumped the queue. But he never let anybody cut in line ahead of him either. It was a mistake to try that.”

Ricky dropped out of school at age fifteen and worked briefly as a fitter and salesman at a small carpet shop owned by his parents. “He was terrible at both jobs,” his mother, Carol, remembers. “But he was good at sports. We would have preferred Richard to be a footballer. But it was his choice and he chose boxing.”

Hatton has spent his entire life in Manchester, and the city holds him dear to its collective heart. Most ordinary people want to be treated like stars. Ricky is a star who wants to be treated like ordinary people. His parent’s house is visible from the backyard of his own. His six-year-old son, Campbell, goes to the same local school that he went to as a boy. He has a self-effacing sense of humor and turns onlookers into fans wherever he goes.

“Before I fought Kostya Tszyu,” Ricky recalls, “I was doing roadwork and the police stopped me to find out why someone was running down the road at two o’clock in the morning. Then they recognized me and one of them said, ’My God; it’s Ricky Hatton.’ I told him, ’Of course, it’s Ricky Hatton. What other dickhead would be out running at two o’clock in the morning?’"

Unlike Mayweather, who seems to consider himself the center of the universe, Hatton regards himself as one person in a larger community. For Floyd, the trappings of success are bling, wads of cash, and multiple cars. For Ricky, the joy of success comes from experiencing it with family and friends. About the only negative thing that anyone in Manchester says about him comes from longtime friend Paul Speak, who acknowledges, “Ricky is not a morning person. If you go around his house in the morning, he’s very grumpy.”

“I think people watch me because I’m an exciting fighter,” Hatton says. “But I think they watch me too because they look on me as a mate. I get a huge rush when fans say how much they love me. But I don’t expect people to roll out a red carpet for me when I walk down the street. I’m just a normal kid doing very well at what he does. My life is my family and friends and boxing. I like my food. I’ll go to the pub for a few pints and to throw darts. There’s two things you’ll always get from me; an honest effort in the ring and an honest answer out of it. And I’m very lucky. There’s nothing I want for in life.”

Mayweather and Hatton first crossed paths in Las Vegas at the December 2005 rematch between Jermain Taylor and Bernard Hopkins. “We sat in the same row,” Ricky recalls. “Floyd was a few seats further down, so he had to walk past me to get to his seat. I stood up and, out of respect, said, ‘Hi Floyd; how are you doing?’ and went to shake his hand. He wouldn’t shake my hand, and he muttered something on the lines of, ‘Let’s get it on; I’ll knock you out.’”

Once Mayweather-Hatton was actually signed, the kick-off press conference was held in the skating rink at Rockefeller Center, which was a signal that this would be another big Golden-Boy-promoted event. “Floyd is the best,” Ricky told the assembled media. “That’s why I want to fight him. It would be easy for me to stay in the comfort zone in my own weight division in my own backyard in England. But I fancy the challenge.”

Thereafter, as the media tour progressed, the differing personalities of the combatants became clear.

Floyd was Floyd. “Ricky took this fight because he’s getting older and losing his edge,” Mayweather said. “Look at how scarred up his face is and how beat up he is. He knew he was going to lose soon. That’s why he wants to fight me. If you lose to the best, there’s little shame; but if you lose to a nobody, you’re washed up. Ricky Hatton should be appreciative just to be sharing the ring with me.”

Hatton, in turn, responded to Mayweather’s jibes with a mix of insight and humor:

* “I think Floyd is a very insecure man. That’s why he surrounds himself with five or six bodyguards, and they always seem to be ‘yes’ men. He always needs people whispering in his ear, ‘You’re the man; you’re number one; you’re going to do this and you’re going to do that.’ If you believe you’re the best, you don’t need anybody reminding you or reassuring you. If I talked to Billy [trainer Billy Graham] and Paul [Paul Speak] and Kerry [nutritionist and conditioning coach Kerry Kayes] the way Floyd talks to his people, giving orders, snapping my fingers at them, they’d tell me to fuck off.”

* “Floyd’s life is a lot like his fights; all show, no substance. With Floyd, it’s all about what his watch is and what jewelery he’s wearing. His watch is bigger than my world title belt. He makes a Christmas tree look gritty. What man gets up on stage and goes on about his suit and his rings and his watches? Financially, I’ve done fantastically well. I have a nice home, two good cars, and I can go on holiday whenever I want. But I don’t flash my money. I think to do that belittles people.”

* “I was never someone to get right in your face, try and intimidate you like that. I knew it was coming. ’I’m going to beat you like a bitch, butt-fuck you.’ Basic stuff like that. It was nonsense, really. I found it quite amusing. Floyd’s not exactly intimidating-looking with his nice suits and his bling. He doesn’t make me want to run down the street to get away.”

* “Floyd has his way and I have my way. I don’t take it personally because he says the same things about his opponent every time he fights. Besides, nothing that either of us says matters. It’s only about what happens when we fight. But where do you draw the line between selling tickets and looking for an edge and disrespecting the sport? What’s the point of being the best fighter in the world if everyone thinks you’re a dickhead?”

At the final stop on the media tour (a September 21st press conference in Manchester), Hatton told Mayweather. “All week, you’ve bad-mouthed Ricky Hatton. But none of it has worked, and it’s a waste of time trying to upset me and my fans. Floyd, you’re pissing in the wind.”

At the same stop, Mayweather began stroking Ricky’s leg, and Hatton responded, “Stop trying to feel my dick, Floyd. All week, you’ve been talking about kicking my ass and now you’re feeling my dick. I’m getting worried about you. People ask me whether I’ve missed my six year old son, Campbell. I have in many ways. But to be honest, I’ve spent the whole week [on the media tour] with this fucking six-year-old next to me, so nothing has changed there.”

There was also a moment of pathos later when Hatton discussed Mayweather’s much-publicized split with his father. “Even after all the abuse and the disrespect Floyd has shown me,” Ricky said, “I can’t help but feel sorry for him. He never had a childhood, never had time to grow up. I knew Floyd had differences with his dad and that things were frosty. Now it seems the relationship is over completely. To my mind, that’s a crying shame and something that would be unbearable. I couldn’t imagine being at war with my dad. If for some reason, Heaven forbid, I fell out with my dad or something happened to him, I’d hang up my gloves. I can’t imagine boxing, or life, without him.”

As for the fight, Mayweather was a clear favorite. Age wasn’t a factor. Floyd is 30; Ricky is 29. But weight was. This would be only Hatton’s second fight at 147 pounds. In the first (against Luis Collazo in May 2006), he’d eked out a decision but faded late. Collazo had him in trouble in the final round.

Also, Hatton has a penchant for gaining as much as forty pounds between fights. “When you play darts,” he says “it’s required that you have a few pints and something to eat afterward. I don’t lie about it. People ask, ‘Do you like to have a drink of alcohol?’ Yes, I love to. ‘Do you like fast foods?’ Yes. ‘Do you put weight on?’ Yes.”

But as Mayweather observed, “You don’t see me at a pub drinking beer. You don’t ever see me twenty or thirty pounds outside my weight. I fight at 147; I walk around at 147. That’s wear and tear on the body; gaining that much weight and losing that much weight.”

And more significantly, Mayweather is one of the most gifted fighters on the planet. Thus, Hatton would be giving away size, speed, and skill.

In the weeks leading up to the fight, Mayweather proclaimed, “Hatton is one-dimensional. He comes forward in straight lines. He’s easy to read and easy to predict. I can adapt to any style of fighter, but the come-forward style is made for me to show my full range of boxing skills. I’m the better fighter; I’m the better-conditioned fighter; I’m the smarter fighter. Ricky Hatton has never fought anyone like me. He’s the best fighter in England. I’m the best fighter in the world.”

Roger Mayweather (Floyd’s uncle and trainer) was equally condescending and confident. “Hatton can put on all the pressure he wants,” Uncle Roger said. “Can he outbox Floyd? Do he have more skill than Floyd? The only thing he can do is pressure Floyd. But other than that, he can’t do shit. He ain’t nothing but a high-profile club fighter.”

On a more objective note, middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik voiced the view, “Hatton is a pressure fighter. He has the style to beat Mayweather but not the punch. When Hatton gets into position to do damage, he can’t do the job with one punch. He wears his opponents down, but he won’t hit Mayweather enough to do that.”

And boxing maven Don Elbaum opined, “Hatton has a good chance to beat Mayweather until the bell rings.”

Still, Hatton’s partisans were optimistic. Ricky has an effective mauling style (some call it “the Greco-Roman school of boxing”). And if Mayweather chose to fight off the ropes (which he’d done against De La Hoya), it would improve Ricky’s chances.

“I think Floyd Mayweather is an absolutely fantastic fighter,” Hatton’s trainer, Billy Graham, said. “Defensively, he’s breathtaking. His hands are unbelievably fast. I’ve got no argument to say that he shouldn’t be regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. Ricky hasn’t fought anybody quite like Floyd, because there is nobody like Floyd. But Ricky has fought similar fighters; people with fast hands, boxers, movers. And I don’t think Floyd has ever faced a more skillful pressure fighter in his life than Ricky because there’s not a more skillful pressure fighter on the planet.”

“I know Ricky Hatton better than anyone,” Graham continued. “I know what he’s got. Ricky Hatton is a special fighter. If you can’t see that, you don’t know what you’re looking at. He’s blessed with fantastic peripheral vision, fantastic balance, and fantastic reflexes with amazing strength and ferocity. He works hard; he’s a learner; and his boxing brain is incredible. Floyd is fantastic at what he does. And Floyd can punch. I keep reminding Ricky not to get careless and forget that. But Ricky has the perfect style to beat him.”

Hatton, of course, was in accord. “I’ve studied the tapes,” Ricky said. “Floyd is very very good at what he does. He’s got fantastic hand speed. He’s got a wonderful defense, and he likes to take the steam out of his opponents by making them miss. He’s a very versatile fighter. He can pretty much do everything. He has so many tricks; you have to deny him the time and space to do his thing.”

“But it’s very pleasing for me that the fight where Floyd was at his least comfortable was the first fight against Jose Luis Castillo, who was able to bully him to the ropes a lot. I don’t think Castillo is physically as strong as me, as quick as me, or has footwork as good as me. I move in very very quickly on my opponents and stick to them like glue. I’ve got the style to give Floyd absolute nightmares. His handspeed will concern me if I’m on the outside, but it won’t bother me when I’m on his chest. I will constantly be in his face and give him no chance to rest.”

“One thing that Floyd hasn’t bargained on,” Hatton continued, “is how clever I am. That’s going to be the key, really. I don’t think Mayweather realizes I’m as good as I am. He just sees the obvious. Strong kid with a big heart who keeps coming forward. But there’s a lot more to me than that. There’s a lot of thought to what I do; if you watch carefully how quick I move in on my opponents, how I change the angles. It’s only when fighters actually get in there with me that they realize there’s a method to the madness.“

“I’m an underdog, and I understand that. Very few people are picking me to beat him, which suits me fine because I know what an oh sweet victory that’s going to be when I do it. If boxing history has told us anything, it’s how many upsets there’s been. You don’t have to fight at a distance to be a talented fighter. I’m not going to beat Floyd at his game. I’m going to beat him at mine. My heart will explode before I leave him alone for one second. Anyone who says I haven’t got a chance against Floyd Mayweather; I honestly don’t think they know what they’re talking about.”

And there was one more factor to be considered. The Hatton camp wanted (and needed) a referee who would let Ricky fight on the inside and not prematurely separate the combatants.

“I’m expecting to get a fair shake in America,” Billy Graham said. “That’s all we want. Anyone who says Ricky holds on the inside is talking rubbish. The last thing Ricky wants to do when he gets inside is stop the action and have the referee break the fighters apart. What Ricky does on the inside – and it’s perfectly legal – is he tries to rearrange the position of his opponent’s arms to create avenues for his punches. So let’s have a good referee who’s going to let the two best fighters on the planet fight. Let the fans see what they’ve paid for.”

There was a buzz in Las Vegas during fight week. An estimated 18,000 Hatton fans flew in from England, bringing energy to the strip that hadn’t been seen since De La Hoya vs. Trinidad in 1999. “I thought I was in Manchester when I got here,” Hatton quipped.

A majority of the Brits didn’t have fight tickets and wound up watching the action at closed-circuit locations around the city. During their stay, they made the owners of beer distributorships very happy. And one had to go back 27 years to Muhammad Ali against Larry Holmes to find a fight where the expert opinion and betting odds were so divergent. The consensus in the boxing community was that Mayweather deserved to be a 4-to-1 favorite. The Associated Press declared, “From a technical standpoint, Mayweather’s superior size, reach, and defensive skills make the fight a mismatch.” But British hearts were moving the line, which would close at slightly less than 2-to-1 in Floyd’s favor.

The final pre-fight press conference went pretty much as expected. “I’m not going to say that I’m in the best shape of my life,” Mayweather advised the media, “because I’m always in great shape.”

Hatton injected a note of levity into the proceedings, when he declared, “I’m just a big fat over-protected Englishman who hasn’t fought anyone.” Then he added, “I feel the confidence building with each day. There’s no doubt in my mind what the outcome of this fight is going to be.”

“It’s a nice position to be in,” Graham said that night. “Fully believing you’re going to win when almost no one thinks you have a chance.”

Graham was in a philosophical mood. A former fighter, he had fourteen pro bouts as a junior-middleweight, winning twelve and losing two. He retired at age 22.

“I had ten fights in my first year,” Billy reminisced. “That was too much. I had great balance, fast reflexes, fast hands. But to be honest, I had a chip on my shoulder and never applied myself the way I should have. If I was training the young me, I wouldn’t have put up with me. I’m a better trainer than I was a fighter.”

Graham is deaf in his left ear and has the wear and tear of 52 years of hard living on his body along with 21 tattoes. Ed Caesar of The Times has described him as a bartender’s closing-time nightmare with the kind of face one sees hanging from Notre Dame. Billy and Ricky have been together on a handshake agreement for fourteen years. “We’re just two local lads from the housing estates in Manchester that have done very very well,” Graham says. “If boxing had ended for me five years ago, we’d still be mates.”

Now Graham was tired. “The attention is flattering but I’m exhausted,” he said. “Every step you take, someone wants a picture, a handshake, an autograph. They’re all these interviews. Everyone wants to buy you a drink. There’s no chance to retreat into yourself. My brain’s tired; I’m getting stale. And if a trainer feels that way, there’s a danger that the mood will rub off on his fighter.”

“I’ll be getting out of boxing soon,” Graham continued. “People don’t believe me when I say it. I’ve been in boxing my entire life. But it can’t possibly be any better for me than what I’ve had with Ricky. Taking him from a very young man to where he is today has been a joy in my life. My knees are gone. There are times when I need a shot of lidocaine to work the pads. There’s no sense in making a lot of money and living long if you can’t enjoy it. When Ricky leaves boxing, I think that will be it for me.”

Then Graham’s thoughts turned to the fight ahead. “Floyd walks around like fucking Apollo Creed,” he said. “But Ricky isn’t fazed by reputations. There’s no fear; no intimidation. If Floyd wins, it will be because he’s the better fighter. I think I’ll just stay in my room tonight; read a book or something. No fight tapes; no talking with boxing people. Just relax and think a bit.”

On Friday, each fighter’s camp was readying for battle. The weigh-in (which was open to the public) was scheduled for 2:30 pm in the MGM Grand Garden Arena. The Brits started lining up for admission shortly after five o’clock in the morning.

Ultimately, 6,000 fans (virtually all of them passionately pro-Hatton) jammed their way into the open portion of the arena. They roared for all things British (appearances by Lennox Lewis and Joe Calzaghe) and booed Bernard Hopkins as vociferously as he was booed in Puerto Rico prior to fighting Felix Trinidad.

They also sang. God Save the Queen received some play. Indeed, one half-expected Queen Elizabeth to make an appearance in the media center. But the Ricky Hatton theme song was the composition of choice. Said to have been written so that even drunk people can remember the words, it combines the tune from Winter Wonderland with lyrics as follows:

There’s only one Ricky Hatton
One Ricky Hatton
Walking along
Singing a song
Walking in a Hatton Wonderland

By one count, it was sung 73 times before Hatton weighed in at 145 pounds and Mayweather at 147. “If the fight is as good as the weigh-in, it will be great,” Hatton said afterward.

Mayweather wasn’t intimidated by the crowd, but he could have been forgiven if he were a bit jealous over the affection it lavished on his opponent.

On Saturday night, Hatton entered dressing room #4 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena at 5:45 pm. An 8-1/2-by-11-inch piece of paper taped to the door read, “Blue Corner - Ricky Hatton.” Beneath that, someone had scrawled in a blue marker pen, “Ready by 7:55 pm.”

The dressing room was hot and stuffy. A British flag was taped to the wall. A large blue-plastic tub filled with ice and several dozen bottles of water stood by the door. Three pint bottles of Guinness had been thrown into the mix.

Minutes earlier, Ricky’s brother (Matthew) had completed an eight-round fight against Frankie Santos of Puerto Rico. He had yet to return to the dressing room.

“Matthew won,” Ricky was told.

“Knockout or decision?”

“80-72, 80-72, 79-73.”

Ricky smiled. “That’s a good start on the evening.”

Matthew and his cornermen (Billy Graham, Kerry Keyes, and cutman Mick Williamson; all of whom would also work Ricky’s fight) came through the door. “We got that one out of the way,” Graham said. “One down and one to go.”

Ricky fingered a rolled-up piece of tape and shot it toward a garbage can in the manner of a basketball point guard. The tape missed its target. “Not my sport,” he said. He walked over, picked the tape off the floor, and dropped it in the trash.

A SKY-TV crew came in to conduct a brief interview for British television. They were followed by Larry Merchant of HBO. “Just leave me alone and let me do what I have to do,” Hatton said to no one in particular after the television crews were gone. “I’m trying to make sense when I talk, but my mind’s not on doing interviews now.”

Then Hatton set about connecting the wires on an audio-system he’d brought with him and positioned the speakers where he wanted them. For a moment, he looked like a young man moving into a new apartment.

At 6:35, music began to blare. For the next two hours, it would be very loud in the dressing room. Except for the time spent having his hands taped, Ricky would be on his feet, constantly moving like a hyper-active child, pacing and shadow-boxing with increasing intensity to the music.

A television monitor at the far end of the room showed Edner Cherry knocking out Wes Ferguson with a picture-perfect left hook in the first pay-per-view bout of the evening. “I wouldn’t mind landing one of them in a bit,” Hatton offered. “Please give me one of them tonight.”

Graham looked across the room at cutman Mick Williamson and said quietly, “I’m afraid we’re going to need him tonight. I’m a realist. I think Ricky will win but he gets cut. He gets bad cuts; and Floyd throws those fast slashing punches.”

As time passed, Sugar Ray Leonard, Shane Mosley, and Marco Antonio Barrera entered to wish Ricky luck. The music kept changing, from rap to acid rock to something akin to an Irish jig. At seven o’clock, Hatton changed tracks again and the raspy voice of Mick Jagger was heard.

“I can’t get no satisfaction . . . ”

Ricky picked up the pace of his shadow-boxing and sang aloud.

“I can’t get no satisfaction . . . Cause I try and I try and I try and I try.”

Soon everyone in the room was singing.

“I can’t get no . . . I can’t get no . . . When I’m drivin’ in my car, and that man comes on the radio . . .”

Floyd Mayweather’s image appeared on the television monitor.

“I’m coming for you, fucker,” Ricky growled.

David Beckham entered the room. He and Hatton met earlier in the year and have been text-messaging back and forth ever since. “I can’t believe that someone like David Beckham texts me,” Ricky said several months ago. The fighter had attended a Los Angeles Galaxy soccer game as Beckham’s guest. Now the favor was being returned.

Beckham stood by the door, maintaining a distance; one world-class athlete respecting the mental preparation required of another. At 7:15, for the first time in ninety minutes, Hatton sat and Billy Graham began taping his hands. Only then did Beckham walk over and clasp Ricky on the shoulder.

Recording star Tom Jones (who would sing God Save The Queen later in the evening) entered. Ricky looked up. “Is Elvis coming too?” he queried.

At 7:24, referee Joe Cortez came into the room to give Hatton his final pre-fight instructions. In June of this year, Cortez had refereed Ricky’s fight against Jose Luis Castillo without incident. Now Cortez ran through the usual litany and closed with, “Any questions?”

“Ricky is an inside fighter,” Graham said. “He fights clean but he’s an aggressive fighter.”

“I’ll let the fight take its course,” Cortez promised.

The referee left. Graham finished taping Hatton’s hands. David Beckham and Tom Jones slipped out the door. Kerry Kayes helped Ricky on with his trunks; teal-and-silver with black trim and black fringe.

The television monitor showed Jeff Lacy and Peter Manfredo facing off for round one in the final preliminary bout of the evening. It was expected to be a short fight. Hatton gloved up and began working the pads with Graham.

Eight o’clock. Lacy and Manfredo were in round five.

Ricky paced a bit . . . There was more pad-work with Graham.

8:12 . . . Lacy and Manfredo began round eight.

8:20 . . . Aggravation was etched on Ricky’s face. He had expected to be in the ring by now.

At 8:23, Lacy-Manfredo ended. In the main arena, Tom Jones sang God Save The Queen followed by Tyrese’s rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner.

Finally, Team Hatton left the dressing room. As Ricky came into view of the crowd, there were thunderous cheers.

The fighters were introduced and the bell for round one sounded.

As expected, Hatton moved forward from the start with Mayweather pot-shotting from the outside. The crowd roared with every blow that Ricky landed, but Floyd’s hands were exponentially faster. Mayweather’s speed was a problem for Ricky. And the conduct of referee Joe Cortez made the challenge more daunting.

To get inside, Hatton had to navigate his way past Mayweather’s fists and also Floyd’s left elbow. Once inside, he was frequently fouled. Mayweather was allowed to go low; hold; and use his head, forearms and elbows as offensive weapons. Often, Ricky maneuvered into position to work effectively and Cortez broke the fighters even though Hatton was still punching. By breaking them prematurely again and again, the referee denied Ricky the chance to impose his physical strength and forced him to fight much of the battle at long range. That, in turn, exposed him to Floyd’s potshots as he tried to work his way back in again.

In the first round, Cortez broke the fighters eleven times; many of them when one or both men had an arm free and was punching. From there, it got worse; thirteen times in round two and fourteen in round three.

A live underdog waits for the moment when the favorite makes a mistake that will undermine his superiority. In Mayweather-Hatton, it never came. In round three, Floyd opened an ugly gash above Ricky’s right eye. Still, Hatton persevered. In round five, he did his best work of the night, winning the stanza on the cards of all three judges. Significantly, Cortez broke the fighters only four times in round five.

Round six began with another Hatton offensive. Then, fifty seconds into the stanza, Mayweather appeared to turn his back as a defensive maneuver with his head going through the ropes. Ricky threw a punch and missed, and Cortez took a point away from Hatton. “When the referee took a point away, I lost my composure a bit,” Ricky said afterward. “I thought I was doing all right. I was two rounds down probably, but coming on nicely. Then the point got taken away, and I felt it wasn’t going to be a level playing field. So I began trying to force things and took more risks and left myself open more than I should have.”

Thereafter, Mayweather ran the table. In round eight, he began putting his punches together, landing hard clean shots to the head and body. Round nine was more of the same. But Hatton kept coming and his fans’ ardor never dimmed. The crowd sang “there’s only one Ricky Hatton” again and again with a fervor that increased as their hero’s troubles grew, as though they were trying to will him to victory

In round ten, Mayweather closed the show. Hatton launched a left hook from too far away. And as Ricky’s arm went in motion, Floyd countered with a highlight-reel blow. Rather than wait for the punch to miss, he threw second and landed first with a lightning left hook of his own. Hatton never saw the punch coming. He went down and got up, but he knew he’d been hit. Then Mayweather landed several more blows, and Cortez appropriately stopped the fight.

Six thousand miles is a long way to travel for a broken heart.

In the dressing room after the fight, Hatton sat on a chair and bowed his head. The damage done to his face by Mayweather’s fists was accentuated by several cold sores above his upper lip.

Carol Hatton walked over to her son, leaned down, and hugged him. “You did us proud,” she said. Ray and Matthew Hatton joined them.

“I really thought I was going to win,” Ricky told them.

Ray Leonard came in to offer condolences. Billy Graham stood off to the side. After the fight, the trainer had approached Roger Mayweather, offered his hand, and said, ”Congratulations.”

“I told you he was going to get fucking whupped,” Roger responded.

Now, in the dressing room, Graham shook his head. “It’s hard to be gracious in defeat,” he said. “It’s easy to be gracious when you win, but even that was too much for Roger. I’d rather train Ricky Hatton than Floyd Mayweather Jr, and I’d rather be Billy Graham than Roger Mayweather.” Billy took a deep breath. “I still think Ricky can beat Floyd. But he didn’t; so that’s it, isn’t it? And I give Floyd credit. He finished the fight. He brought the curtain down, didn’t he?”

A security guard opened the door. “Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie would like to come in. Is it all right?”

Before Ricky could answer, the women in the room, who now included Jennifer Dooley (Ricky’s girlfriend) and Jenna Coyne (Matthew’s fiancee) in addition to Ricky’s mother, answered in the affirmative.

The celebrity couple entered. Brad Pitt walked over to the fighter. “There’s still only one Ricky Hatton,” he said.

Ray Leonard went in search of a photographer who would take a photo of him with Pitt and Jolie.

Eventually the well-wishers filtered out and Ricky was left with his core team. “The referee did me no favors tonight,” he said, reflecting on the previous hour. “I can’t complain about Floyd. It’s a rough business. You do what you can get away with, and Floyd was good on the inside. I’m not exactly Mother Theresa in the ring myself. If I can get a sly one in there, I’ll do it. But the referee let Floyd foul the living daylights out of me. And when I was in position to do damage, he forced me out to long range again. Let’s be honest. The referee was poor tonight.”

Then Hatton lay down on the rubdown table, motionless with his hands crossed across his chest. Dr. Frank Ryan closed the wound above his right eye with one deep stitch on the inside and seven on the outside. One could only begin to imagine the echoes that were reverberating in Ricky’s mind. The three bottles of Guinness lay in the ice, untouched.

So . . . What is one to make of Mayweather–Hatton?

The first thing to say is that Mayweather is a superbly-gifted fighter. With a different referee, most likely he still have been too skilled, too big, and too fast for Hatton. But the fight would have unfolded differently.

After the bout, Cortez told Michael Norby of Secondsout, “I know in my heart that I was honest and fair to both fighters. I went home satisfied and proud.” But former champions Barry McGuigan and Jim Watt have since respectively labeled the referee’s conduct of the fight “disgraceful” and “deplorable.”

Cortez is fond of closing his instructions in the ring with the words, “Remember, guys; I’m fair but I’m firm.” He has even legally trademarked the phrase.

“Fair but firm” is a nice concept. But on the night of December 8th, Cortez wasn’t. Let’s be charitable and say that the usually capable referee had a bad night. Let’s also acknowledge that no other major sport has officials who bring their own arbitrary interpretation of the rules to their job to the degree that boxing does. The sport needs a new generation of referees, and the Nevada State Athletic Commission should take the lead in training them.

Hatton says he wants to fight again. There’s more boxing left in him, but he would be well-served by returning to 140 pounds. WBA belt-holder and fellow Brit Gavin Rees would be a good first opponent back for Ricky. Hatton against WBA-IBF lightweight champion Juan Diaz would be an attractive big-money match-up and also one that Ricky would be favored to win.

IBF 140-pound champion Paulie Malignaggi and WBC beltholder Junior Witter carry risks as opponents that outweigh their financial reward. Hatton against De La Hoya is less likely now than it was before. That match-up can’t be entirely ruled out inasmuch as it would be a big-money fight (particularly if it were held in London). But Oscar is too big for Ricky. And depending on one’s choice of words, the pairing would be described as the “money” or “losers’” bracket. Mayweather-Hatton II might also be saleable in England. But we’ve seen that one and, as noted above, Ricky should return to 140 pounds.

Evaluating Mayweather’s future requires a look at the past. This has been quite a year for Floyd with victories over De La Hoya and Hatton (both of which were featured on HBO’s 24/7) and an appearance on Dancing With The Stars.

Roger Mayweather tells anyone who will listen that Floyd and Sugar Ray Robinson are the two greatest fighters who ever lived, although he concedes that Henry Armstrong runs a close third. Leonard Ellerbe (Mayweather’s friend and business representative) says, “Floyd’s operating on a level all by himself. He’s competing by himself. These other fighters out there aren’t even challenging Floyd. If Floyd wanted, to, he could win the middleweight title.”

Mayweather has amassed an impressive body of work. He’s an excellent fighter who would have been competitive with the best in any era. Against Hatton, he unveiled another tool in his arsenal by demonstrating that he can fight tough on the inside. But to prove that he ranks among the legends of the sport, he’ll have to seek out greater challenges.

Here, a look at the career of Sugar Ray Leonard is instructive. Leonard turned pro after winning a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics. He had his share of early triumphs, including a tenth-round knockout of Floyd Mayweather Sr. Then he stopped Wilfred Benitez for the 147-pound crown. Mayweather has significant victories against Diego Corrales, Jose Luis Castillo, Zab Judah, Ricky Hatton, and Oscar De La Hoya. But there’s nothing on Floyd’s resume to match the later inquisitors that Leonard had.

As Leonard’s career progressed, he made the incomparable Roberto Duran say “no mas”. He came from behind to score a dramatic fourteenth-round knockout over Thomas Hearns in one of boxing’s most memorable dramas. And he moved up in weight to score a split-decision triumph over Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Before Mayweather is canonized, let him fight Miguel Cotto (as a parallel to Duran); then Paul Williams (Thomas Hearns but with a lesser punch). And if he beats those two, he should look for an opponent who approximates Hagler.

Pound-for-pound isn’t about being undefeated or how many belts a fighter has. Pound-for-pound is about beating the best

If Mayweather wants to electrify the boxing world and prove his greatness, he’ll fight Cotto next. Miguel is a bigger stronger version of Hatton. One can imagine a scenario in which Floyd dances rings around Cotto, frustrates him, and pot-shots him to pieces. But one can also envision a scenario in which Cotto tracks Floyd down and beats him up. Cotto is the most dangerous opponent out there for Mayweather. A fighter isn’t pound-for-pound if he’s ducking his biggest challenge.


Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com.


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