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19 OCTOBER 2017


The Bad Guy Meets Hatton Nation

Picture Hogan Photos
Picture Hogan Photos

By Matt Wells: What does it mean for boxing when the fighter generally acknowledged to be the best in the sport is virtually unknown outside of it, while his opponent has legions of devoted fans, thousands of whom are willing to fly across the ocean to watch him in action? Hard to tell what it means, other than that these are strange times for the sport.

To say that Floyd Mayweather is virtually unknown is a bit unfair, of course. Heck, he was even on that dancing reality show, and got further than Evander Holyfield did in it, though not by much. Mayweather’s name also gets mentioned every once in a while on the sports shows, and these days the news about him is less about his legal troubles and more about his fights, which is a good thing.

Mayweather also consistently lives up to the limited amount of hype he receives, which is also a good thing. Mike Tyson got famous just as his career and his life imploded in on him. Oscar De La Hoya has had a great career, but one could argue that his worst fights came when he was at his most famous. Roy Jones Jr. didn’t quite achieve the fame of either Tyson or De La Hoya, but he came close; unfortunately, he squandered much of his career fighting sub-par opponents.

Let’s face facts, though: Mayweather does not come close to being as well-known as any of these fighters, even Jones. If boxing ever gets back on its feet, and the optimist in all of us believes that it will, Mayweather may be remembered as the best fighter in the "dark era" of the sport, when few were paying attention. This label, and the mystique that would go with, would certainly be justifiable, assuming his career goes as smoothly as it has up to this point.

One of boxing’s many present paradoxes, however, is that, at a time when it would be hard for the sport to be less popular, it has in its ranks one of the most popular fighters of this or any era. Hatton’s fans are near-legendary for their devotion to their fighter. His bouts at the M.E.N. in Manchester produce a cultish scene of worship and adulation. When the first notes of Hatton’s trademark song "Blue Moon" strike, you know you’re in for several minutes of pure noise as Ricky makes his way into the ring.

All of this sounds a bit garish when described in such terms, but what’s remarkable about both Hatton as a fighter and Hatton as a phenomenon is that they are unassuming and immensely likeable. It would be harder to find a more modest fighter than Ricky, and his fans, while raucous, do not project an image of reckless arrogance. Jones and Tyson’ devotees often get touchy when the objects of their adoration are critiqued. Hatton’s fans, like Hatton himself, typically absorb criticism in a much more measured way.

This, then, may partly explain the unique nature of the Ricky Hatton phenomenon. While Hatton has fans all over the place, his fan base has strongly local roots. Hatton is a product of Manchester, and Mancunians form the core of his fan base. Hatton’s stardom is that conferred upon a local boy who has made it big, and this is the character it reflects even among those who don’t have a personal connection with Hatton’s past. Hatton’s fans form "Hatton Nation", just as fans of baseball’s Boston Red Sox make up what is coined "Red Sox Nation".

There is no corresponding Mayweather Nation, of course. In fact, Mayweather repeatedly states how he revels in his depiction as the "bad guy" of the sport, arrogant and brash. Mayweather certainly plays this persona in many of his interviews; but to classify him as just another big-mouthed lout would be to ignore the many nuances of Mayweather’s character.

Just as often as Mayweather spurns public opinion, he courts it, pledging that he wants to do right by boxing and its fans. In post-fight interviews, he is often contrite and humble, particularly in his marquee bouts. Such a contrast was never more evident than in the build up and postscript to his fight against Arturo Gatti. In the weeks leading up to the event, Mayweather could not have been more smug; following his win, he was soft-spoken and gracious.

Most fans tend to see the "nice" Mayweather as an act, one designed to help him build up a fan base and distract us from his "true", arrogant self. But such a conclusion doesn’t fit the facts. Fighters such as the aforementioned Tyson and Jones built their public personas into exemplars of arrogance. Most of these fighters, of course, based their images in part off of that created by Muhammad Ali, whose blustery tirades are the stuff of legend. If Mayweather was really such an arrogant jerk, he could in theory just be himself and gain a similar fan base.

That’s not to say that Mayweather is a saint in disguise; his many run-ins with the law are testament enough to reject that hypothesis. But Mayweather is an immensely complex individual, the product of a troubled father and raised and trained in part by a troubled uncle. His attempts to play nice appear to be more than cynical attempts to make himself more marketable. That might be part of the equation, but I suspect that it is only just one part of many. There’s really no easy answers when it comes to Mayweather’s behaviour. But at least he appears to be maturing, avoiding trouble with the law, and working harder to get along with the media and the fans.

To this intriguing combination of one of the best fighters in the world going up against one of the most popular, we may a third ingredient; the backlash against Hatton that is the flipside of his popularity. For every Hatton fan out there, there is probably at least one boxing fan that can’t stand him. One can name a number of reasons for this: the fact that he is not American, the accusation that he is overrated has been "protected" most of his career, criticism over his style, his eating habits, etc. The fact is that these Hatton-haters are out there, and while they could never approach the decibel-defying raucousness of his fans, they make themselves known.

Add all of this up, and the atmosphere on fight night will be hard to predict. Hatton’s fans will be there, but so will many who will be hoping just as hard that he embarrasses himself. Mayweather will have his followers, but they will surely be harder to spot than Hatton’s. At the very least, one hopes that this end of the year mega-fight will live up to the hype.

On a related note, if this is supposed to be a fight worth shelling out big dollars for on PPV, HBO, Golden Boy Promotions, and Mayweather Promotions sure didn’t do much to make the whole card a worthwhile watch.

The first fight of the night features Edner Cherry in a rematch against Wes Ferguson. Cherry was a fan favourite on ESPN, and has wound up on Showtime and HBO, but has lost on both networks. Now, as a reward, he ends up on a PPV show against a guy nobody’s ever heard of whom he just barely beat six months ago.

Next up is Daniel Ponce de Leon against Eduardo Escobedo. Ponce de Leon is an exciting fighter, but his rise to quasi-fame is a Golden Boy confection, with little substance to back it up. You can’t turn a guy into a superstar just because you keep sticking him in your cards. His opponent, a relative unknown, seems doomed to lose to him.

The final fight before the main event, however, is the real kicker. Here we get to see Jeff Lacy going up against Peter Manfredo Jr. Never mind that both guys got thoroughly trounced against Joe Calzaghe. Never mind that Lacy looked horrible in his last outing, injury or no injury. Never mind that Manfredo is only famous for losing (losing!) the first Contender final fight. What reason on Earth, I ask you, is there for looking forward to this one? It would be a total insult to have this as an undercard on a free HBO show. It would even look bad on ESPN.

Most fans buy PPVs to see the main events. We all know this. But it would be nice if HBO and boxing promoters weren’t so cynical that they offered up garbage for three hours before the big show.

December 6, 2008

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