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Hatton Relishes Underdog Role

Ricky 'Hitman' Hatton
Ricky 'Hitman' Hatton

By Matthew Hurley: “It’s always better to win as the underdog.”

So says Ricky Hatton as he winds down preparations for his May 2nd mega-fight with current pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao. Hatton’s easy charm has been tested in the buildup to this fight as Pacquiao’s ascension to superstar status in the aftermath of his December destruction of Oscar De La Hoya has reduced ‘The Hitman’ to the B-side of this number one record. But in that vein Hatton remains one helluva B-side – something akin to John Lennon’s “Revolution” on the flipside of Paul McCartney’s “Hey Jude”.

There have been moments in the face of the media where Ricky has been trying almost too hard to get the point across that all those who are predicting an easy Pacquiao victory have not been paying close enough attention and are in for a surprise. One thing he has reiterated time and again, and it is a valid point, is that Manny has been stopped before early in his career and he has been seriously buzzed by fighters like Juan Manuel Marquez and Erik Morales.

“People talk about his speed,” he said during an open media session, “but those fellas who shook him up still caught him.”

Hatton flashes a knowing smile when he says this. The fact is he is not only bigger and stronger than Marquez and Morales but he is equally fast, or faster, than those two lighter-weight fighters, and he hits significantly harder. So, he asks, what happens when I catch him? In Ricky’s estimation the thought is enough to make his mouth water nearly as much as it does when a bartender puts a perfectly poured pint of Guinness in front of him.

When the fight was finally signed after a rather contentious battle over purse parity Hatton was rebounding from his 2007 knockout loss to then pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. His subsequent bout against Juan Lazcano proved his enduring popularity when over 50,000 fans showed up to welcome him home at the City of Manchester Stadium in Lancashire. However, his performance was not only lacking but seemed to indicate that he had gone as high as he could and was now skidding down the backside of a very successful career. But Hatton maintains that he was ill both before and during the fight and the ongoing dissolution of his relationship with longtime trainer Billy Graham was one further distraction that muddied his focus.

So, enter the provocateur of self-love – trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr. No matter how you judge his credentials as a trainer, he would seem a bad fit for such a playful personality as Ricky Hatton. Not because he’s a bad trainer but because his ego is such that he demands primary focus on himself whether the cameras are rolling or not. Put simply, Floyd the Senior is awfully hard to take even in small doses.

But apparently Hatton’s quirky sense of humor has discombobulated Mayweather just enough that he has been willing to step back a bit and allow the gregarious Mancunian to dominate press conferences and media sessions. The so-called “greatest trainer ever” still seeks out the microphones but his bad poetry and endless slamming of Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach are like awkward, sometimes indecipherable rants compared to Hatton’s quick wit. And Hatton will often talk over his new trainer when a quip grips his mind. Perhaps that’s why their odd relationship seems to be working.

As for their in-ring relationship, Hatton did look markedly better against speedy but feather-fisted Paulie Malignaggi. With nothing but elusiveness to worry about Hatton established a very good jab and simply walked his opponent down, stopping him in the eleventh round. Malignaggi was gutty, but his punches were like lobbed soft balls compared to Hatton’s ninety mile an hour fast balls. Still, where Paulie was really not a proper gauge as to just how good a fighter Hatton remains after years of wear and tear, in good conscience, it was a performance comparable to Manny Pacquiao’s apparent Herculean effort against Oscar De La Hoya because neither opponent put up much resistance.

“I think we all know that wasn’t the Oscar we’ve all come to know and love,” Ricky said on HBO’s 24/7. “It was a great performance by Manny but I think people are overestimating it.”

Although De La Hoya’s fragility that night made Pacquiao look like a monstrous speed demon, the ‘Pac Man’ still did everything right. There wasn’t one misstep. Hatton will surely prove a sterner test than the depleted ‘Golden Boy’ and his rough and tumble style could prove just awkward enough to disrupt Pacquiao’s rhythm. In Hatton’s view his own speed will negate Pacquiao’s and if he can keep his foe on his back foot he will take over the fight.

Behind a quick double jab Hatton intends to bore in and force Pacquiao to fight going backwards – an attack plan that Marquez and Morales used to great effect. By not allowing Manny to set himself Ricky believes he can then use his mauling, brawling style to break his opponent down over the long haul. Of course he will have to eat leather to accomplish this and therein lies the headiest question of all – can he handle Pacquiao’s power? Hatton waves off the notion that Pacquiao remains the murderous puncher he was at featherweight, super featherweight and lightweight. Most fighters who move up in weight alarmingly find out that punches that once leveled opponents don’t have the same effect, but Pacquiao’s power is crippling because his punches are delivered with blinding speed. We should find out how this fight will go early on when Manny lands his Sunday punch and Hatton reacts with either a shrug or a shudder. And that could also be said of when Hatton lands his best shot. It’s why this fight becomes more and more intriguing the closer we get to the opening bell.

Should Hatton remain a prohibitive underdog, and a probable surge of late money on the ‘The Hitman’ will tighten the odds come fight night, he is as live an underdog as anyone could hope for. And that’s just what Ricky Hatton has been saying all along.

April 22, 2009

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