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Hatton vs. Malignaggi: Does The Hitman Have Any Ammunition Left?

Has Ricky Hatton still got it?
Has Ricky Hatton still got it?

By Matthew Hurley: After losing in his bid to claim the WBC welterweight title from Floyd Mayweather in 2007 Ricky Hatton finally came to the reasonable conclusion that he was not and never will be comfortable at 147 pounds. A year earlier in Boston he took on tough WBA welterweight titleholder Luis Collazo. Hatton came away with a razor thin victory but many of the New Yorkers who had traveled to the TD Banknorth Garden to cheer on their Brooklyn born favorite voiced their displeasure with the verdict. From my vantage point that evening Ricky was lucky to get back to Manchester with the belt and his smaller than expected contingent in Boston were equally relieved. It seemed apparent at that moment, and then certified against Mayweather, that Ricky is a junior welterweight, end of story.

But in his return bout at 140 pounds against Juan Lazcano, in front of 57,000 adoring fans at the City of Manchester Stadium, Hatton again left his admirers wondering if a beer soaked lifestyle that inevitably packs on unsightly pounds between fights and his aggressive, come-forward fighting style had suddenly sapped him of his prime.

For the Lazcano fight the genial Hatton even entered the ring in a fat suit, poking fun at the portly image he projects when not in training. Unfortunately, there was nothing funny going on in the ring that night against Lazcano – the ‘Hispanic Causing Panic.’ No matter what Hatton tossed at him Lazcano walked right through it, not intimidated by Ricky’s notorious roughhouse tactics. Hatton would win comfortably on points but there was no comfort afforded him by his opponent inside the ring.

In the third round Hatton slipped to the canvas after absorbing a jab but the referee ruled no knockdown. Moments later Hatton was rocked by a left hook and his face began to sprout ugly red welts. Lazcano’s left hook kept the bout a bit too close for comfort for all the fans chanting, “There’s only one Ricky Hatton!” The crowd favorite responded with a vicious body attack that swung the momentum back in his favor, but in the eighth round signs of slippage became glaringly evident. Another left hook to the chin had Hatton in desperate trouble. Again Hatton survived but was almost out on his feet in the tenth round from another barrage that could have ended his homecoming in disaster had the referee not intervened, leading a woozy Hatton to his corner for his team to tie up his shoe lace. Ricky would ultimately survive thanks to the respite but his battered visage left many wondering if the fighter was sputtering out.

In the bout’s aftermath many observers wondered aloud if Hatton’s days as an elite fighter are numbered. Colin Hart of The Sun newspaper opined that, “Watching Hatton beat Lazcano left me in no doubt Ricky is rapidly sliding down a slippery slope that could lead to a nasty crash.”

Hatton would later maintain that he was suffering the effects of a chest infection and that because of that his training camp was lacking. Then trainer Billy Graham concurs with that but has also voiced his wish that Hatton hang up the gloves because he has witnessed diminishing returns in each successive bout. Whatever concerns trainer had in regards to his fighter are now moot; Graham bowed out after the Lazcano fight.

Fighting on the undercard that night was IBF light welterweight titleholder Paulie Malignaggi. His rematch with Lovemore N’dou was memorable only for the ludicrous hair extensions the Brooklyn based boxer wore into the ring. When the headdress came unhinged Paulie may well have become the first fighter in history to lose rounds because his hair was in his eyes. After being shorn of his faux dread locks between stanzas Malignaggi managed to salvage a split decision victory and a November 22nd date with Hatton at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, despite breaking his oft-broken right hand in the sixth round.

Speaking with Paulie a short time later at the boxing hall of fame in New York the fighter was sheepish about what had happened against N’dou. Sporting a buzz cut and a cast on his right fist Malignaggi was still his old defiant self, albeit with a more playful attitude in light of the lunacy he put himself through in Manchester.

“I respect Hatton,” he admitted. “But as a boxer I’m so much better.”

He then went on to point to his gutsy losing effort against then WBO light welterweight champion Miguel Cotto. Despite the loss, and the broken bones and cuts that went along with it Paulie never quit and won over a lot of critics with his courage.

“I took everything Cotto had and I didn’t quit,” he said. “I learned a lot from that fight. It was a tough thing to take at the time but I proved myself to a lot of people, and I’m better now than I was then.”

As for his oft-injured hand Malignaggi insisted then as he does now that it will not be an issue. Still, Paulie’s right fist seems to be made of papier-mâché and could easily crack the second it meets Hatton’s hard head.

The odds will certainly be in Hatton’s favor come the opening bell and his countrymen, who will once again make the long trek to Vegas to cheer on their idol, will place him in the comfortable position of fan favorite of which he’s grown accustomed. However, his penchant for packing on the pounds was evident yet again in a recent photo published in the December issue of Ring Magazine. Couple that ongoing distraction with the dismissal of his longtime trainer and confidant Billy Graham and one wonders if Hatton’s career is breaking apart from the inside out or the outside in. Is his body breaking down faster than his will, or are outside forces exhausting a now aging veteran?

There were rumblings after the loss to Mayweather that fighter and trainer, together since the very beginning, were on the outs. The two men defused those rumors and worked together for the Lazcano fight but now the longtime pair will not be doing what they’ve done together for 45 professional bouts. How will Ricky react going back to his corner if Malignaggi manages to befuddle him and that familiar face isn’t there? At this stage of his career will it even matter at all?

In Graham’s place is another loquacious trainer, none other than Floyd Mayweather Sr. The two men would appear to be an odd match – the gregarious, good-time Charlie, straight ahead banger that is Hatton and the ego-centric, motor-mouthed defensive specialist that is Mayweather. Even Hatton recently admitted that he is too old to learn any new tricks, but maintained that he is professional enough to take a great trainers advice and, hopefully, tighten up what has become a porous defense. Still, the two are an odd mesh personality wise. All the questions about this pairing will be answered come fight night.

Hatton also has the distinct comfort of knowing that Malignaggi is not a heavy puncher. With only five knockouts in twenty-six professional bouts Paulie relies on his legs and on creating angles to frustrate his opponents than in keeping them honest with right hand bombs. And then there is that fragile paw to consider. The last time that lack of power proved to be his downfall was against the onrushing Cotto and Hatton, determined in training camp to center his attack on the body, should get to Malignaggi by the mid rounds. Paulie’s jab, cocky self-assurance and underrated mental toughness will keep him in the fight but those assets won’t keep Hatton off him. And if you can’t hurt Ricky you can’t dissuade him.

Despite Paulie Malignaggi’s skills he is probably not the opponent to truly gauge where Hatton is on that “slippery slope” Colin Hart referred to. Look for Malignaggi to present some problems early before Hatton’s body work and mauling tactics begin to take their toll, breaking him up, possibly sending him to the mat before Ricky comes away with a unanimous decision victory. From there he will sit ringside on December 6th at the Oscar De La Hoya – Manny Pacquiao fight in anticipation of one final big payday against one of those cash cows.

November 12, 2008

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