Time for Hatton to step up

By Clive Bernath
Unbeaten light-welterweight prospect Ricky Hatton is, of course, a fine talent. But is he really the genuine article; ready to overtake the mantle of Lennox Lewis and Naseem Hamed as Britain’s No.1 fighter, as some of the press and fight fraternity are suggesting?
The way in which the Manchester ‘Hitman’ completely destroyed American tough guy John Bailey at the MEN Arena last weekend was indeed impressive. He teed off against the outclassed fighter from West Virginia at will, with lightning speed and frightening accuracy. Hatton looked the business all right, but, with due respect, Bailey was never a threat and taylor-made for the 22-year-old ‘body snatcher’.

There has been plenty of talk lately about promoter Frank Warren allowing his young charge against the world’s best 140lbs fighters such as the winner of the November 3 unification bout between IBF king Zab Judah and WBC and WBA title-holder Kostya Tszyu. But, at this moment in time, it is just talk.

Hatton is a fine talent, that is a fact. But is he ready for the world’s best? Well, not at the present time. It is unlikely that Judah would want to return to England after his 12-round struggle with Junior Witter. The New Yorker is a big mate of former world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson and would be happy to stay earning decent cash on his pal’s undercards.

Tszyu, also I suspect, would only travel to Britain for a bucket load of dosh, maybe more than both Warren and Showtime are prepared to stump up.

And it is highly unlikely that Warren would risk his rising star in America for a fight that would have more crowd appeal here than over the pond.

Regardless, one thing is very certain from Saturday’s win over Bailey, Hatton must now look to step up in class. No disrespect to Bailey, but he did not stretch our very own ‘Hitman’ very far. He had all the heart in the world, but that does not always win fights, not against fighters like Hatton anyway.

It is difficult to say who has stretched Hatton the furthest in his short 25 fight career so far because, to be honest, who has he really fought? Doing a job on former British light-welterweight champion Mark Winters, I guess, and the way he bombed out Jason Rowland to retain the WBU title are probably his finest performances to date.

On the negative side, Hatton was messed around by solid journeyman pros like Mark Ramsey (twice) and Anthony Campbell before winning on points. He also failed to finish Jonathan Thaxton inside the distance in a British title fight last year. So does he have the power to finish the better quality fighters?

Again, with due respect to the aforementioned, Judah and co would destroy these fighters. At 22, Hatton is developing nicely and he has plenty of time to gain experience, but he is nowhere near the finished article yet. He gets hit far too easily, and marks up terribly around the eyes.

He really must improve his opposition to impress his promoter’s American TV partner, Showtime. Two names who immediately spring to mind are Boston tough guy Micky Ward and 26-year-old Chicago journeyman Emanuel Burton.

Ward is well known, both in Britain and America, having out-toughed Shea Neary and for being consistently involved in thrilling fights on ESPN2. At 35, he should be on the slide, but remains a world class operator. Ward would be a perfect test for Hatton.

Burton is fresher, but naturally lighter, having campaigned as a lightweight. He even shared the ring with WBC super-featherweight Floyd Mayweather Jr last year. He also halted Jonathan Thaxton a few years ago. A win over either man would really stir up genuine excitement, and then the serious negotiations can begin.

Hatton must go through these type of guys before he gets to the big fish. Nigel Benn, Steve Collins and Barry McGuigan, all had to pass similar tests before they were deemed good enough to fight for a world title.

And - before I’m bombarded with complaints arguing that Hatton is already a ‘world’ champion having won the WBU title against pumped up super-featherweight Tony Pep - that is not a genuine world title. Warren knows it, Hatton knows it, and just about anyone who remotely understands the sport of boxing knows it.

I would love to see the genuinely likeable Manchester fighter meet and defeat either Ward or Burton. For one, that would open the door to Showtime and very lucrative paydays, and also establish the ‘Hitman’ as a genuine world class fighter.

Britain desperately needs a global ambassador once Hamed and Lewis have departed, and Hatton may just fit the bill.
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