Monday, February 12, 2007


It was the great writer F. Scott Fitzgerald who told you there are no second acts in American life - but don’t tell that to Manchester, England’s Ricky Hatton. His first act in America played out on a cold, damp stage last May in Boston against Luis Collazo where he was lucky to avoid disaster and escape with his undefeated record. On Saturday night in Las Vegas, Hatton gets ready for the second act in his America life against IBF Jr. Welterweight titlist Juan Urango.

Ricky says the play is going to be better this time. He’ll be fighting in his natural weight division and won’t have the extra seven pounds he needed to be a welterweight to carry around on his back. However, he will have the weight on his shoulders of the 3,000 fans that have made the trek over from England to watch him tango with Urango. Hatton came to Las Vegas last week to get used to the surroundings of the "The Strip" and acclimatize his trained body to the time change. When the first bell against Urango clangs it will be late into the night in Las Vegas but only seven o’clock in the morning at home in Manchester.

When he climbed out of the back of a long, black, stretch limousine and into the unseasonably cold Las Vegas air of this El Nino winter he saw his name in lights on the marquee and had a reporter’s microphone propped immediately in front of his face. They asked him what it was going to be like to fight for the first time in the city of sin and he replied with his quick talking, rapid fire, Mancunian accent. "Absolutely fantatsic, really. It’s been a long time comin’. It seems like for the last maybe three, four five years even I’ve been wantin’ to come over ‘ere. Now I’m finally gettin’ me a chance at it meself. I can’t wait to put on a big show for people."

As a boy he thought he might like to become a professional soccer player but that didn’t work out. For a time, he worked side-by-side on his knees in the family business with his father, Ray, installing carpets. But that didn’t work out either, because, as Ray bluntly puts it, "He’s probably…I’d go as far as to say the worst carpet fixer in England. I’d even stretch it to Europe. I don’t know what they’re like in America but there can’t be many worse than him."

Instead, Ricky Hatton became a boxer, stopped the great Kostya Tszyu in a sensational contest to win the championship, has been unbeaten for 10 years in 41 pro fights with 30 knockouts - and some say he might just be the best fighter that England has ever produced. He’s already won three world titles in two different weight divisions and will be going for another on Saturday night.

At a diminutive 5’6’’ tall and scaling 140 pounds, or 10 stone, Hatton at age 28 still looks like a boy. Fair skinned with dirty blond hair he is quick to grin and has small, alert eyes set behind high, prominent cheekbones. His sharp angular jaw fits his blocky body and thick legs. Quick with his hands and on his feet, Hatton is an aggressive fighter that likes to mix it up and come forward, "I think I don’t fight like a typical British fighter", Hatton says. "Me style is probably more towards more of a Mexican type style fighter." The elder statesman of boxing, HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant says this about Manchester’s favorite son, "Hatton is just all fighter. The British version of Julio Cesar Chavez."

His boyhood chums still call him "Ricky" and he still has those same friends because his enormous success hasn’t changed him. He still walks the same streets of his hometown and greets friends with a hearty, "Cheers, mate!" He lives within a stone’s throw of his parents’ home and is all of England’s boy next door. Despite his overwhelming success in England and in the world of boxing there are no pretensions surrounding Ricky "The Hitman" Hatton. He’s still the same chap that grew up tossing darts, playing pool and swilling pints in the neighborhood pubs.

Hatton is humble and boyish and he accepts his celebrity in stride, "The fans when they see me oot and aboot and when they see me on the telly and in different papers and stuff like that - they feel warm to me ‘cause they say I’m just a regular goy. I’m no different to the goy out there. I’m no different to you."

He’s drawn sell-out crowd after sell-out crowd to the Manchester Evening News Arena where he always enters the ring to the theme song of his beloved Manchester City Football Club. Twenty thousand fans would serenade him to the tune "Blue Moon" and then whip themselves into a furious frenzy while cheering him on to victory.

With his enormous success in Great Britain the American boxing writers began to question whether Hatton was just another highly touted Brit who would flop once he played on the big stage in Las Vegas for the first time. Nobody needs to remind Ricky Hatton that former British darlings Barry McGuigan, Lloyd Honeyghan, Frank Bruno and Naseem Hamed all failed miserably and were scorched on their first journeys to the desert.

To his credit, Hatton has been eager to finally test himself. For several years he has itched to match his skills against the best America has to offer, but to finally find himself in Las Vegas fighting a big fight for the first time is a dream come true. "I never really had thought, you know, from where I come from, boxin’ at the wurkin’ man’s clubs or social clubs in and ‘round Manchester ‘round the council estates to this. It’s unbelievable, really. And also, because I also know when me family comes over and me very close friends, me boyhood friends are going to walk down the strip and see me name up on the big screen and the flashing lights. It’s really quite emotional to be honest."

Nearly forgotten in the build-up to Hatton’s Las Vegas boxing debut has been his opponent, Colombia’s Juan Urango. His nickname is the "Iron Twin" in reference to "Iron" Mike Tyson. Like Tyson, Urango is a wild swinging, come ahead, banger that likes to get on the inside and work. He’s thickly built and a man of few words. Undefeated himself at 17-0-1 (13) KO’s he won Hatton’s old IBF title in his last fight, a disputed decision over Naoufel Ben Rabah.

The deeply religious Urango uses words like he has to pay for them and is not one to boast or make predictions. He's taken to calling the man everyone else calls Ricky, "Mr. Hatton" - and he intersperses his comments with "all glory goes to God." Urango is the father of six children is humble about his accomplishments and his origins. Through a translator, he deadpans: "I come from the country. Hard working. We’re working hard every day our countrymen, in a poor country. A pretty simple life. You’re out there working hard every day. There are farms, cattle, horses. Real country."

For his part, Hatton expects Urango to put up a real fight. Ever the optimist, the little boy in Hatton doesn’t see any way that this night will go badly. And he quickly says, "I can’t help thinking this fight will be an excitin’ foight. I mean, we’ve got the roight opponent to make it really somethin’ special. I’m expectin’ some firewurks, some real firewurks. I mean, noither of us will be takin’ a backwurds step. We’ll each be takin’ a big punch to give a big punch and go for the knockout. You know, I don’t want anybody to go 'way from a Ricky Hatton fight and sayin’ that sent us to sleep or that was a load of crap. Juan Urango has a stoyle that is always in a good foight so it can’t help but be a fantastic foight really."

Las Vegas is a long way from Manchester and his life in England is a long way from this life in America, but Ricky Hatton is ready for the second act. Just don’t tell him what that chap F. Scott Fitzgerald said.

January 2007

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