Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Nobody told Ricky “The Hitman” Hatton that real hitmen are supposed to wear black.

And even if they had, it probably wouldn’t have made any difference. Hatton, who is getting ready to face the tough as nails Mexican Jose Luis Castillo on Saturday night in Las Vegas, has made a career of doing things his own way, knocking guys out – and wearing baby blue colored trunks.

If the diminutive Hatton was as good with his feet as he is with his fists he would have likely become a professional soccer player. They call it “football where he comes from and he loves his Manchester City football club. So much so that he enters the ring to the tune of their theme song, “Blue Moon” and their colors are his color – baby blue.

He’s a small town boy from the countryside of England who still lives a stones throw from his parents’ home and he arrived in Las Vegas last week ahead of the big fight with Castillo. “This is where all the biggies fought,” said a beaming Hatton. “When I was growing up I watched Hagler and Hearns and Leonard and me hero Roberto Duran fight all those great fights in Vegas. I want to be a part of that.”

His name is illuminated in neon lights along the famous Vegas strip and as a young lad flailing away on the bags in a seedy English gym he could only dream that he would one day find himself here.

The temperatures of this Las Vegas spring have been blistering and the mercury has been routinely pushed into the triple digits. Surrounded by opulent casinos, palm trees and scantily clad suntanned bodies, Hatton, who is Englishman through and through, looks a little out of place

When he left England under partly cloudy skies the temperature was only in the mid-sixties. He has a youthful face, opaque skin and a positively zany sense of humor. He told The Guardian that it has been so hot in Sin City, “That I saw a tree chasing a dog the other day.”

But Ricky Hatton can see past the mirage. He’s running with a very real 10-year unbeaten streak, he’s knocked out and likely retired the great Kostya Tszyu, he’s won world titles at 140 and 147 pounds and he possesses a sparkling record of 42-0 (30) KO’s. With Floyd Mayweather, Jr. begging off to retirement, many think that Hatton, who is headlining his third straight fight here in America, could make a strong case for being the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world if he can make it by Castillo.

“I’m looking forward to fighting Castillo,” said Hatton. “That’s on me mind now. Styles make fights in the boxing game and this will be a good one because of our styles. You like a chess match watch De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather. You like fighters who come to fight and will knock the shit out each other then you watch us two.”

Jose Luis Castillo is another story entirely, at least from a climate standpoint . He turned pro as a 16 year-old boy and his early fights took place against grown men in the dusty rings that dot the Mexican countryside. Castillo is used to hot weather having been born in Mexicali, Mexico, and as HBO’s unofficial fight judge Harold Lederman once said of the oppressive heat in Mexicali, “That’s where the devil goes on vacation.”

A veteran of 63 professional fights, Castillo made his name as a 135-pound lightweight and he was good enough to give Floyd Mayweather, Jr. fits for 24 rounds over two fights. Many still think it was Castillo that deserved the decision in the first fight.

Then of course there was his epic first fight with the recently deceased Diego “Chico” Corrales that took place in Las Vegas in May 2005. It was, quite possibly, one of the greatest fights in boxing history and it was a fight that was savage as it was beautiful. Although Castillo lost that fight in the tenth round he knocked out Corrales in the rematch and Castillo’s prowess is spoken about now in revered terms. His name will forever be linked to Corrales’ as much as Cain to Abel and David to Goliath.

At age 33, Castillo’s most significant problems have been in trying to make weight. He abandoned the lightweights, where he won the WBC title twice, to travel five pounds north to 140 pounds. For this fight with Hatton, he says he is ready.

Last week, after a rigorous training session, Castillo told the Sunday Times of London that, “I like to suffer. This prepares me for war, which is what it will be when I face Ricky Hatton. I have the heart of a lion. This fight will end in a small death for Hatton.” Castillo should know a lot about punishment and small deaths. For years he was the great Julio Cesar Chavez’ main understudy.

Nobody understands the implications of looking impressive in the fight against Castillo better than Hatton does. His first headline fight in America took place in May 2006 in Boston against southpaw Luis Collazo at 147 pounds. Hatton barely squeaked by Collazo and he was hurt late in the fight. His next fight, with Juan Urango in January 2007, was a quiet performance for Hatton and again he failed to impress American boxing fans in winning another decision. The fans here in the States had heard about the knockout puncher with the boyish zeal and the spring in his step and those that had seen him fight said he reminded them of Roberto Duran. But on U.S. soil – Hatton has failed to live up to his lofty expectations.

“I was up at welterweight, and then I moved down to light welterweight,” says Hatton in his defense. “I had a couple of southpaw opponents. You know, Collazo is a big southpaw and Urango, southpaw again. Collazo threw so many punches, he didn’t give you much room. He didn’t give you as much as an opening for a spoon shot really. So, you know, really tricky awkward styles. This is more my kind of fight, I think, with Castillo it will be a similar to the Tszyu fight. Castillo holds his ground a little bit more, so it really is my type of fight. And I feel that the achievements have been a little better than the performances in my last two fights. I know I’ve got a lot better performances in me.”

Hatton says he is now at his correct fighting weight after the one fight flirtation with 147 pounds and he’s used to fighting on the road now. He and his team arrived in Las Vegas 16 days before the fight to better acclimate to the time change and the weather. Hatton claims he’s whittled his skills to a fine point. “I’ve been walking around snarling for the last three weeks,” says Hatton. “I’ve not been like that for the last couple of fights.”

Hatton has also had his own problems making weight but he says that for this fight it hasn’t been a problem. “I’ve trained for 12 hard rounds,” he said. “I’ve trained for just winning the fight the skin of my teeth. That’s the way you’ve always got to look at every fight, every time you step through the ring. That’s the way you’ve got a lock on it. But I mean, no, I mean I’ll be going out there for the knock out, and I think there’s a great chance that I can force that. But, you know, I’ve trained for 12 rounds of pain, really.”

He’s a hero in England and now he’s looking to make himself a hero in America. When asked about the fans that are making the trip from England to support him, Hatton was appreciative. “Yes. I expect three times more to be there again. You know, I defy any fellow, any person in boxing to draw out a bigger crowd than me, at the minute, especially in England. I reckon if I was to go back to England for a homecoming, you know, to get an open air stadium now, what I’ve achieved since I fought Kostya Tszyu, I reckon, we could get 50, 60, 70,000 as daft as it sounds. But I believe there’s near 10,000 Brits who have purchased tickets in England that are coming over to watch the fight, which is over half the venue. So that’s absolutely fantastic. You know, to sell that type of numbers in your hometown would be a massive achievement, but to do it halfway across the world, you know, is actually incredible. It’s an exciting week and I won’t be letting them down.”

And just for emphasis, Ricky Hatton will be wearing baby blue.

June 2007

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