Monday, December 10, 2007

Eating Your Own Words is Never Tasty

Trainer Billy Graham tends to Ricky "The Hitman" Hatton in his fight against "Pretty Boy" Floyd Mayweather, Jr. on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

I was one of the ones that had it all figured out. I had it down as a sure thing that Manchester, England’s own Ricky “The Hitman” Hatton was going to beat “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather, Jr. into submission on Saturday night in Las Vegas.

I was one of the ones drinking the Kool-Aid mixed up by the Manchester faithful and I was gulping down every mug of it. I couldn’t be wrong (or so I figured) as I’ve been on a good run lately and I can’t remember the last time I was wrong about the outcome of a big fight. I pegged Kelly Pavlik by knockout over Jermain Taylor and I said that Joe Calzaghe was a sure bet over Mikkel Kessler.

But hey, I wasn’t the only one telling you all that Hatton was going to win. There were thousands that made the trek across the pond from England to cheer on “Our Boy Ricky” and as they sang “Walking in a Hatton Wonderland” I was singing right along with them. They bet thousands of pounds on Hatton at the parlors in Vegas. In fact, the amount wagered on Hatton was the most for any British fighter in boxing history. And truth be told, about 20% of us so-called expert boxing writers were picking Hatton to win too.

Heck, a couple of weeks ago, even Oscar De La Hoya was on record as saying, “A lot of people are going to lose a lot of money betting on Mayweather. Trust me.” And just before the fight, even Bernard Hopkins said that he, too, was expecting Hatton to win.

I couldn’t be on the scene in Vegas, so I was watching it on the screen, here in cold and snowy Maine. We’re buried under more than a foot of snow up here but I was still hot for the action in the ring.

As the fight unfolded, I was in constant telephone contact with my fistic mentor, a bearded, wise old sage of a boxing genius whose name is Kenny. He’s the lone voice that I have trusted all of these years and he’s an elder that has seen all the fights and all of the fighters that have come down the pike over the past five decades. When I’m hedging on a bet or on the outcome of a big fight, he’s the first number that I dial.

I dialed Kenny’s number just as the first round was getting underway.

“Hatton’s looking pretty good, Tom,” said Kenny through the phone. I could hear his smile and I imagined he was stroking his beard. “The Pretty Boy looks like he might be in for it tonight.”

"The Hitman" had some early success, though fleeting, against "Pretty Boy"

And things were looking pretty good for Hatton early on. He was working his way in and roughing Mayweather up on the inside and he even had Floyd stumbling backwards before the first round was over.

It was Hatton who was the busier man and who seemed to be landing the harder punches. I figured Hatton was going to run right over “Money” Mayweather. The words of Hatton’s trainer, Billy Graham, were ringing through my ears; “I know what Ricky Hatton can do and what he’s capable of,” said Graham. “And I know he’ll beat Floyd Mayweather.”

But as the rounds wore on I was getting concerned, and so was Kenny. Every now and then, Floyd would land a flush shot, just enough to keep Hatton honest.

“I don’t know, Tom,” said Kenny. “Mayweather is tricky, tricky, tricky in there, ain’t he?”

I didn’t want to hear any of that. And though I could see things were not exactly going Hatton’s way, I refused to believe what I was seeing. It couldn’t be. Ricky was cut over the right eye from a punch and then referee Joe Cortez, who I didn’t think was being “fair” - was being way too “firm” with my guy. Cortez was in the middle of the action all of the time and he was, as usual, hollering some sort of illiterate command. At age 64, he didn’t look like he was going to make it out of the third round. Why couldn’t he just be more like Carlos Padilla the night in Montreal when Duran was allowed to rough up Leonard on the inside? That’s all I was asking for.

Hatton never stopped his forward march, but Mayweather handled the rushes.

But, as usual, Kenny was seeing things as they are, and he brought me back to reality.

“Mayweather looks so much bigger than he used to,” said Kenny. “Man, would you look at the chest and shoulders on him now. He’s really grown into 147 pounds. He’s a true welterweight now, ain’t he?”

“I suppose, so,” I sheepishly said.

But Kenny was on a roll now. “Heck, Hatton looks skinny next to him. You know, looking at Mayweather tonight, I think he would have hung right in there with some of them boys from back in the day - from the ‘80’s. You know what I’m saying? Jeez, he’s good.”

The last comment struck me as unusual. Surely to God, Kenny, the man who knew so much about so many fighters, didn’t mean that Mayweather could have hung in there with Duran and Leonard and Hearns and Benitez. Or did he?

“I don’t know, Tom. He’s just so tricky and slick and slippery. And jeez, would you look at those combinations! When he decides to open up he is just vicious! Listen to them shots why don’t ya’? Pop! Pop! Pop! Man, those shots have got hurt written all over ‘em.”

But I needed more of answer than that, so I pressed the old man further. “Well, maybe with Leonard and Benitez,” I said. “But I think Hearns was way too big and powerful for him. And as far as Duran goes, well…I mean…”

“I don’t know, Tom,” Kenny cut in. “Floyd has a way or warping guys into fighting the way he wants ‘em too, you know what I mean?” he asked. “I mean, sure, Zab had him for a few rounds and Hatton was doing O.K. with him early, but now look. I think Floyd would have been a tough night for anybody.”

After Cortez took a point away from Ricky for a supposed illegal rabbit punch (that never landed) and Floyd got momentarily hung up in the ring ropes, things seemed to go downhill. Hatton was getting too careless and he was just walking in on Mayweather and getting nailed flush with head shots. Floyd was emptying his quiver. Jabs, hooks, right hands. Mayweather was warming up and things were getting stormy.

“God, I don’t see why he walks straight in like that,” wondered Kenny aloud about Ricky’s tactics. Meanwhile Hatton was getting pasted repeatedly. “You’d think he’d have learnt to move that head of his a little bit wouldn’t ya’?” Kenny asked.

Floyd Mayweather got all twisted up in the ring ropes during the sixth round.

By now, I was becoming very uncomfortable. My jaw was clenching and my hands were getting fidgety. My heart was racing as Hatton was nearly washed aground in the eighth before avoiding the rocks. I breathed a sigh of relief.

But Kenny’s mind was made up on how this night was going to go for Ricky. Kenny had been here enough to see the writing on the wall.

“He ain’t gonna’ make it, Tom. I don’t see how he can turn it around now. He’s just walking into them shots and he can’t stop Floyd from doing what he wants anymore. Jeez, Floyd is even starting to handle Ricky on the inside now.”

Hatton was also beginning to look weary and whatever success he may have had with certain tactics early were clearly not working now. He resembled a fish flopping around in the sand. Helpless. Of course, I thought that Mayweather was fouling my guy all night with his left elbow, but that was of minor importance now.

And then the tenth round came. Ricky never saw the “check hook” - a left - that ended his night, and sent the “Hatton Express” careening off the tracks for the first time ever. It was a beautiful shot that ended Hatton’s night and just the type of shot that only a talented and serious fighter could throw.

“Oh, no!” wailed Kenny into the phone as we both watched the carnage unfold on our television screens.

I was too shocked to say anything. ‘This can’t be happening’ I thought to myself as Cortez counted away.

“Well, he made it up, Tom!” said Kenny, who had seen this type of thing a million times before. “But he don’t look good.”

And then down went Hatton again. Over and out for the night. Cortez waived it off without a count and it went into the books as a TKO. But old Joe could have counted to a hundred; there was no way Hatton was going to do another thing on this night.

After the fight had concluded, Hatton and Mayweather showed mutual respect.

I could hear Kenny breathing into the receiver on the other end of the line. He wasn’t saying anything. He could hear that the room full of people that I was watching the fight with had suddenly gone hopelessly silent. It was like the moment after that second plane crashed into the towers. Shock and awe. You could have heard a pin drop.

“Tom, you still there?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m here,” I weakly responded.

“Jeez, I knew that Mayweather was good,” said Kenny in a low voice. “But I never thought he was that good.”

“Yeah, me neither,” I said back. He could hear the despondent tone in my voice.

“Man, I don’t see nobody that’s going to be able to shut Mayweather up, now,” said Kenny, thinking about all of the possibilities.

“What about Cotto or Mosley or how about that Hearns clone - Paul Williams?” I asked. Clearly I was a desperate man grasping at straws.

“Tom! C’mon,” Kenny said, trying to coach some reality into me. “There ain’t no one around whose gonna’ touch Mayweather. He’d eat Cotto for breakfast and Shane ain’t got the goods no more to handle what I just saw. Floyd ain’t gonna’ fight Williams or Margarito because there ain’t no money in it for him.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” I said. “He’ll probably really retire this time.”

“Oh, jeez, he might as well,” said Kenny. “There ain’t no one out there that can beat that man I saw in there tonight.”

And with that, the phone went dead and Kenny’s voice was replaced by the dull hum of a blank dial tone.

It was just as well. After having told every friend I have that Hatton was assured of victory, the rancid aftertaste of my own words smacked me in the mouth like a “check hook” from the “Pretty Boy”.

December 2007

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