Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Ricky Hatton Has Heard Enough

Ricky Hatton dons a set of ear muffs to block out Floyd Mayweather's taunts.

Floyd Mayweather, Jr. lives in a mansion in the land of neon lights and he haunts the late hours of the Las Vegas night. He talks non-stop about himself, often in the third person, and he tells you that he’s the greatest fighter that has ever lived. Better than “Sugar” Ray Robinson and better than Muhammad Ali. Or so he claims.

Ricky Hatton still lives in the same gray neighborhood outside Manchester, England where he grew up. He is the doting father of Campbell and the loving son of Ray and Carol. He’ll talk about himself too, but only if you ask. He would much rather be shooting darts at a dartboard or swilling back a pint of ale with the blokes at the local pub instead of explaining to you what he can do inside a boxing ring and what he is going to do to Floyd Mayweather, Jr.

For the past four months, “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather, Jr. has been doing a lot of talking and Ricky “The Hitman” Hatton has been doing a lot of listening.

On Saturday night, these two personalities from different worlds are going to meet in the ring at the MGM Grand Garden and millions will be watching. Will it be Mayweather, the abrasive, trash talking, hip-hopper that will make everything he says about himself come true? Or will it be Hatton, the everyman, the underdog and the working class hero that will leave the ring with the ability to brag?

Whoever wins, one thing is certain: Floyd Mayweather, Jr. has been talking about himself for a long time. For over a decade now he’s been undefeated and he’s won titles in five different weight classes while amassing a fortune in prize money.

And for the past four months, Ricky Hatton has been forced to listen to the blather and he doesn’t want to hear another word.

Hatton says he can see right through the fa├žade that Mayweather has carefully erected around himself. “I think he's an insecure person,” says Hatton of his antagonist. “I think that's why he surrounds himself with five or six bodyguards and they always seem to be ‘yes’ men. He always needs people whispering in his ear; ‘You're the man, you're number one, you're going to do this, your're going to do that.’

Hatton in heavy training under the ever watchful eyes of strength and conditioning coach Kerry Kayes (rear) and trainer and Billy Graham.

As the promotional roadshow for this fight worked itself across the United States and ultimately across the pond to England, Hatton got a better chance to assess Mayweather as a person. During the press tour, Mayweather chastised Hatton’s boxing skills, his quality of opposition and he derisively called him “Vicky Fatton” - among other things.

For his part, Hatton traveled with a skeleton crew made up primarily of long-time trainer Billy Graham and conditioning coach Kerry Kayes. Mayweather, on the other hand, cruised with a posse of oversized bag-men whom he employs to sack around his jewelry, carry thick wads of cash and hold aloft his championship belts when they are commanded to do so.

“And that's all a sign of insecurity,” says the amiable Hatton who is down to earth and matter of fact. “You don't need anybody whispering in your ear to tell you you’re the best. If you believe that, if you believe you're the best, then you don't need anybody reminding you or reassuring you.”

Certainly Mayweather and those around him utter incredulous claims regarding his prowess inside the ropes and his place in boxing history. “He’s won six world championships and never lost,” says his excitable uncle, trainer and former world champion, Roger Mayweather. “Right to this day, if he quit, he'll go down in history as the greatest fighter ever put on them (expletive) gloves.”

As for Hatton, he lives a simpler life and doesn’t think of himself in such grand terms. His father acts as his manager and he lives a few doors down from his Mom and Dad in a modest home. Hatton counts his brother Matthew, also a boxer, as his best friend. Rather than making his own declarations of greatness, Hatton thinks there may be a simpler way to figure it all out.

“Well, the people will make their own minds up of how good they actually think I am, or how good they think I am in the standings of boxing champions, past and present,” he says. “I’m not going to go out and say I think I'm the best.”

But what really rankles Hatton, and those that work with him, are not the caustic words of Mayweather, but the fact that many pundits give him no chance to unseat Mayweather from his perch. Despite his own undefeated record which stands at 43-0 (31) KO’s and despite the fact that he has won titles in two separate weight divisions, Hatton remains a heavy betting underdog. One Las Vegas based boxing reporter has even gone so far as to say, “Hatton won’t win a round.”

But Billy Graham, once a fighter and Hatton’s trainer since he was a 15 year old amateur, obviously views this match in a different light. When asked to comment on what some boxing writers are terming a mismatch, Graham turned the tables.

“Well, to be honest with you, it just takes an awful lot of pressure off me,” said Graham in between drags on a cigarette. “Victory will be sweeter when Ricky beats him, so I don't let them bother me so much. But I think some of the stuff that has been written, I mean if I had written it, all of a sudden I'd be embarrassed at my lack of knowledge of boxing.”

Pressed further about how he thinks the fight will play out, Graham broke it down. “At some point in the fight, he will have to sit down and meet Ricky, that's for sure,” said the deep-voiced and heavily tattooed Graham of Mayweather. “He won't be able to get on his toes and move for twelve rounds against Ricky Hatton. Ricky can beat Floyd because I know Ricky Hatton better than anyone on the planet, I know what he's got. He's not just a pressure fighter, he's an awful lot more. He's blessed with all of these attributes that Floyd’s blessed with like fantastic peripheral vision, great variety, fantastic balance and reflexes. Coupled with his amazing strength and ferocity I think that he’s going to be able to beat Floyd.”

Surely Hatton’s chances against Floyd are much better than the recent collection of what Mayweather has called “C-level” fighters that he has gone up against. And even Mayweather’s trusted advisor, Leonard Ellerbe, admitted that Mayweather’s recent competition has been weak. “These other fighters out there aren't even challenging Floyd, he said. “Because, you know, with all due respect to all of the other fighters out there, you know, the fighters are basically, as he puts it, A, B, C, 1, 2, 3.”

Hatton knocked out Mexico's Jose Luis Castillo with this left hook bodyshot.

So after all of the talk, the fight, as they say, is finally at hand.

Hatton has been in Las Vegas since just after Thanksgiving and he’s been whittling away at his skills and honing his body to a fine point. Predictably, Mayweather has used the press to lash out at Hatton with his forked tongue in the days leading up to the fight. But this is the fight that Ricky Hatton has dared to think about only in his dreams, and in spite all of the words, it all comes together on Saturday night.

So the final word goes to him.

“I think a lot of people in Vegas are going to lose money because I think everybody has picked Floyd to win this and everyone has expected him to win,” says Hatton. “I think very few people are picking me to beat him, which really suits me fine. In fact, I wouldn't give two shits if everybody picked Floyd Mayweather because I know what a sweet victory it’s going to be when I do it. And the last time nobody gave me a chance was against Kostya Tszyu, and we made him quit, and I think I'm going to make Floyd quit.”

And if that happens, maybe all the talking will stop.

December 2007

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