Hatton can make history

ricky hatton07.08.07 – By Steve Hewitt: The greatest fighters in boxing are, like Ricky Hatton (43-0, 31 KOs), typically, those that manage to exceed the sum of their parts. Unlike those countless fighters that have relied upon a big punch to get them out of jail, Ali, Ray Robinson et al always managed to find a plan b, or even c to switch to. The best fighters tend to possess blinding hand and foot speed, certainly, but there are plenty of super fast fighters out there who have failed to make the big time, let alone the hall of fame.

No, what the elite fighters have all managed to do is combine good speed, a decent chin, a fair punch and fearless ring generalship to create a formula for huge success. Ricky Hatton is due to face such a fighter in Floyd Mayweather Jr: and many predict humiliation for the likable Brit.

But for every true great in the long history of the squared circle, there has been a nemesis, someone capable of pushing the very best to the limit of their considerable skills. When asked which fighter he had respected the most throughout his glorious career, Muhammed Ali stated - unequivocally - that Joe Frazier was his worst ring nightmare. Frazier’s style, coupled with his own indomitable will to win, resulted in three legendary battle royals between the two heavyweight gladiators; the first of which Frazier deservedly won.

To unearth a blueprint for success for Hatton though, we need not travel quite so far back in time, or even so far off in weights: ladies and gentleman I give you the great Roberto Duran and ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard.

Duran was similar to Hatton in three crucial respects:

First off, they share virtually the same diminutive and stocky build; something that will tend to go against a fighter when moving up the weights.

Secondly, they posses vastly under-appreciated boxing skills.

And finally, both fighters display a barnstorming approach in the ring.

In the opposite corner we have Leonard and Mayweather, a couple of rangy speed merchants with excellent defensive skills and ice in their veins. It would be remiss, also, not to mention the (minimum) six inch reach advantage they hold over their respective counterparts. What more do you need to know?

Given that when two eminently capable fighters enter the ring they are both carrying virtually the same weight, you are bound by the laws of physics to pick the taller, faster fighter of the two. Or, as the old fistic adage has it: a good big one will always beat a good little one. But boxing history does present evidence to the contrary, a good big one does indeed normally win, but not always…

Having secured the welterweight crown against Wilfred Benitez the preceding year, Ray Leonard entered the 1980 title fight with Duran unbeaten and in confident mood. Duran, on the other hand, had a legendary (and all too easily forgotten nowadays) seven years of lightweight domination behind him. It would have taken a brave man to pick between these two outstanding talents, but when a fighter grows older and steps up a weight or two, his height remains that of his former weight class. What he gains in muscular sturdiness, he loses in reach compared to his new, usually taller opponents. Advantage Leonard?

As it turns out, Duran managed to rattle the defensive minded pragmatist inside Leonard, whose hubris led him to believe that not only could he beat Duran, but that he could beat him at his own game. Duran, it seems, had happened upon his opponent’s kryptonite: EGO! Leonard stood toe to toe from the opening bell, and was knocked senseless in the second round. He later stated that whilst having managed to stay on his feet, he had been fighting on instinct alone until the fifth. Despite fighting on valiantly, Leonard was unable to go to plan b and lost a unanimous decision to the unstoppable, shorter Panamanian.

The obvious argument against this supportive analogy is that Mayweather is a lot closer to Ray Leonard in terms of talent, than Hatton is to Roberto Duran. Hatton’s trainer, Billy Graham, obviously disagrees, stating recently:

"This is Ricky's Sugar Ray Leonard fight. It's the first Duran-Leonard fight all over again. Look at how Duran won that fight and you will see how Ricky will beat Floyd."

Wishful thinking? Tell that to Jose Luis Castillo. Here’s a fighter that also resembles Duran in size and style more than in actual talent, and despite allegations that Castillo was a shot fighter when he lost to Hatton, he had certainly come to fight. More saliently, Castillo had not so long ago put on two highly effective performances against Mayweather; indeed many observers believe that Castillo should have been awarded the decision in their first match up. What’s interesting here is that Mayweather sometimes exhibited the same kind of hubris against Castillo that led to Leonard’s defeat against Duran, and a brief study of the Hatton v Mayweather pre-fight verbals would suggest that the canny Brit seems to have picked up on this.

One small caveat: Leonard, of course, went on to dominate Duran over their next two fights. And, problematic as his style was to Ali, Frazier lost their subsequent two fights also. Come December, Mayweather will be entering the ring as strong favourite, and rightly so, but if the odds are good enough you might just see a couple of sturdy looking ex champs placing a few bolas on the Manchester Mexican anyway.

History is pointing at round one to Hatton, in a trilogy of fights that Mayweather will ultimately dominate.

Article posted on 07.08.2007

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