Date With Destiny: Ricky Hatton Faces the Moment of Truth

ricky hatton01.11.07 - By Taj Eubanks: Much has been made of the upcoming showdown between “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather, Jr.(38-0) and Ricky “The Hitman” Hatton (43-0). It is a fan’s delight from every angle: country vs. country, two undefeated fighters in their prime, and a supposedly arrogant knave against humble blue-collar bloke. Perhaps most importantly (from the fight fan’s perspective) is that you have the linear welterweight champion (Mayweather) squaring off against the linear junior welterweight champion (Hatton).

There is no sleight of hand or backroom politics involved here as these two warriors won their titles in the ring (the way it should be) so that there is no doubt as to the legitimacy of their reigns. Thus, fight fans are treated to a contest in the same mold as the fights of old, two genuine champions in the ring. This is a boon for the sport and a true cause celebre. Unfortunately, only one man can win and all indicators point toward Floyd Mayweather, Jr. being that man.

Hatton is everything that fans say that he is. He’s down-to-earth and accommodating outside of the ring and a battering ram inside of it. The type of guy you would love to have a brew (or three) with. He is unrelenting, doesn’t take a backward step and throws reams and reams of punches, eventually overwhelming his foes with a pressure-fighting style that has earned him the nickname “The White Mexican,” a designation of respect bestowed upon him by adoring Mexican fans. Many believe that this style is the key to wrest victory from Mayweather, a gem of an accomplishment that has eluded challengers 38 times. The oft-repeated mantra among “experts” is that the way to beat Mayweather (who, ironically, has never been beaten) is to pressure him a la Jose Luis Castillo. It is well documented that many feel that Castillo should have won his first fight with Mayweather (though 3 judges saw it differently) and point to this as the blueprint for Mayweather’s fistic Waterloo. More importantly, Hatton’s fans point to the fact that while Mayweather went the distance with Castillo (twice), Hatton crushed him in four.

Mayweather-Castillo I has served as a flashpoint of controversy between Mayweather’s fans and those who insist that the pound-for-pound champ should have taken a loss that night. The outcry following the match prompted Floyd to call for an immediate rematch, which was another unanimous decision, by an even wider margin that before. These facts are not up for dispute. While fans constantly point to Mayweather-Castillo I as the Rosetta Stone of a Mayweather defeat, few care to admit (or are even aware) that Mayweather fought Castillo with a torn rotator cuff that night and still managed to win a wide-margin unanimous decision. The question that has not often been asked is this: If Castillo possessed the tools to defeat Mayweather so resoundingly as alleged, why was he not able to summon the same performance in the second match? Further, why was he beaten even more convincingly in the rematch? Indeed it may be that Castillo’s performance in the first fight was impressive precisely because Mayweather was injured and the reason that the effort he turned against a healthy Mayweather seemed nothing more than pedestrian.

The trumpeting of Hatton’s victory over Castillo serves as more fuel for debate amongst those who wish to extrapolate the meaning of said victory and its importance in predicting the outcome of the Mayweather-Hatton clash. Those that feel that Hatton has more than a fleeting chance at victory maintain that not only did Hatton trounce a common opponent, but also that said beatdown was of a much more brutal nature. Hatton’s victory was indeed impressive as the world was treated to a wrecking ball performance by the Mancunian which saw Castillo dropped to the canvas with one of Hatton’s signature body blows (a feat that neither Mayweather or the late, great Diego Corrales was able to do [it took Corrales 10 rounds to achieve the knockout and even then Castillo remained on his feet). While Hatton definitely gets props for this win, the significance of the win remains in doubt. It is virtually impossible to compare Hatton’s win over Castillo with that of Mayweather. First, and perhaps most importantly, Mayweather faced a prime Castillo, beating the modern great not once, but twice, five years ago. Before the unbridled savagery of Corrales-Castillo I and II, and many other tooth-and-nail fights in between. The Castillo that Hatton fought simply was not the same Castillo, physically, mentally or perhaps more tellingly, financially. Not only did Castillo look a step slow all night (a fact commented upon by the commentators) but also he was laboring for free. Castillo’s well-documented inability to make weight for Corrales-Castillo III led to the canceling of the fight, which in turn led to a heavy fine by the Nevada Commission and a suspension, a lawsuit from the Corrales camp and monies being owed to Top Rank. Therefore, it was also well known that Castillo’s entire purse would go to his creditors. And so it was that when Castillo laced up his gloves and stepped into the ring with Ricky Hatton, he was essentially risking his life for a prizefight without a prize. This being the case, what was Castillo’s impetus to rise from the canvas after Hatton’s sledgehammer body shot? What could he possibly gain from taking more abuse with no possibility of earning a penny for his efforts? The answer is, nothing. Castillo had absolutely nothing to gain by fighting on (assuming that he could, which he probably couldn’t). And even if he couldn’t fight on, it is safe to say that the Castillo we all saw that night was, in boxing speak, a bit past it.

That being the case, what are really Hatton’s prospects for victory on December 8? With the exceptions of Miguel Cotto and Manny Pacquiao, there probably is not a better pressure fighter in the game today. Hatton moves forward at a frightening pace, throws punches from many angles, has superior conditioning (despite the missives being hurled from the Mayweather camp) and has a granite chin. He is an underrated boxer, has heart, and doesn’t quit (see Collazo-Hatton for Hatton’s first real test of mettle). These attributes are more than enough to beat 99% of fighters in and around his weight class. The problem is, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. dwells at the highest end of the bell curve, in the 1% of fighters who are more gifted than the rest. Hatton’s Achille’s heel in this instance is that Mayweather, through six weight classes and 17 world championship fights has seen it all. Pressure fighting? Seen it (Castillo, De la Hoya, Corrales, Gatti, Jesus Chavez). Speed? Been there (Zab Judah, Oscar, Corley). Iron chin and heart? No problem (Baldomir, Gatti). Superior boxing ability? Not even worth mentioning. Conditioning? With the possible exception of Bernard Hopkins, Mayweather has no equal, staying true to the old-school fighter’s credo of staying in shape between fights, never weighing more than several pounds over his fighting weight. Perhaps most importantly, Mayweather has the rare ability of being able to fight many styles. He can fight going backward, forward, on the ropes or in the center of the ring. Defensively, his elusiveness is rivaled only by that of James Toney who, in addition to being a fellow Michigan native, also employs the same shoulder-roll style of defense. Thus Hatton finds himself facing the most uphill battle of his career, a fact not lost on boxing analysts and Las Vegas odds makers. Come fight night, Mayweather will step into the ring with a man whose style he has seen time and time again. Hatton, on the other hand, will face a style that he has never seen. And this will be the difference in the fight.

The wonderful thing about boxing is that no matter what the line on the fight is and no matter what the so-called “experts” say, absolutely anything can happen. Just ask Buster Douglas. And Antonio Tarver. And Carlos Baldomir. And Ricky Hatton. A miracle is always possible.
In this case, however, don’t bet on it.

Article posted on 01.11.2007

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