Hatton-Graham: Hitman v Preacher – The Split

Ricky HattonBy Darryl Waterhouse: On the surface, the inevitable split seemed almost mutual, if not entirely muted. Though the perpetually motioned rumour mill has roiled on this subject for quite some time, even as far back as the Hatton v Collazo fight, when certain sources close to the camp suggested a disagreement based on the campaigning weight 'things' have been mentioned, repeated and re-cycled.

For most this is an old story. I can already hear nonchalant cries from the rear. “So what?”

Okay, lets just appreciate from the offset we're never likely to get the absolute truth. We can watch, listen and read in to what each party is saying, and make best endeavors to second-guess what they mean, but all we'll really be left with is a tepid tasting diluted version of what really happened.

Usually when a partnership deal is completed, an integral part of informing the world is a press conference. Had the split been agreeable, and mutual, this would have been much more likely to take place. I mean, this is an important partnership in boxing, so this would've been the most forthright and proper way of doing things. It didn't, and differing stories have appeared. This in turn makes one presume that it wasn't mutual.

The timing wasn't ideal. In fact it's downright silly. Most trainer-boxer partnerships expire on or very shortly after a defeat, and not at the start of a conditioning and training program. I might by being a little cynical here, but this too carries a mysterious odor. Why now then? Should a short furry animal crawl in to your shed to die, it may be some time before you notice it.

And therein lies the point. Things start to go downhill early, but you tend not to notice them. Back to the analogy and that eventually the odor of said small furry animal will become unbearable. When you spend so much time with someone in a professional capacity, the honeymoon period simply doesn't last forever. There's a lovely little turn of phrase I often coin under these circumstances. “Familiarity breeds contempt”. Now in now way am I suggesting there is any level of annoyance of hatred between Graham and Hatton. In fact, I like to think that Billy will still be a large, and very important of Ricky's life (only now, outside of boxing). So contrary to using that phrase, and I reiterate the probability of the two characters being long and full-time pals for life. Eventually all partnerships run their course, often a shame, but true. The first two or three times that a correction is made can probably be disregarded, but over the course of a decade or so, these one time nuances can elevate to a complete annoyance. The plain truth of the matter may simply be that on a professional level, neither man could continue on the current path. Cash in your chips now, and salvage a friendship. Eventually both men will have full-time lives outside of boxing and training, and it's reassuring to think they can go and have a Guinness together with their families on a Sunday afternoon.

What has grated me a little is the manner in which the fanaticals have been consistently drip-fed information. I mentioned a little earlier about a press conference, and stated a reason why I believe it didn't take place. Instead, what we got was a story from the Hatton camp, and a rebuttal from Graham himself and a statement carrying his reasons for the decision.

Ray (Hatton – Richards father) is quoted as saying on Rickys official site saying "Ricky and Billy had a meeting yesterday in which Billy admitted he was not going any further. It was quite emotional because they have been together for so long. "It's a sad day. Billy will always be remembered as one of the world's great trainers and to go out after a win in front of 58,000 people in Manchester will be a fitting end to his career.

"But everybody knew Billy had been struggling in recent years with a few health problems and it was becoming increasingly painful for him to train Ricky. "We knew the bombshell was coming and it was just a question of when."

On the surface, this seems like a palatable and mutual ending to a relationship. Although, in retrospect, Hatton Sr. mentions a bombshell – somehow as if it were Graham who had sought to end the partnership. However, Ray then stated on Sky Sports News that “Father Time had caught up with him." A little contrary to the original report, but not much. However, when approached about the split, Graham himself had something quite different to say. He told, “I had said that it was always my intention to see out my time in boxing as Ricky Hatton's trainer, I made the decision to accept the injuries that come with the role in order to retire with the fighter who I will always be remembered for. My retirement was brought forward because I was sacked from my role.”

Graham went on to state in his usual concise fashion, "I said I would leave with Ricky and wouldn't carry on in the sport after he had retired." For me, who thinks that Graham has been an underrated trainer through his career, and for Hatton, who has been a breath of fresh air for the sport in general, as well as a popular and approachable champion this leaves a very bitter after-taste.

I believe it's possible Graham was removed from his role. Regardless of the reasons for removing him, which we'll come to shortly, the two camps issued statements, one of which was a on the down-low, and the other quite brazen. There's not a chance that the split was mutual, or Graham wouldn't run the risk of the possibility of being sued for his forthright commentary.

Graham has never been one to fall short, nor mince his words. When he speaks, people do listen, or choose to ignore to their detriment. His tag of Preacher of quite befitting to a man who could quite probably whisper across the Grand Canyon. When Hatton lost to Mayweather I felt like crying. This topic has been covered by everyone with a voice and a keyboard, so I'm not going to go in to it here. However, in the build up to the fight, the weigh-in, and the bout itself two things really struck me.

The first of these was Hatton's painfully apparent agitation. He was fine, suitably calm and relaxed. He poked fun and carried humour at Mayweathers attempts to get under his skin. Then, about a week before he seemed very much to lose the plot. Most people will put this down to the event. The fact that Hatton will not feature in a fight of this magnitude ever again, and this was him dealing with it. I put it down to his camp not keeping him on an even keel. The rot had already set it, and was now outing itself in a quite distasteful fashion. This culminated in his outburst at the weigh-in, when I actually turned to my father and systematically stated that we weren't even in the ring, and he's already lost. I don't believe that Graham ever wanted that fight. It was wrong for Hatton on so many levels, and only good for one (money). The weight issue of moving up to welter was too much for a 5'7” fighter, with a 74” wingspan. Carrying the extra 5-6 lbs of lean muscle saw his ring stamina decrease quite noticeably, and just to cap it off, he's fighting against a man who was born to box.

This leads me to the other point. After the fight Graham also seemed agitated, as well as being awfully annoyed. He stipulated there's no shame in losing your unbeaten record to Mayweather, but stated that Hatton is still the man at light-welter, and that where he should have stayed. Strong words. Although Graham hadn't said (as I'm aware), I'm not convinced he was happy at Hattons foray into welter the first time. Nor was I. I felt that was Hattons first defeat. So not seeing eye to eye, and probably for a while before that lead surreptitiously to the wreckage we see today.

Hatton spoke to the News of the World last week, the article was published, and glossing over the threads I can see that many of you have stated your (often strong) opinions. As have I. The peculiar thing here is, that although Hatton doesn't actually state that Graham was removed from his post, he (quite cleverly) states reasons why Graham needed to go. These were all seemingly based around Billy Graham himself, and Hatton states that although he's the boss, and the decisions ultimately lie with him, it just smells a little of a mercy killing. Here's the light-welterweight champion of the world, Ring magazine champion for stopping the legendary Kostya Tszyu showing his compassionate nature by sacking his only ever professional trainer because he felt sorry for him. How on Earth must Graham have felt when reading that?

The flip side is, and Hatton says “How do you know how hard I'm hitting?”, in reference to the injections that Graham required to train with Hatton that Hatton must be prepared completely. Preparation in mind and body with nothing else to worry about, not his son, his girlfriend, his parents, and least of all his trainer. Now if Hatton is carrying the weight of worry, he's not devoting himself completely to the task in hand. I guess he's worried about his friend.

However, I do believe Graham is a big enough, and hard enough man for someone to say to him, “Look Billy, you're great, you've been brilliant, but you can't do it any more, you need to go.”, and at least salvage some dignity and pride. No apologies necessary, no cover stories, just a sit down and be honest with your friend, and yourself. Everyone knows where they stand.

Graham is a proud man, as is Hatton. I just hope, fingers crossed, they're still pals for a long time to come.

As always, thoughts and opinions gratefully received.

Article posted on 12.08.2008

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