Is the writing on the wall for Ricky Hatton?

hattonBy Alex McMillan: This Saturday night Ricky Hatton squares off against Paulie Malignaggi in what should be a terrific clash of styles. Or will it? Will the influence of Hatton’s new trainer Floyd Mayweather see a more cultured boxing display from the Hitman? Can Ricky conceivably pull off such a stylistic change for twelve rounds so late in his career? How will his American opponent react if he should? Will we see a more aggressive Malignaggi, ready to do the chasing and instigating so regularly brought into the ring by Hatton? Or will there be other surprises from either or both fighters?

A terrific clash indeed. Both of these fighters are at interesting stages of their careers. For both this is a huge contest, the implications of winning or losing likely career defining. Almost twelve months down the line from his only defeat, in that same town where Floyd Mayweather Jnr caused him such problems, Hatton seeks a return to the level of big-time not tasted since. For Malignaggi, this could herald his real emergence..

Since dethroning Kostya Tszyu in 2005 Hatton has failed to reach such a height of performance. It was an incredible night for him, a superb display. Along with Joe Calzaghe’s picking apart of Jeff Lacy the best by a British boxer for some time. Certainly since Lennox Lewis was regularly meeting and beating the best the planet had to offer. But there’s no doubting his slide in the time since. The defeat to Mayweather was entirely forgivable, no question. But his other contests since the Tszyu fight have offered little to suggest his best days are ahead of him. Rather they’ve served to paper increasingly apparent chinks in his armour. Whether or not the change of trainer will reignite his career is just another unknowable waiting to be discovered, another factor that makes this contest so enthralling. In his first post-Tszyu fight Hatton took on and beat easily Carlos Maussa, who had previously KO’d Vivian Harris in round seven of their 2005 contest. The fight had been designed as a routine Harris defence, setting up a mouth watering unification bout with Hatton. Harris was horrible that night. Maussa landed time and again eventually stopping him. He hasn’t won a fight since. Stepping up to Welterweight Hatton faced Luis Collazo and dropped him in the first round. The new weight seemed to suit him early on but as the rounds wore on he tired. His punches weren’t rocking the American who seemed prepared to endure an early onslaught. By the closing round Hatton was out on his feet and clinging on. He got the decision, just. But the signs were there. Back at light Welter against Juan Urango he was far more comfortable. He won almost every round but couldn’t put the Colombian away. It was better though.

Following on from this Hatton faced Jose Luis Castillo. A tremendous fighter, one-time serious troublemaker for the generally untouchable Mayweather Jnr, victor of 1 fight from 2 with the gutsy Diego Corrales, the first of which an absolute stormer. It was a good name on the record, the right timing. Hatton dropped the Mexican with a beautiful shot to the body in round four. Castillo couldn’t continue, but in truth he looked ready to quit from the off. It was a difficult fight to gauge exactly how much he had left. And where Hatton stood by proxy. Next up for Ricky was the Mayweather loss. It was a tough KO, a heartbreaking defeat for the Manchester fighter. But always a contest he was likely to lose. It was hard to envisage him succeeding where the likes of De la Hoya had failed. He fought his fight in the style that’d got him there. He got nothing by way of favours from the referee. But in truth he was beaten emphatically. Returning last May against Juan Lazcano he ticked certain boxes while missing others. He withstood some hefty shots from the Columbian, always a key sign when returning from a first time KO. He got the win, a rather generous 8, 10, and 12 point margin by the respective judges. He looked lethargic and tired late. At times he took spells off and waited to trade. But he won and was back. And now to Malignaggi.

Prior to his defeat at the hands of Miguel Cotto I had misgivings about Paulie Malignaggi. He struck me as the flashy dancing kid with the flight of feet and lightning hands who could move all night but wouldn’t mix it. I suspected he might wilt under any considerable strain. For twelve rounds he proved me wrong. Regardless of his loss to Antonio Margarito Cotto is a tremendous boxer. He cuts off the ring and he hits with real power. And he’ll be back. A defeat never spells the end for a great fighter; Margarito himself is case example. It was a step up in class for Malignaggi. He was cut in the first and down in the second. He took some hefty shots from his opponent and once or twice looked in trouble. Yet throughout the bout he posed serious problems for the Puerto Rican. He moved fast and got off quicker time and again. In the ninth round he had Cotto staggering backwards. What surprised most of all was that his heart and his stamina impressed far beyond his abundant boxing skills. Cotto got the verdict, correctly, but Malignaggi looked open to improvement. An encouraging display. His comeback fight was a near shut out of Edner Cherry. A solid if unspectacular performance, followed by a career best win in taking the IBF light-Welterweight title from Lovemore N’Dou. His January defence against Hernan Ngoudjo was less impressive, followed by a rematch with N’Dou which did little to dispel lingering doubts. On the undercard of Hatton vs. Lazcano, designed to showcase the skills of both pointing ultimately towards their upcoming contest, neither were particularly dazzling. Malignaggi is still open to improvement. He strikes me as a fighter who needs a big name. Hatton will do, in theory certainly. But how well will the American fit the Hitman?

The change of trainer is perhaps an obvious factor to note, but one impossible to ignore. Mayweather is renowned as a trainer of fast, defensively astute boxers. Hatton has many skills, but neither speed nor defence are particularly evident among them. So it follows suit perhaps, that he chose such a trainer? But what will he sacrifice of his previous abilities? There’s no evidence to suggest you can’t teach an old fighter new skills, but as a veteran of 45 fights Ricky’s natural all-out style may prove difficult to curtail. Which could be a positive or negative factor come Saturday night. If he starts off boxing and finds Malignaggi getting off quicker, as could be conceived, what then? Will he revert to his proven style of hounding and harassing his opponent? Given the manner of his defeat to Cotto, particularly the early cut suffered, I can’t see the American wanting to fight in close. I see him moving a constantly, popping out jabs and double jabs and shying away from lengthy clinches. A great deal of this contest may be won and lost by Paulie’s ability to avoid grappling with Hatton who, true to his natural style, likes to brawl and lean, forcing his opponent into a battle. Should Malignaggi succeed in staying away from Hatton through the early part of the fight he’ll pose serious questions for the Manchester fighter, particularly given his tendency to fade towards the end of recent bouts.

It will be interesting too to see whether Malignaggi is able to keep Hatton off for long periods in the fight. Though he throws a lot of leather and throws it quick he’s hardly a ferocious puncher. Will Ricky be able to walk through much of what he’s faced with? If so, how will Malignaggi adapt? For all that he constantly tagged Cotto he only seriously troubled him with that one shot in the 9th round. Against Tszyu, a notable power puncher, Hatton was able to wear down his opponent with relentless assaults to head and body. Cotto was able to do considerable damage to Paulie’s head while never really slowing the courageous American. Will Hatton be able to disrupt his smooth rhythm with those clubbing shots to the body?

Since Tszyu Hatton has only stopped 2 of his opponents. Crucially, neither possessed the speed or movement of Malignaggi. Equally, neither bore any significant resemblance to his style. Against Lazcano, Urango and Collazo Hatton not only failed to force the stoppage but at times looked cumbersome in his approach and failed to dictate the pace of the action. At times too he’s looked to take breathers in the middle of rounds. Come Saturday night I don’t think he can afford a repeat.

With the exception of the Cotto fight and his first win over N’Dou I’ve never been entirely convinced by Malignaggi. But he’s always looked ready to pose problems for a fighter of Hatton’s style. Aside from Cotto, the Hatton that beat Kostya Tszyu is a class above Malignaggi’s previous opponents. But will this Saturday night’s Hatton be the Hatton of 2005? I fear not. Paulie has always been open to a very big display, has had good schooling. He has the speed and the movement to trouble Hatton and to stay out of reach for long spells. Hatton may surprise us all with a significant change in style, but unless he does I see Malignaggi causing a slight upset edging a points win.

Article posted on 19.11.2008

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