“The Weigh In”: Best of the British?

frochBy Michael Klimes: Carl Froch and Ricky Hatton both fought in America the past week and betrayed the weaknesses of their styles by holding their hands low. Froch prevailed in his twelve round bout with Jermain Taylor but for a time it looked like his first title defence would end in a fairly wide points defeat. However, Froch, demonstrating his well known grit and power, broke through Taylor’s disciplined boxing and saved himself from an embarrassing loss. Froch must be commended for going to the US and avoiding the mistake that Calzaghe made during his career when he only crossed the Atlantic toward his career’s conclusion. Froch understandably defines himself in relation to and against his predecessor and wants to meet the ex-super middleweight king soon. He has even tried to goad the Welshman by telling him that he must get out of his arm chair. I have to be honest: Froch’s performance did not impress me that much. It is true this was an entertaining fight but what did Froch reveal to us that was different from his previous brawl with Jean Pascal last December? Nothing is the answer and he won the fight based on his conditioning, power, chin and determination..

These are fine attributes but they only take you so far in the ring and it was alarming how many punches Froch took to his head, which could have been mitigated by a high guard, head movement and jab. I remember when I interviewed Bob Bozic in New York, former sparring partner of Joe Frazier and George Foreman, who encapsulated the issue so eloquently, “In this business, you want to be smart and not tough.” We know Froch is tough but can he be smart and win a bout with a degree of technical skill? Taylor’s quick hands obviously caused him problems but he started to do well when he began jabbing in the middle rounds. Another error Froch made was not having any fluidity in his combinations. When he hurt Taylor, he did not follow up with the necessary aggression.

So we have a mixed result where Froch demonstrated he is a world class finisher and carries his power into the late rounds but has stylistic flaws that could be his undoing. When he fights somebody like Mikkel Kessler or Lucien Bute: boxer-punchers who are mobile, well rounded and possess fast hands, he will run into trouble if he decides to merely brawl. Kessler’s peerless jab which is precise, fast, hurtful and frequent will give him real problems. Meanwhile, a meeting with Calzaghe should be avoided until further experience is gained. Similarly, Taylor needs to improve as well. He looks like he is, in his own way, a bigger version of Zab Judah as he does not retain stamina into the late rounds despite his impressive athleticism and ability to be explosive early on. I am not sure if he is finished with the big fights but he will have to rebuild himself.

Ricky Hatton, after he was completely annihilated by Manny Pacquiao’s exceptional brilliance, might never fight again. The speed of Pacquiao was the defining difference for Hatton and he admitted as much in that he did not see the punch which toppled him. Pacquiao will go onto greater achievements and it is ominous for his potential opponents and exhilarating for his fans to realise he has not peaked yet. His continuing dedication to his sport and the evolution he has undergone, steered by coach extraordinaire Freddie Roach, is humbling. The intersection of his tremendous athleticism, technique and experience is mesmerising.

I might be guilty of hyperbole but the emergence of Pacquiao into an educated but savage boxer-puncher and his weight jumping reminds one of Roberto Duran. The Panamanian had a scowl and intensity the Filipino seems to share although he is far more charming than Duran to other boxers during press conferences, which is not a bad quality. Pacquiao does not have the defensive élan of Duran yet as he does not have that subtle head feint but he could get there.

An encounter with Floyd Mayweather Junior could on the cards provided he can get past Juan Manuel Marquez, the closest person Pacquiao has had to a nemesis. Marquez has been in fine form himself of late and has done everything he can to remain in Pacquiao’s vision. If Marquez beats Mayweather, he will have to be granted another fight against Pacquiao. Nevertheless, surely the fight with the bigger capacity to excite people is the meeting with Mayweather. This is a contest where the defensive genius, who it appears is solely driven by the commercial incentive and has an arrogant persona, meets the best offensive fighter in the world who is a man of the people and wants to do nothing to upset his fans. Pacquiao is committed to high velocity entertainment while Mayweather is the cool counter-puncher who will be ruthlessly mundane if he has to win a fight. Mayweather of the old school used to be more of a boxer-puncher and finisher that gave me flashbacks of Sugar Ray Leonard: could this version be reincarnated in a clash with Pacquiao? What if Pacquiao-Mayweather became the Duran vs. Leonard of this generation and Mayweather, in the spirit of Leonard, announces he will go toe to toe with Pacquiao in the fight to prove his mettle? What a classic that could be!

As for Hatton, one has to feel for him. Many of his critics feel that he is a glorified version of Arturo Gatti, who has had a lot of luck and has cultivated a persona that maximises his appeal. His devout fans feel he is a legendary fighter while a third view might be a combination of these poles. It is true that Hatton is lucky and very unique to have such loyal fans that they fly across the world in thousands to see him fight. However, it is not surprising as Hatton, like Pacquiao, is keen to be loyal to his roots and make his constituency happy. He feels he has a duty to his fans that reminds us of the importance of community. Boxing is many things but if there is one thing Hatton has demonstrated, it is that being approachable to people from the street is very refreshing from a top athlete and can win him dividends.

Outside of Hatton’s warm and humorous personality, he was tireless in the ring and always gave his best effort. He beat some great fighters outside of their primes like Castillo and Tszyu and some good ones in Ray Oliveira, Ben Tackie, Eamonn Magee and Vince Phillips but his lifestyle, courage and limitations were his shortcomings at the highest level. It was a testament that Hatton dared to be great as he picked himself up after the Mayweather loss and put himself back in contention to fight for the prestigious pound for pound moniker again. In retrospect, his win over Paulie Malinaggi was inflated as he would have walked through the New Yorker without Floyd Mayweather Senior’s refinements as Malinaggi did not have the power to stop him. Similarly, the appointment of Mayweather Senior, although clever at the time, was not as sound as one hoped and reports persist about Mayweather’s lack of interest in Hatton’s training prior to Pacquiao. Furthermore, if Hatton had beaten Pacquaio and if Mayweather Jr is to beat Marquez, would there be a rematch with Floyd Mayweather Senior in the corner of Ricky Hatton? I do not think Mayweather Senior would do that against his son.

For me, Hatton’s career is one of toughness and persistence triumphing over technical deficits. I still maintain that he was more skilful than many people give him credit for and did, at one stage, employ a good jab and strategy. Nonetheless, his inability to do this at his biggest outings was problematic. There will probably be one more big showing in Britain as a farewell bout is probably in order, perhaps against Amir Khan.

For all his flaws, Hatton has won multiple titles and has nothing to ashamed of as he ruled a division for four years, went to America to be the best he could be and has only two losses in forty five bouts against great fighters. There have been worse records and this is why I think he should retire.

Article posted on 05.05.2009

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