POOR Ricky Hatton

16.12.04 - By Steve Mckenna: Hot on the heels of a career-best performance against Ray Oliveira, the Manchester 'Hitman' believed a fight with the great Kostya Tszyu was on the cards. The IBF light-welterweight champ would come to Ricky's home town, in front of a 20,000 partisan crowd, and the 'Hitman' would storm to victory. At least that was the plan. And Hatton's promoter, Frank Warren, was doing his best to engineer it. Despite protestations from the Tszyu camp to the contrary, Warren even told BBC Radio Five Live viewers: "I can assure you this fight will happen." But, as most people know with boxing, you can't be sure of anything until the first bell sounds and even then, who knows what's in store?

What is for certain is that after destroying Sharmba Mitchell in three rounds, 'The Thunder From Down Under' is one of the hottest properties in boxing again. The Aussie-based Russian's enforced 22-month injury lay-off appears to have revitalised him but, at 35 and with only a few fights left in the tank, he's quite rightly picking his next opponent carefully. The glamorous names of Arturo Gatti, Floyd Mayweather, Cory Spinks and even Oscar de le Hoya have been bandied around. Then there's Hatton.

Despite compiling an unbeaten 38-0 record, Ricky is still not a household name in America. His tenth-round battering of veteran Oliveira will have done his cause no harm, but perhaps his frequent WBU title defences in England may have done. If he had performed in the States more often, and on the undercard of, say, the Tszyu-Mitchell fight, his case would have been strengthened immensely. But while packing out the MEN Arena over the last few years may have boosted his bank balance, it has not exactly helped his credibility in the States.

This is a shame because Hatton is a terrific, come-forward fighter who the Americans would love. And, make no bones about it, the 'Hitman' would be a real headache for Tszyu. Kostya could always detonate a big right hand on Hatton's chin and it could be game-over early doors, but the bustling Brit could also make life hell for the 35-year-old. He works at a furious pace, attacks from all angles, delivers vicious rib-cracking punches and is also under-rated as a boxer. Quite rightly, Tszyu would want to be well paid for risking himself with Hatton especially if the fight takes place in England. But he says money isn't the main motivation for him, that Ricky is 'just one contender' and the fight 'doesn't excite him'. That sounds ominous for Hatton.

Tszyu may well do the easy thing, dump his IBF belt, leave Hatton to box someone like Mitchell for the vacant title in the MEN Arena, and take on Mayweather or Gatti in a mega-fight. But, with Tszyu linked to Showtime and the other two with HBO, those fights would be hard, if not totally impossible, to make. There's always the option of stepping up in weight and taking on welterweight king Spinks, while de la Hoya also says he's coming back down to the 147 pound division. But is Kostya willing to risk that and leave the 140 region that he's dominated for so long? He has time to mull things other. And, whatever route he takes, there will be hurdles galore to clear, so a fight is unlikely to happen until April or May 2005. In the meantime, he's got other things to attend to, like picking up his Russian Sport Star of the Year (living abroad) award from president Vladimir Putin.

On the other side of the world, Hatton is left in limbo. Hardly the ideal Christmas present for the likeable 26-year-old.

Article posted on 16.12.2004

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