Today, a great British boxing win turns 18. It was on this day in June of 2005 when big underdog Ricky Hatton, fighting in front on over 20,000 passionate fans in Manchester, upset the great Kostya Tszyu to become world light welterweight champion. The fight took place in the early morning hours to accommodate US television, and absolutely everyone wanted to see this fight.
Tszyu was 35 years of age and he had been most inactive as of late, with only one bout fought since January of 2003. Tszyu, the IBF and Ring Magazine champion, was 31-1(25), the sole loss coming in another big upset against “Cool” Vince Phillips in 1997. Hatton, a decade younger, was at his peak (and, as it turned out, he would never top the special performance he gave against Tszyu) and he was unbeaten at 38-0(28).
But almost all the experts felt “The Thunder From Down Under” would have too much for Hatton and he would retain his crown. An at times savage, punishing battle ensued. Hatton enjoyed a bright start against Tszyu, who was known for being a slow starter in plenty of his fights, but the middle rounds saw some rough stuff from both sides. Tszyu hurt Hatton with a low blow in the seventh, with the shot looking like a deliberate shot. Hatton responded in kind with a monster low blow that WAS deliberate.
Tszyu was feeling the hot pace set by Hatton and, his face beginning to mark up and his mouth falling open, Tszyu was being made to fight the toughest physical fight of his career. But it was so close on the three cards, and nobody knew who would win if the fight went all the way. The 11th round was damaging and tiring for both men, the two rocking one another. The final session could perhaps decide the outcome.
But as he was being pumped up by Billy Graham as he sat on his stool, Hatton was spared those last three gruelling minutes. Johnny Lewis had seen enough, and he decided to pull Tszyu out. Hatton fell to the floor in a state of exhaustion and utter happiness. It was The Upset of The Year. It was The Fight of The Year. Hatton was The Fighter of The Year.
All these years later, and what happened inside a rocking, packed-out Manchester Evening News Arena has retained the ability to send shivers down the spines of Hatton fans. It was indeed one of the greatest British wins of all-time.
At the time, Hatton, now 39-0, seemed to be on his way to true greatness. Tszyu never fought again.