13.06.04 – By Elliot Worsell: WBU light welterweight champion Ricky ‘The Hitman’ Hatton 36-0 (26 KO’s) cut a frustrated and despondent figure last night in Manchester as he laboured to a 12 round points win over the rugged and teak tough Argentinean challenger Carlos Wilfredo Vilches in defence of his fringe ‘world’ title.
The 25-year-old champion who has flittered around the periphery of true world class for the last couple of years now since quashing the spirited challenge of Irish rival Eamonn Magee in 2002, was fully aware that in Carlos Wilfredo Vilches, he had a South American hardman intent on dispelling the world title ambitions that we are led to believe reside within the down to earth masquerade of Hatton.
Vilches, two years Hatton’s senior at 27, had shared the ring with decent names in the past, ranging from respected IBF champion Sharmba Mitchell to cagey fellow Argentinean Omar Weis, whom he beat over ten rounds. The four round stoppage reversal to the crafty and super talented Mitchell stuck out like a call girl at Sunday school on his 43-5-2 (25 KO’s) resume, and it was evident from Hatton’s fast paced approach to last nights bout, that it was playing on his mind too.
Hatton entered the ring, backed by the now familiar strains of his much loved ‘Blue Moon’ theme tune and looked to be in a fired up and aggravated mood. The young features that so many previous opponents remark on at the pre fight weigh in’s appeared to be a thing of the past as Hatton, scowling and frowning on his way to the ring, exuded mean intention and immense frustration. The look of an elderly person who had just won the lottery and purchased a Porsche, only to be wrongly informed by the local bus driver that their bus pass needed to be maintained for the next 12 months. The mood of Hatton on his way to the ring reflected the feelings of most British boxing aficionado’s throughout the land. One of utter dissatisfaction.
Credit therefore must be due, as Hatton’s sombre attitude didn’t effect his early work against the pumped up and lively Vilches. Starting fast, bullying the battle scarred South American back, Hatton began to unleash his trademark repertoire of left and right’s to the body followed by well-picked right uppercuts and left hooks through the middle. Vilches had no answer in the early running, and was seemingly content to just retreat to the ropes and prepare for his feed. Hatton looked sharp, and focussed on doing an impressive demolition job on his durable challenger, who had only been stopped twice previously, by the aforementioned Mitchell and on cuts to the wily and unpredictable US trial horse Emmanuel Burton.
As is so often the case when a young up n’ comer is out to prove a point to the older statesman of the division, Hatton seemed intent on bettering Mitchell’s fourth round stoppage victory. After all, in a lose-lose scenario such as the one Hatton was undertaking last night, a win inside four rounds would have been one of the only real plus points that could have possibly be drawn from the contest. For a while, in the opening sessions, it looked as though Hatton may get his wish. A left hook in the second landed flush on Vilches’ button and sent the crazy Argentinean, who had the number ‘22’ engraved into his shaven head, back into the ropes on unsteady legs. Vilches, billed as a come forward, easy to hit road warrior, showed a bit more nouse and ring intelligence than he’d been given credit for as he, time and time again, successfully covered up on the ropes and bobbed and weaved his way out of Hatton’s furious assaults.
The perilous problem of cuts were forever on the agenda for Hatton, as the two competitors heads merged together on numerous occasions while Hatton was looking to unload his eye catching artillery. Reports beforehand suggested Vilches was careless with his head, but thankfully, the self proclaimed ‘Hitman’s frail features held up, and the endless amounts of surgery he’s had to help eradicate his past cuts problems have stood the test of time.
Hatton’s work in the first half of the fight, for the most, was admirable. A razor sharp left jab, used with notable aplomb against Ben Tackie and ‘Cool’ Vince Phillips in Hatton’s two defining nights, was employed to break the spirit of Vilches before the Mancunian followed up with his lethal dosages of right’s and left’s to the body. Vilches could do nothing but succumb to Hatton’s ‘Duracell’ charged workrate and fast tempo, and was covering up for the most part. He had rare success in the fourth as Hatton became lacklustre when in close, and Vilches fired off some stinging left hooks and clubbing right hands that stood Hatton to attention. The local favourite was always in control, but Vilches knew enough and had seen enough in his 8-year career to warrant respect.
The four round target Hatton appeared to have set himself beforehand, had since passed, and left Hatton standing dejected, ticket in hand, at the platform. To make matters worse, the cagey South American in front of him, who had shown no signs of wilting throughout the first half of the fight, was now charged up and freely throwing hurtful looking shots to Hatton’s mid region. Some were on target, most strayed low though, and South African referee Darryl Ribbink warned Vilches for his lack of accuracy. Hatton never complained, and ever the professional got on with the job in hand – though, as he freely admitted afterwards, the spark that so many great fighters crave to kick in during their big nights just never came.
Ricky motored through the middle rounds, following the same pattern he’d set for the opening rounds almost religiously. Hunting Vilches down, attaching his head to the challenger’s chest, and prowling for openings round the sides of Vilches’ stomach. The snap had momentarily been drained from Hatton’s punches though, and Vilches was gaining confidence, as he occasionally showboated and puffed out his chest in a sign of machismo, in a way that only South Americans know how. The poker faced ‘Hitman’ was professional throughout and showed no signs of letting up his stranglehold on the contest, but nonetheless this way by no means vintage Ricky Hatton.
Trainer Billy Graham, a man who so often could fax in his corner instructions on time delay, such is the control and dominance Hatton experiences in most of his title defences, was suddenly needed to pump his man up and guide him towards the finishing line. The ‘Preacher’ turned motivator. Because, make no mistake about it, Hatton needed to be motivated. He was seen complaining to Graham about his state of mind and the fact that he was finding it ‘hard’ and he was not feeling ‘great’. Graham ushered Hatton out of the corner for the latter rounds with the clear intention of merely seeing the rounds through. A stoppage win was now a minor detail. With the condition Hatton appeared to be in, mentally and physically, it was now just a case of getting the unbeaten crowd pleaser through with a ‘W’ etched onto his record.
This wasn’t a drama of the scale of the 12 round bloodbath Hatton shared with Jon Thaxton for the British title, or his first round knockdown against Eamonn Magee. This wasn’t even necessarily a crisis. It was just explicit evidence that Ricky Hatton, fighting at this WBU title level he has campaigned at now for a good 3 years, is not the same motivated, eager to please young body snatcher he once was. He painted the picture of a major league star attraction trying out for the ‘pee-wee’ baseball leagues purely out of spite.
If there’s one examination that Hatton passed with flying colours last night, it was to win while not at your best. Manchester United, in the late nineties had it down to a tee. The ability to pull through when all is not well. In that particular aspect, Hatton passed with full marks. The intensity had waned, the ‘pop’ had diminished, but Hatton was still in there pitching and empathically outworking his game challenger.
As if a landslide points victory wasn’t enough, Hatton should have ideally won by a further margin, as time and time again Vilches tested the waters of Hatton’s never regions with painful looking low blows. Unfortunately for Hatton, the referee Ribbink appeared out of his depth. Forever warning Vilches, but never punishing the wayward South American with point deductions, Ribbink was acting like a schoolteacher threatening detention but not carrying it out, as it would impede on his lunch break.
The ultra professional attitude Hatton displayed down the stretch, ultimately saw him through unscathed. Vilches came on strong in the last two rounds, letting his hands go with more regularity as Hatton got reckless up close, but Ricky, a man who has now successfully conjured up 13 title defences at 140 lbs, oozes experience and level headed composure. The crude challenger was never likely to ruin Hatton’s oft delayed plans to gatecrash the crème de la crème of the world light welterweight table.
The bumper Manchester crowd, promoter Frank Warren and paymasters Sky TV all breathed a sigh of relief as the final bell tolled and Hatton dragged his heels over the finishing line. Victorious by scores of 120-107, 119-108, 119-108, Hatton had once again retained his minor ‘world’ title in emphatic fashion. Worryingly though for ‘Team Hatton’ the tell tell signs of a stale champion bored and rigid with the level at which he is fighting, unquestionably reared it’s ugly head last night. Those seated in the thirty-pound seats with binoculars protruding from their eyes could see that all was not right. The body language suggested the merry WBU title dance that Hatton has been leading of late, was now becoming a tiresome one. The chorus of ‘and still WBU light welterweight champion…’ has clogged up the airwaves long enough for the amiable champion.
Encouragingly, after the contest was called to a halt, both Ricky Hatton and promoter Frank Warren signalled their intent to meet the best in the 140 lb division, and also claimed that negotiations were underway to bring over either long reigning IBF lightweight champion Paul Spadafora or WBA light welterweight king Vivian Harris. The wise money will be slapped on the shaven head of Spadafora, but ideally Harris, a natural 140 lber, who has defeated some of the more competent light welterweight’s around, would be most fight fans first choice. Either way, on last night’s evidence, it’s clear for all to see that Hatton needs a challenge. He’s a grown man now who is still being held back in the little league for the fear of failure in the upper echelons of his sport. As former lightweight great Barry McGuigan alluded to last night on the SKY TV broadcast, Ricky Hatton is in his prime right now, and it would be a bitter shame to waste it.