01.06.05 – By Paul Ruby: In a day when 5-foot-10 heavyweights amble into the ring weighing over 230 pounds, it is refreshing to see a pair of gladiators who prepare themselves for battle like true professionals. When Ricky Hatton challenges Kostya Tszyu on Saturday, June 4, on SHOWTIME for the latter’s IBF Light Welterweight Title, boxing fans should be treated to a war between two of boxing’s most mentally and physically prepared competitors. Tszyu is one of boxing’s most accurate punchers, and he will enter the ring as the favorite. Hatton’s energy and hard-charging style have endeared him to fans across the world. With 18,000+ on his side at the M.E.N. Arena, Hatton will be a live underdog with a home-field advantage..
After his lone loss to Vince Phillips in 1997, Kostya Tszyu stopped relying solely on his prodigious power and returned to mixing that power with the boxing skills that made him a world-class amateur in the late-80’s and early-90’s in the former Soviet Union; he won the 1991 World Championship at 139 pounds. Since his loss to Phillips, Tszyu has been nearly unstoppable. Despite some stumbles against Diosbelys Hurtado and Oktay Urkal, Tszyu has not been defeated in over 8 years. Tszyu’s patience in the ring, his experience, and his precision power punching make him a difficult opponent for any fighter south of middleweight. Tszyu is also one of the mentally toughest athletes in the business; his feathers cannot be ruffled. In his first fight with Sharmba Mitchell, he turned the brawl into a wrestling match, throwing Mitchell to the canvas repeatedly when he thought Mitchell was trying to headbutt him or wrestle with him. Similarly, Tszyu overcame a first round against Zab Judah in which the younger American thoroughly and handily outgunned Tszyu with blazing speed and precise uppercuts to put Judah down twice with a single punch in the very next round, earning a TKO victory.
In addition to his experience and mental toughness, Tszyu’s best weapons are his straight right hand, his ability to take a punch, and his conditioning. Tszyu’s conditioning is second to none in all of boxing, and he’s indicated that he’s trained even harder than usual for this fight. Tszyu is aware that Hatton sets a blistering pace, and Tszyu will be ready to endure it and fight for up to twelve tough rounds. Tszyu has trained longer and harder for this fight than he has in the past. Still, at Kostya’s advancing age, it is possible he might be over-trained for this fight and will not show up at 100%. Of course, Tszyu knows his body well and he is a champion, so that possibility remains unlikely. Once the bell rings, Tszyu is a patient, devastating assassin. Still, because Tszyu rarely works behind a constant jab, it takes him a few rounds to become comfortable and find the range for his long, straight ring hand. Typically, it takes him at least two rounds of action before he is confident enough in his range to start setting his feet and accurately delivering straight right hands; with Hatton’s constant head movement, it could take Tszyu even longer in this fight. Still, once Tszyu has found the range for his right hand, he has the ability to punish an unexpecting opponent.
Due to his experience in the ring, Tszyu is also an under-rated counterpuncher. With Hatton’s proclivity for going to the body with both hands, Tszyu should have ample opportunity to square up and fire short right hands over the top of Hatton’s left hook if Hatton should try to throw that shot while slightly off-balance.
Kostya Tszyu really does not have many weaknesses. His major weakness, though, will be Hatton’s greatest advantage in this fight. Tszyu can be hit, particularly on the inside. Tszyu can be caught with uppercuts and body shots at close range. Tszyu can also be outboxed from the outside. While this is not Hatton’s strength, Hatton showed an ability to jab and move laterally in his fight with Tackie. If Hatton can stay out of range of Tszyu’s right, then he should be able to catch his breath a bit from time to time and also gain the advantage when it comes time for judges to score close rounds. For Tszyu to win this fight, he needs to be himself. He must stay at intermediate range and target his right. Until that time comes, Tszyu must bide his time, employ sound defense, and try not to get beaten up to the body. This fight is likely to be more a chess match than most experts suspect, especially early in the fight.
Another potential problem for Tszyu will be his inactivity. He contends that the 35 year old Kostya Tszyu would destroy the 25 year old version of him. While Tszyu’s conditioning is phenomenal, the fact remains that he has fought but 9 rounds in the past three years. At 35, Tszyu may be smarter than a 25 year old version of himself in the ring, but medical science suggests that his reflexes are not what they once were. Sparrring is an effective simulation of an actual fight, but it is imperfect. It is difficult to replicate the energy of a fighter as talented as Tszyu or Hatton in sparring, and it is impossible to replicate a stadium stuffed to the gills with rowdy fans. Tszyu has not faced an environment like the one he will face Saturday evening in quite some time, and it is likely he will not be as sharp as his younger, more active opponent in early in the fight. Tszyu feels he will still prevail and, in any event, he deserves much credit for having the cajones to step up and take this fight in a truly hostile environment.
Ricky Hatton is one of the most criticized fighters in boxing today. I would like to take a moment to address and dismiss a few of those criticisms right now because they simply are not fair. The first criticism for Ricky Hatton is that his level of competition has been horrible and he does not deserve a high ranking. I understand the frustration that Hatton has yet to take on a fighter like Oktay Urkal or Junior Witter; I wish he had, too. Still, I don’t make Hatton’s matches for him. Frankly, I understand his promoter’s mentality in not matching him with any of the top-8 or 10 140-pounders in the world because, at the end of the day, boxing is a business. Hatton can make boatload of money facing guys in the 10-25 range and the vast increase in risk for taking on a guy like Urkal simply is not warranted by the marginal gain in revenue. Also, it is noteworthy that Hatton had offers on the table to both Kelson Pinto (before he took on Cotto) and Vivian Harris and those fights did not happen through no fault of Hatton or his promoter, Frank Warren. No one quite knows why Pinto did not show up for his fight with Hatton; there were rumors about Pinto’s wife having a child, but there were also rumors that Pinto simply did not want to fight. Similarly, there is no official story on exactly how the Harris/Hatton contract did not get signed. There are rumors that Harris changed some personnel in his camp and he was subsequently advised to hold out for more money, but, again, those are just rumors. Harris, like too many fighters, could not see the light at the end of the tunnel, refused the payday, and continued to toil in anonymity.
Additionally, I understand the complaints that Hatton taking a leisurely pace through the professional ranks. He was a very good amateur, but he lacked experience at the highest level of amateur boxing. When he turned pro at 18, he was still pretty green. Yes, Hatton has had a lot of fights, but he’s still only 26 years of age. Hatton is just coming into his prime. That’s one of the things I feel many American fans (and I’m American) do not comprehend properly. Ricky Hatton has been a pro since he was just 18, and he has been a very active fighter. It appears that people want to punish him for his activity. Personally, I’ve always loved it when fighters like Chavez or Duran took a lot of fights against lesser opposition to stay busy between their bigger fights. Hatton is a lot of fun to watch, and I’d rather see him against Dennis Pedersen than against no one at all. Of course, that’s just my opinion.
The final criticism of Hatton is that his weight is out of control. The bottom line is that it’s not, and that is a fact. Hatton has never failed to make weight in his career and he has not scaled over 140 pounds in 5 years. Hatton may pack on a couple pounds between fights, but it is truly ignorant for any fans to criticize him for that because he always arrives to fights in tip-top shape and he has never – not one single time! – failed to make the 140 pound limit for a fight. Ricky Hatton’s career is boxing, and both he and his opponent comport themselves as true professionals in the ring, in training, and away from the game.
Moving on, I think Ricky Hatton is a blast to watch. Hatton’s energy level and face-forward style make him a fan-friendly fighter on both sides of the Atlantic. Hatton is a talented offensive fighter who is improving his defensive skills and his boxing. Hatton is an effective combination puncher with a solid double left hook and he turns his left hook into an uppercut quite well. Ricky Hatton throws a high volume of punches and can work both the head and the body. Early in his career, Ricky Hatton earned a reputation as a solid body puncher. While Hatton can still bang to the body with the best of them, it is no longer his only game. In recent fights, he has thrown more scoring blows to the head and this will be important for him as he progresses toward’s taking more fights on the world’s stage. Against Ray Oliveira (who went the distance with Vernon Forrest at welterweight), Hatton showed a clubbing right hand that put Oliveira down in the first and the for good in the 10th. Additionally, Hatton throws a crushing left hook to the body that will be an asset in tiring out any fighter he faces. In this fight, Hatton must quickly find the proper range for his body work and use those punches to set up his attack upstairs. Hatton, like Tszyu, is in fabulous physical shape and remains a precise puncher throughout his fights. Hatton lacks Tszyu’s one-punch-power, but his relentless attack and constant pressure make him an incredibly effective fighter.
Nonetheless, Ricky Hatton can be hit. He is prone to ignoring his defense from time to time and can get nailed with a targeted straight right, Tszyu’s best punch. Hatton must keep his head moving and bob-and-weave while at intermediate range in order to avoid Tszyu right hand. There is a misconception that Hatton is prone to cut, but this really has not been a problem for him in years. While cuts can be a factor in any fight, Hatton should not be viewed as a particularly cut-prone fighter.
If I were Ricky Hatton, I would have a number of priorities in this fight. First, I would try to fight the entire bout either at a distance or with my head in Tszyu’s chest. I would avoid intermediate range at all costs; that is where Tszyu is most dangerous. I would also make sure to bob-and-weave, but also use lateral movement early in the fight to try and confound Tszyu. I believe Hatton’s younger, fresher legs will be a huge asset to him in this fight, and so will his recent activity. Hatton will almost surely throw more punches than Tszyu does and it will benefit him greatly if he can rack up three or four early rounds in his favor against the notoriously slow-starting Tszyu. It is also imperative for Hatton not to take any of Tszyu’s BS, pardon my French. Both of these guys are a little dirty. Tszyu likes to rough-house in the ring to show that he’s boss while Hatton likes to hit late on breaks. Tszyu will not let Hatton hit late, so it is important for Hatton not to let Tszyu gain a small advantage if they wind up wrestling a bit.
If Ricky Hatton can stay focused and fight the entire fight at a distance or at very close range, then I give him a very good shot at taking a decision or even stopping Tszyu on his feet late in the fight. That is, however, going to be easier said than done. Tszyu will not have total command in this fight, but he is more than tough enough and talented enough to make it a very rough affair for his younger foe. Personally, I suspect this will be a very close fight in terms of number of rounds, but the rounds will usually be a test of wills with one fighter clearly winning. I think that Hatton will pick up some early rounds while Tszyu will dominate the middle of the fight. After that, it depends on whether Hatton has the energy and fortitude to right his ship. Personally, I believe he will; Tszyu has fought less than 9 rounds in the past three years and this could be a major problem. Hatton’s young legs will close the distance on Tszyu and carry him through the fight’s later rounds. In any event, this should prove to be a very entertaining scrap and a closer affair than most pundits predict. The combination of the early rounds along with the hometown crown on his side will help Ricky Hatton earn a very close victory in which both fighters go down and in which Tszyu loses a point or two for rough-housing.
Thus, I’m going with Ricky Hatton by a majority decision in which two judges side with Hatton and one scores it a draw.
IBF Junior Welterweight Champion Kostya Tszyu will defend his title against undefeated hometown favorite Ricky Hatton on Saturday, June 4, on SHOWTIME at 9 p.m. ET/PT (delayed on the West Coast). The highly anticipated event, yet another SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING Fight of the Year candidate, begins LIVE at 2 a.m. in England.
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