by Dave Crellin
It is a truth universally acknowledged that there's only one Ricky Hatton. The real truth, in fact, is that Hatton is the next in line to Frank Bruno and Henry Cooper, the plucky everyman who wins the hearts of people well beyond the normal boxing public.
Hatton fights are, at least to British eyes, exciting. And he's got genuine wit: the public which lapped up Bruno's self-deprecating jollity and simple catchphrases are putty in the hands of Ricky Hatton, accomplished speaker and budding stand-up comedian. He's a one-man variety show and he epitomises so many of the characteristics which the nation holds dear. The world wants to buy him a pint (and most of them have) and the world, more importantly, will pay to watch him box.
Hatton is probably Frank Warren's last (or most recent) great triumph. By the time his first 'proper' world title bout came round he was able to pull a sell-out crowd of 20,000, with plenty more clamouring for spares. Given that Hatton was also the first British boxer to be built to this level solely on the back of pay-TV exposure the manner in which the Hatton express has steamrollered into the hearts and wallets of Britain is even more remarkable.
The Tszyu fight was probably the point at which his following achieved a critical mass: the ingredients of Hatton being an underdog in front of a massive home crowd against, of all things, an Aussie, made for an electric atmosphere. A man who can generate that much excitement is a valuable commodity. The trouble is, people then start believing in his invincibility.
The thorough derailment of Hatton was a slap with a wet haddock in the collective faces of those people who, in true British spirit, believed in the triumph of hope over expectation (and the triumph of Red Bull over the collective impact of 12 hours of best bitter). Mayweather was the perfect pantomime villain and everyone knows that, in pantomime, the villain never wins. Even people who had Mayweather as favourite (there was one guy, I think) were surprised at the manner in which Hatton was so comprehensively dismantled after having been worked out. Naturally the referee had a shocker. Had there been a different ref, Hatton could maybe have lasted another round or so.
Just as Tszyu was the zenith of Hatton's career so did Mayweather become the nadir. The rehabilitation process has, however, been well-managed. So strong was the affiliation between Hatton and his fan base that the Mayweather fight quickly became an explicable annoyance. He was, after all, the best in the world. And the second most memorable thing about the fight, after the ending? Undoubtedly Hatton asking Joe Cortez whether he was looking for Hatton to admit erotic intimacy from Mayweather. That was straight from the Sunday morning football pitches of Manchester, and it was great.
So, as Brits, we love Ricky Hatton. And because we love Ricky Hatton (and because we're Brits) we'll support him anywhere and whatever the barriers. We've watched his career for years, seen how as his opponents have increased in class they've learned to grab him on the way in to try to smother his work. Hatton, of course, never initiates a clinch. We've got to know him, his family, the jokes he trots out with endearing regularity, his love for all things Manchester and his loyalty to what he is.
Thing is, we've got no idea about Manny Pacquiao. It is one of the anomalies of boxing in the UK that big international fights tend to be screened with very little fanfare some time around fight time but often at odd times in the schedule. Unless you went looking for Pacquiao, the chances are you wouldn't have found him with any regularity. The one exception, of course, was the De La Hoya fight, an embarrassing exhibition of the decaying effects of age and weight loss. Pacquiao looked good, but only in the same way that Joe Calzaghe did against Roy Jones – the winners gained more status with casual fans than they did with the cognoscenti.
It takes a very good argument, though, to make the case for Pacquiao not being the best in the world. And given how strong and effective he looked against De La Hoya he seems to be able to handle the additional weight well. So then it comes down to what tools the two guys have, and this is where it gets interesting.
Hatton fans love the pace, they love the toughness and sheer output of their fighter. In Pacquiao he faces a guy who could well stand in the middle of the ring and beat Hatton at his own game. It makes for a hell of a fight, but it also makes for the potential of the unmasking of a hero.
This as much as anything is the factor behind the nervousness for Hatton fans. Deep down, Mayweather was always going to be too good a boxer and the shame of defeat was emotionally managed in this way. Aside from the omnipresent physical risk there is a genuine danger that Hatton could be mugged in the way he has been mugging opponents all his career. Unthinkable. Match that up with the buzz of a genuine big fight and this is an enormous bout for British fans.
Hatton and Calzaghe are comfortably the two names with the highest public recognition; as Calzaghe sails into the sunset it would be a sea change to simultaneously watch Hatton out-matched and out-fought. There are as many different views as to how this fight will go as there are different British media pronunciations of 'Pacquiao'. After having seen their hero come unstuck once before against the very best, perhaps the only certainty for the British fight fan is that there is indeed only one Ricky Hatton.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
by Dave Crellin