It’s time to count out the Hitman’s career
Ricky Hatton’s devastating defeat in Las Vegas last weekend should be his last time between the ropes.
Last weekend, Ricky ‘the Hitman’ Hatton – the hugely popular boxer from Manchester, England – took on Manny Pacquiao, even more of a people’s champion in his home country, the Philippines. Nominally, Hatton’s International Boxing Organisation light-welterweight championship was on the line at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, but so too was the chance for Pacquiao to confirm himself as the best active boxer – the ‘pound-for-pound’ champion – in the world today.
Pacquiao only recently rose from super-featherweight, a weight division 10 pounds below Saturday’s fight weight, and I for one thought Hatton would be too big and too strong for him. Shows how much I know. Though Pacquiao came into the ring as the bookies’ favourite, I doubt anyone expected him to finish Hatton in such a swift and devastating fashion.
‘Pacman’ – as he is known – and his team deserve credit for analysing exactly how to approach Hatton. Pacquiao executed the strategy with ruthless perfection. He let Hatton come to him and, for the first knockdown, as Hatton looked to throw a left jab, Pacquiao countered directly over the top with a perfect lead right hook that spun Hatton to his knees. From that moment, early in the first round, it looked dangerous for Hatton. The end came in the second with Pacquiao detonating his own left hook, a power shot, over the top and straight into the oncoming Hatton.
There are knockdowns and there are heavy knockdowns. Sadly for Hatton and his army of fans, this was one of the latter. Hatton fell very hard. I don’t know how long he was unconscious, but it was some minutes before he could rise on unsteady legs. The knockout was reminiscent of the one he suffered against Floyd Mayweather, only this was more shocking; it seemed to disconnect Hatton straight away.
Throughout his career, Hatton has been a boxer who has been prepared to take a few to give a few. But now questions have to be asked about his punch resistance. Risk and danger are part of the sport and part of the reason why boxers inspire such awe and affection. Boxing is about character, among other things, but there must be a time when cold, hard logic comes before misplaced courage.
Already in the press it has been claimed that the fun-loving lifestyle Hatton enjoyed between fights finally caught up him. It’s true that Hatton liked to tuck into pints of Guinness and bacon butties with gusto when off-duty. But he also brought a different kind of relish to his fight preparation and there can be little doubt that he was monk-like in training camp before matches. Indeed, his fighting style is based on high levels of stamina and an intense work rate to grind his opponents down. The Pacquiao fight, sadly, did not last long enough to put Hatton’s heart and lungs to the test.
After such a defeat, it would be just as unfair to start to reappraise Hatton’s skill and to suggest that, after all, he wasn’t as good as we once thought. No one suggested that after his previous bout, when he dismantled the difficult and spirited New Yorker, Paulie Malignaggi, aka ‘The Magic Man’.
Ricky Hatton is not a loveable loser. What he has done is to pit himself against the very best boxers of his generation. He came up short against Floyd Mayweather in December 2007 and against Manny Pacquiao last weekend, but they are hardly ordinary champions. When his two conquerors meet in the ring, as they surely will in the next year, we’ll find out who is the greatest living boxer today. (On the same night as the Hatton-Pacquiao fight, Mayweather announced his return from self-imposed retirement, to take on the brilliant Mexican, Juan Manuel Marquez, in July.)
Hatton’s attempt to beat the best was not quixotic, even though it is now clear he could not compete at the same level as either Mayweather or Pacquiao. But you have to admire the attempt. He could easily have stayed on as the light-welterweight champion without throwing his hat into the ‘pound-for-pound’ ring. But he chose to see how far he could go. And he now has to decide what to do next.
The nature of the knockdown last weekend should raise qualms about putting him in with another concussive puncher. But boxers always seem to carry on longer than is good for their reputation or good for their health. Hatton may well not wish to end his career on such a dismal note. He may well see the appeal of a farewell fight in Manchester. It is not something I would like to see. There is nowhere left for him to go. He has been beaten by the greats and going back down to the level of the other, perfectly respectable, light-welterweight champions would be a backward step for him. In terms of glory, there would be little point.
A hometown swansong might be lucrative, but Hatton, it seems, turned away from the easy-money fights when he decided to pursue the great ones. He coped with his first devastating defeat to Mayweather by changing his team, trying to improve his boxing and hiring none other than Mayweather’s father, Floyd Senior, as his trainer. There were, apparently, arguments in Hatton’s training camp before Saturday’s fight and Floyd Senior didn’t hang around long at the post-fight press conference. But if they didn’t always see eye-to-eye, the aim was clearly for Hatton to beat Pacquiao then have the ‘inside man’ in his corner for a rematch with Floyd Junior.
It must be ghastly for a boxer as proud and as talented as Hatton to stomach the humiliation of a two-round knockout. But he doesn’t owe his fans a thank you or an apology or one last hurrah. I hope he chooses to go out on this, a horrible low, but one that clearly shows his limits.
John Dennen is a journalist and the writer of a short film about Joe Frazier.
Duleep Allirajah is away.