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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hatton not afraid to reinvent himself

Ricky Hatton has a plan. Doesn't everyone?

He believes. Doesn't everyone?

He trusts that come the evening of May 2 at the MGM Grand Garden, he will beat the world's best pound-for-pound fighter in Manny Pacquiao.

Doesn't everyone?

Well, no.

Does anyone?

Pacquiao is a strong favorite in the 140-pound junior welterweight title fight, and you would be pressed to find any viewpoint outside those members of the Hatton camp and streets of Manchester, England, who don't agree that thousands of disappointed Brits will be strolling the Strip a few weeks from now.

The local economy still should earn a boost at all drinking establishments that night. There just won't be many smiles with all those pints of Guinness.

"There is nothing to worry about," Hatton's trainer said. "The only thing I'm worried about is if there will be an ambulance to take (Pacquiao's) ass to the hospital.

"He's a southpaw. We're going to be the northpaw. We are going to beat him. We are the northpaw. He's the southpaw. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

No one does.

They are the always amusing and rambling thoughts of Floyd Mayweather Sr., the man Hatton turned to when his career seemed at that point of either advancing to more memorable heights or crashing like the 5-year-old from sugar overload.

This is why Hatton can win May 2. He is unlike most fighters. He admits weakness. He is not stubborn enough to think 45-1 with 36 knockouts can't be improved.

He was roughed up and knocked out by Mayweather's son in December 2007, followed that by looking pedestrian in winning a 12-round unanimous decision against Juan Lazcano and promptly fired longtime trainer Billy Graham.

Fighters boot trainers all the time. But in showing Graham the door, Hatton parted ways with his mentor, his close friend, the man he partnered with to form one of the most successful duos in British boxing history. Hatton is 30 and worked with Graham since age 18.

This was as personal as you get in this business.

"I needed to get beat by Floyd Jr. to know what I had to do," Hatton said. "If I had kept getting away with it, getting away with it, getting away with it, I would have stayed with my friend.

"Nobody can take away what Billy and I did together, but for years he showed signs of slowing down. Consequently, it slowed me down and showed in my performances. Not his fault. Father Time. It will happen to all of us. Billy was having needles in his hands for his pain and saying, 'You're punching hard, Rick.' I'd think, 'You can't feel your hands, Billy.'

"As hard as it was, it was the right decision to part with Billy."

He wanted and needed to become a more technical fighter. A better defensive one. Someone who would not sprint from his corner on a straight line with a head that didn't move and feet that seemed stuck in concrete and merely brawl his way to wins. He hired Mayweather Sr. with the hopes of changing it all.

The partnership was alive for just seven weeks when Hatton in November punished Paulie Malignaggi to the point his corner threw in the towel 28 seconds into the 11th round. This is what gives Hatton and his brazen trainer such confidence about the Pacquiao fight, that the passing months have created an even quicker and smarter version of Hatton.

They see a Pacquiao who while extraordinarily fast and powerful, counts his greatest win against an aging Oscar De La Hoya who many believed had one foot in the ring that evening in December and the other in retirement. They are convinced that if Hatton gets into trouble early, he won't revert back into his old, statuesque self. That he will choose, even when prodded, to be a boxer over a brawler.

They have a plan.

They believe.

"Ricky is still learning," Mayweather said. "Nobody is going to erase everything from before in one day or two fights. But he's coming along. He could win this fight without me. I feel that good about it.

"Manny has a good left jab, but when I see the way he throws punches, I see an amateur. When you beat De La Hoya with that, it means De La Hoya quit, forget, end of story.

"Ricky is going to beat his ass. I'm not looking for a beat down. I'm looking for a stop down."

I can't see it. Can't see Hatton successfully controlling Pacquiao's quickness and skill. Can't see anything but what the odds suggest. Can't envision anything but thousands of Brits boosting our economy by drowning their sorrows.

But the chance is there for Hatton because he showed the wisdom to embrace change and not look back. Because after losing for the first time as a professional following 43 wins, he wasn't afraid to reinvent himself.


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