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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hatton puts his rep, title on line against Pacquiao

Few people in boxing ever took Ricky Hatton seriously.

Until recently, British fighters — maligned by the image of "horizontal heavyweights" such as "Fainting" Phil Scott from the early 1900s and Frank Bruno from the 1980s and '90s — were often welcomed to the world stage with skepticism.

Hatton, 30, the junior welterweight champion who'll put his crown on the line Saturday against Manny Pacquiao, wasn't much different.

"People have always viewed me as a fatly Brit … who puts on loads of weight (between fights) and drinks too much beer," he says.

Not that Hatton thinks there's anything wrong with that. Despite being one of his country's most beloved sports figures, he can just as easily be found sipping on a pint and playing darts at a pub or at a match for his favorite soccer team, Manchester City of the English Premier League.

He prefers sweatsuits to slacks, a fisherman's hat to jewelry. His entourage consists of his parents, who live a stone's throw from him in his native Manchester. His effort in the ring is as honest as his words. "I live like a fighter. I'm never short to enjoy myself," he says. "I used to be a lot worse … I have slowed myself down a little bit. That's why the fans love me. I'm not exactly somebody that sends you to sleep in the ring, and I like to think I'm not somebody that sends you to sleep out of the ring."

At his core, Hatton is a brawler, though he has shown flashes of boxing skill — head movement and a jab — such as when he won the 140-pound championship from Kostya Tszyu in 2005. He insists he's a far cry from the contender who struggled and was knocked down in 2002 by the lightly regarded Eamonn Magee, or the champion who appeared faded in his win against Juan Lazcano last year.

"My fight with Juan Laczano was crap to be honest. The main problem was I needed to change my training camp," Hatton said about bringing in Floyd Mayweather Sr. late last year. " I wasn't thinking about what I was doing. There were too many performances that were 100 miles an hour. ... (I) was becoming to easy to read."

Hatton will try to integrate more finesse into his game, but Mayweather has only been with him for one of his 46 fights, an 11th-round stoppage of Paulie Malignaggi in November. When a fighter transitions between trainers and styles, there's usually a trial-and-error period before old habits are broken. When the going gets tough, and it is sure to heat up with Pacquiao, a fighter tends to revert to what he knows best. Mayweather isn't concerned.

"I taught Ricky how to box. Ricky didn't know anything. He has brute strength," he said. "When I first went down to England to hold the pads for him, it was horrendous. But, you look at him today he's totally different."

In Pacquiao, Hatton will meet boxing's pound-for-pound king, a four-division lineal champion who is fighting at 140 for the first time. The Filipino southpaw was spectacular in his last outing, stopping Oscar De La Hoya after the eighth round in December. Come Saturday, this will be Pacquiao's fourth fight in four different classes in 14 months.

Hatton is banking on being bigger and stronger. When Pacquiao beat De La Hoya in that welterweight match, he was actually the heavier guy on the night of the fight, 24 hours after rehydrating from the weigh-in. De La Hoya, who campaigned as high as 160 pounds and came down 15 pounds to make the weight, appeared drained and his performance was flat. Besides, even his prime, The Golden Boy was never physically imposing. He fought from distance, behind a sharp jab and a high parry, to diffuse his opponent.

Hatton jumps in the chest, and overtaxes an opponent's defense with offense. In his championship victory against Tszyu, who had unified the division by beating every major belt holder and claimant to his throne, Hatton worked his way inside patiently behind his jab and mugged him when he got inside.

Still, Hatton, unbeaten in this weight class, is the underdog against Pacquiao, who began his career at 106 pounds.

"I've been a world champion in two weight divisions," says Hatton, alluding to a belt he won at welterweight in 2006, "and all I seem to do is get knocked. But that's my inspiration."


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