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Monday, April 6, 2009

Hatton taken to heart by Las Vegans ahead of Pacquiao popularity

For Ricky 'Hitman' Hatton, the self-confessed 'homeboy', the challenge of proving himself again and again draws him back to the heat of the Nevada desert, and the world's fight capital. Five weeks this time, he plies his trade here. The hordes will arrive soon. And only one Ricky Hatton will be repeated along the 8 miles of the strip, deep into the dawn.

His May 2 contest with Filipino braveheart Manny Pacquiao represents Hatton's fifth fight in Las Vegas, his sixth fight in the last seven in the United States.

Pacquiao is hugely popular with his nation, an icon. Yet it is Hatton who has repeatedly brought the chink of British pounds to Sin City with his army of admirers. In the tug-of-war over Las Vegan, popularity, it is hard to beat Hatton's 35,000 fans who travelled, some of them, simply to sing chant spent and drink 16 months ago in his only career to Floyd Mayweather Jnr.

In Hatton's apartment here in a gated compound a few minutes from the strip, with co-trainer Lee Beard, PA Paul Speak, and three other friends, the British boxer appears in fine shape mentally. A confidence, rather than an eagerness, oozes from him. Since Friday, I have spent three days in both camps, the LA camp of Manny Pacquiao and now here with Hatton in Las Vegas, and there is an inner steel in both men which stirs the senses that this is going to be a special fight. There is something in the air. Their mutual respect simply adds to the spice in this one. Only last night, Hatton was talking about 'what a nice man Manny is, I really like the person', and yet, as they great fighters so remarkably do, in the same breath, nonchalantly, added that there would be no one he would hate more for those scheduled 12 x 3 minute rounds.

Hatton is now part of the entertainment landscape in Las Vegas, and it is clear walking around with him here that he has become a popular figure with the inhabitants of Sin City. Hatton told me: "I think it is to do with how I fight, my exciting style, but ever since the Floyd Mayweather fight, the people of Vegas, the croupiers know me, the staff in hotels and bars know who I am because of the brilliant army of fans who come over. Oscar de la Hoya is the biggest name in boxing, and I have been to many of his fights, but it is the Mayweather fight that people here always talk to me about, because they are still amazed by the numbers who came over, and what a week it was."

"I'm very proud to have been a part of it - obviously I am unhappy with what happened and the outcome in the fight - but the fact they are still talking about it as being a great time for sales everywhere, is fantastic. There was record betting, The Crown and Anchor pub took so much money they won't ever let me buy a drink or pay for a meal in there...all from a little whipper-snapper from a Manchester Council Estate."


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