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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Nothing Posh: Ricky Hatton is 'charming little chappie'

There’s nothing Posh about this blue collar, Mancunian pug named Ricky Hatton. But I can truthfully say that the working class fighter wouldn’t know me from one or any of the Spice Girls.

Hint, hint, Ricky. ( I might be a little slimmer than some of the girls, maybe Sporty, I am not the same, old whale who literally sat AROUND ringside at some of your bouts.)

I’ve been wondering, as the runup to Hatton’s May 2 Vegas fight against Pound For Pound titan Manny Pacquiao inchles closer, what makes Hatton tick? When TV cameras roll, he likes to play the practical joker. He’s twice paraded for HBO wearing a decidedly unsexy thong.

But, when the cameras are down, what is Megamanny’s foe really like? I decided to go to my favorite British sporting source, the decorated Daily Mail sports columnist (since 1966) and my bosom buddy, Lord Jeff Powell.

Oh, by the way, “Lord Powell” is no upper class twit. He’s like UK promoter Frank Warren in that he rose out of the hardscrabble East End—perhaps born within the sound of the bells of St. Mary’s, I’m not sure—and his father was a professional boxer who lived a hale and hearty life well into his 80s.

I just gave Powell the “Lord” handle as a lark. I should mention that he’s a four-time British Sports Reporter of the year so that gives you an idea of his lofty standing among his peers. (You can locate the Powell Archives of delicious columns, here.)

'There is something desperate about Paul Collingwood's demeanour on the cricket field - sweaty, paranoid, staring, self-obsessed. Whatever the short-term results, the sooner England find a man capable of captaining both test and one-day teams the better. Born leaders transmit confidence through their teams, not fear of failure.'

Speaking of Spice Girls, Powell has also taken on football icon David Beckham, who is married to Posh Spice. As the biographer and close friend of UK football legend Bobby Moore, Powell felt Becks and fans were overrating his sporting status.

Here’s Powell’s zinging prose on Beckham:

“It is not my intention to belittle Beckham, only to cast him in his proper place behind the absurd ballyhoo. I have praised and chastised him in turn, commending his singlehanded rescuing of England's place in the 2002 World Cup finals with his stand-out game against Greece, but lamenting the betrayal of his most saving grace, his work ethic, when he turned up overweight for Euro 2004.

He has been a very good but not great player, limited as he is by his one-footedness and lack of pace...

Beckham has flattered to deceive since his peak seasons at Old Trafford. Now, on his transatlantic jaunts between the dollar and the euro, he is even more brand than substance.

In the improbable event that they erect his statue, the wording should go something like this: Celebrity husband of fashion icon. Symbol of the Me Generation. Treasure hunter. Milker of Wembley crowd. Pampered princeling. Captain who won nothing for England. Most overpaid footballer of all time.”

Lest I give the impression that Powell is a literary snake, a vicious viper whose pen is always dipped in arsenic, consider his praise of late colleague Ian Wooldridge.

"I joined the Mail full time in 1966 and we worked together for a hell of a long time. I was younger than him and he was very helpful to me.

"He was an inspiration… no one who asked for help from him ever lacked it.

If you've got talent like that you can afford to give it away.

"He was great fun — you had to have a good liver to be his friend. But it was always ‘job first' with him. He was not driven by any false ego… and of course he was a beautiful writer. Irony was his great strength. He could fillet people without them even knowing. It was almost a privilege to be taken apart by him."

So that gives you a snapshot of Powell’s considerable talent. Now let’s get boxing pertinent. Does the scribe think Hatton really is the proletariat, salt of the Manchester eart type he’s generally viewed?

“Oh, yes, indeed he is,” Powell told me by phone from his London office. “Ricky is a charming little chappie.

“He makes fun of drinking, eating to excess…all that Ricky Fatton stuff,” Powell said. “He doesn’t have to try to be ‘one of the boys’ down at the local. He is one of the boys, cut from the same solid stock as the rest of the lads.

“He’s a crazed football fan and fervent supporter of Manchester City, the big rival of course to higher profile Manchester United. Ricky backs the Blue of Man City and that’s where his fans get the ‘Blue Moon’ song from.”

Powell said he thinks Hatton’s grounded mentality comes from his mother, father and friends.

“Don’t forget Manchester’s roots come from the Industrial Revolution,” Powell said. “They call it the Second City of England and it is the blue collar, old industry area of Northwest England.

“The Hattons come from a lower middle class background and Ricky acts like someone who has no airs. I’d call him the most popular British fighter since the heyday of Lennox Lewis, popular in a way that Joe Calzaghe never was.”

Powell said Hatton and his loyal fans are of the same stock as past UK champions and their followers.

“There was a bit of Hatton or vice versa in Dave Charnley, the welterweight,” Powell said. “Dave was a working class boy as well and he was what they used to call a ‘Nobbins fighter’ meaning a small hall boxer. The fans used to throw coins or ‘Nobbins’ into the ring to show their appreciation for great scraps and scrappers like that.

“I think you can also classify the Scotsmen, Ken Buchanan and Jim Watt, as the same types. Watt is a bit more articulate than most and it’s helped him as a TV commentator on boxing. But all of these boxers were feisty guys who got their start in the milieu of the workingman’s clubs and pubs.”

What of relatively new fistic face, WBC super middleweight champion Carl Froch who hails from Nottingham?

(“Frochie” makes his first title defense next Saturday night at Foxwoods in Connecticut against ex-champ Jermain Taylor.)

“Froch is just coming on to our national radar,” Powell said. “But he’s in the mold of industrial Nottingham, the city of Trent water and famous Nottingham Lace. Their famous football manager and hero is Brian Clough.

“It would’ve been great fun if Carl and Calzaghe had fought but that appears very unlikely.”

Even though I won’t be wearing an MP Pinoy beanie or waving a Pacman pennant at the MGM Grand two weeks hence, I’ve already copped out to rooting (silently) for the Little Guy from Gensan.

But, based on what insiders like Powell say, I won’t be rooting against Ricky Hatton.

I make it a strict practice to never, ever root against a “charming little chappie.”


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