Stop The Music-It Hath No Charm When It Comes To Holding

By Michael Katz


Stop The Music-It Hath No Charm When It Comes To Holding

Ricky Hatton is welcome back, even if he clinched a major payday against Jose Luis Castillo in June by clinching Juan Urango, even if he was more Sandman than Hitman last Saturday, even if his rabid hometown fans left me nostalgic for disco music.

It would help if England's most popular boxer left home his nonmusical accompaniment, a Manchester chorus of off-key and atonal crooners. They sounded like Mancurian candidates for the “Gong Show,” any sore throats obviously well-oiled. Hatton and Castillo, separately showing again why it's best to skip the infomercials and go straight to the main event, were not much to look at, but they weren't as bad as the sound tracks.

It is highly recommended that anyone attending Hatton-Castillo in June - and the month will not stop the Brits from ruining “Winter Wonderland” - bring ear plugs. Castillo's supporters will, of course, be chanting “Me-hi-co,” and other stuff that sounded to me like “Hee-Sop-Choi.” The Brits sing in a completely foreign language with little regard for the notes.

Saturday's HBO double-header was intended to whet the appetite for June 2. It did nothing but diminish one of the better matchups of what promises to be a good year for the game. Castillo looked his age, 33, and after all those struggles making weight seemed in decline as he struggled to a split decision over a novice named Hermann Ngoudjo; Hatton had to judiciously grab the strong but crude Juan Urango so much that even some of the British writers were wondering if he too, at 28, was fading from his 2005 conquest of Kostya Tszyu - because of all those struggles making weight.

No one would have saluted if they had run the flag up on Madison Avenue. But I suspect that the events last Saturday night at the Paris Las Vegas were guilty of false advertising. Hatton and Castillo will look much better against each other than they did against the modest opposition. Hatton reminded the post-fight press conference “styles make fights.” It doesn't take two to Urango, either. The Colombian is more a slow march than a dance partner, despite the cheek-to-cheek positioning during the long second half of the encounter.

Hatton said he became “very frustrated” with the previously undefeated muscular champion from Colombia and Miami. “I hit him smack continuously and nothing happened,” he said. “It'd be hard for anyone to shift him.”

Hatton, despite 30 knockouts on his 42-0 ledger, is not a big puncher. From the abs up, Urango is built like a California Governor. In the early going, Hatton eschewed his usual damn-the-torpedoes attitude and went full speed from side to side, attacking from creative angles against the slow-moving paper champion. He said he “looked like Willie Pep,” which is hardly a boast since the Wisp is beneath the ground. He looked more like Willie Mays in the fifth round, making several bread-basket catches of Urango's wide but powerful body punches to cause Castillo, in the safety of his dressing room, a little concerned that his big payday was going adios.

The Hitman was hurt. He winced in pain, sucked in his breath and pulled his guard down and to his sides. That didn't stop the full-throated roar of the crowd. It did stop the modicum of interest as, upon the advice of corner, the pool shooter from England began playing safe behind a moat of clinching. He would land a punch, fall in - often head first - and grab Urango, who did not know enough to push away. Referee Tony Weeks had a bad night, allowing Hatton's smothering style to take all the air out of the fight. Hatton won the fight easily, the judges giving Urango only one round, but did not win too many neutral customers. He did not make anyone forget Manny Pacquiao.

Hatton thanked the crowd of 6,379 that almost filled the 7,000-seat ballroom. A vociferous minority, perhaps 40 percent, hailed from Britain. Hatton, who is a blue-collar version of Priince Charming, grabbed the ring microphone from Michael Buffer and thanked his hoarse herd:

“It was like fighting in me backyard again. You did me proud and I'll see you back here in June.”

He'll be better in June, or else. There is worry among his admirers in the British press that Hatton has not looked good since Tszyu, though he has won titles against Carlos Maussa, Luis Collazo and now Urango.

Castillo hopefully will provide the kind of spirited competition that the Englishman needs. Hatton said if people want to watch “chess matches,” they can look at Oscar de la Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr. in May. He and Castillo, he said, “I don't think that will be a dancing competition.”

Hatton may have been a tad or two below scintillating, but Castillo was (a) old (b) rusty (c) faded from constantly having made weight (d) showing the effects of a career begun at the age of 16 (e) all of the above.

Of course, Ngoudjo had a lot to do with all that. There were times the young man from Cameroon and Montreal reminded me a bit of Azumah Nelson in his American debut when he surprised everyone by giving the great Salvador Sanchez a terrific fight. He was a lot better than expected, certainly better than Castillo could have anticipated.

Castillo, sidelined for almost a year since a lethargic and meaningless victory over Rolando Reyes, at first seemed as good as new. In the opening round, while still in second gear as he scouted the opposition, his reflexes were sharp defensively. He moved his head and upper body to avoid the African's quick hands. It was when he shifted gears and, while landing his habitual thudding left hooks to the ribs, that he began looking a bit out of touch. He said he was “very out of discipline, I didn't feel correct.”

In the fourth round, he hurt his right hand - so what else is new? Ngoudjo hurt his, too - by landing on an elbow. The decision was split. lFrom Row F, and with my fading eyesight, I had Castillo comfortably ahead by 117-112, but it was close because many rounds Ngoudjo would put on a spirited burst of combinations. He evidently won some of those rounds on the cards of many - the ringside press also thought it was very close - though myopically I thought Castillo did enough.

The Mexican veteran, whose idleness was in part due to a six-month suspension by Nevada for failing to make weight twice in a row for meetings with Diego Corrales, will be the underdog in June off his performance last Saturday night. Kevin Iole, one of my Las Vegas gurus, thinks Hatton will open at 8-5 or 9- 5. I think it could go higher when the Brits return with their stale versions of “Blue Moon” and other songs I don't wish to hear.

(As George Bernard Shaw meant to say, “Why can't the English learn to sing?” Or better, why can't they learn NOT to sign?)

Frankly, I think Castillo will be a nice overlay in June. I'm sure he noticed the effects Urango's body shots had on Hatton, just as one rib crusher by Tszyu hurt the Englishman. Castillo has long run one of the best body shops in the business. He may be starting to slide, but guys at his level always are dangerous for one more fight than you might think.

This is not to say that I no longer like Hatton. I am very two-sided about this match. It is why it is a good one, and don't let last Saturday's off-key performances fool you.

“If you want to watch chess,” he said, “watch de la Hoya and Mayweather. If you want to watch two guys knkock the shit out of each other, watch us.”

PENTHOUSE: Hermann Ngoudjo, who could be a major player in the 140-pound division. I certainly would like him against Urango. And his English is a hell of a lot better than my French….Jameel McCline, for his exit line while on the stretcher after his knee collapsed before the rest of him did against Nikolai Valuev: “I will remember this my whole life.”…Hatton got a phone call in his Caesars suite. “This is Tom,” the voice said. “Tom Who?” replied Hatton. “Tom Jones,” said the Welsh singer of whom the fighter is a big fan. “Bollocks,” said Hatton. It was Jones and he was inviting Hatton to see the Vegas show that the fighter had intended to attend all along.

OUTHOUSE: The WBClowns if they thinks it can move a comebacking Vitali Klitschko in front of Samuel Peter for a shot at its heavyweight title-holder, Oleg Maskaev. Vitali is the Clown Prince emeritus of the division, and has been promised an immediate championship fight if he ever returns. That, of course, is a big question. Has the good doctor healed himself from all the boo-boos that has kept him out of the ring for more than two years. Before Dino Duva, Peter's co-promoter, suffers an anxiety attack, the chances are that Klitschko will need another doctor again. But if he doesn't, and the Clowns try to cash in on the bigger brother, I will join Duva, Don King and the Salvation Army to drive Jose Sulaiman and his bandidos from these friendly confines.


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