Will Ricky Hatton succeed where Hamed failed miserably?

By Matthew Aguilar

20/06/2007

Will Ricky Hatton succeed where Hamed failed miserably?

Ricky Hatton is considered the best fighter in the junior welterweight division. But, somehow, England's “Hitman” – the most popular fighter across the pond since “Prince” Naseem Hamed - finds himself having to prove himself Saturday against former lightweight champion Jose Luis Castillo.
   
There are some definite parallels between Hatton and Hamed – styles and personalities not withstanding.
  
Hatton, like Hamed back in April 2001, is undefeated going into the biggest fight of his life.  Hatton, like Hamed against Marco Antonio Barrera, will be facing a veteran Mexican opponent who is as no-nonsense as they come. Hatton, like Hamed, is fighting away from the comfortable confines of his home country –and in pressure-heavy Las Vegas , no less.
 
And Hatton, like Hamed, has absorbed his fair amount of criticism over the last two years of his career for uneven outings – despite winning. Hamed failed miserably that spring night against Barrera. He was issued a boxing lesson so severe that he never recovered.
  
He only fought one more time before imploding.
  
Don’t expect the same from Hatton, a fierce, determined, tough-minded slugger who came up the hard way. Hamed’s deficiencies were veiled by punching power, and finally exposed by Barrera.
   
Hatton, unlike the Prince, knows how to fight.
   
But, if the Hitman is to regain the status as one of the most feared fighters in boxing, he must return to the 2005 form that crushed Kostya Tszyu. Hatton, despite giving away a fair amount of experience, used his exceptional strength to crowd and pressure Tszyu – long considered one of boxing’s hardest punchers. As a result, the Australian via Russia never got any extension on his punches, and was helpless.
   
Meantime, Tszyu took a frightful beating, as Hatton did what he does best: Pound the body on the inside, and weaken his adversary with rough stuff. By the end of it, Tszyu was like a rag doll –unable to gather the strength for the final round.
    
He quit in the 12th, and Hatton was the new IBF junior welterweight champ.
    
Boxing fans – in England and America alike - liked Hatton because he was a tough customer – a throwback to another era when fighters fought.
    
Basically, the opposite of Hamed. Hatton’s star was shining bright. But then….his star began to fade.
   
There has only been one other highlight since the magnificent Tszyu win, a ninth-round knockout of the awkward Carlos Maussa in late ’05, to win the WBA 140-pound title. After being cut, Hatton stormed back to flatten the Colombian –which added another impressive clip to his resume.
    
But next came a head-scratching move up to the welterweight division. Sure, Hatton won his third world title by outpointing Luis Collazo for the WBA 147-pound strap in May 2006. But there were a good amount of people who thought Collazo deserved the decision. Hatton struggled at the new weight – his squat 5-foot-6 frame unable to effectively carry the extra seven pounds.
     
The subpar performance severely damaged Hatton’s momentum.
     
Smartly,  the Hitman moved back down to junior welterweight, and reclaimed his IBF crown from Juan Urango last January. But, again, Hatton was unimpressive. His attack against Urango was inconsistent and choppy. And he didn’t come close to hurting his opponent, or scoring a knockout.
     
So he settled for a decision. Another decision.
     
Now, Hatton’s career – like Hamed’s six years ago – is at a crossroads. If he turns in another ho-hum, so-so performance, he will be beaten by an opponent who certainly knows how to take advantage of an opponent’s weaknesses. Castillo represents the most significant challenge of Hatton’s career. And, like Barrera against Hamed, he threatens to tarnish all of Hatton’s previous accomplishments.
   
In short, if the Englishman loses, his previous 42 victories will carry significantly less stock.
   
But if he wins, Hatton is right back in the thick of things. Showdowns with pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather, WBA welterweight champ Miguel Cotto and the winner of Antonio Margarito-Paul Williams will loom large.
    
It all depends on one night. And one fight.
    
After Saturday, all our questions about Ricky Hatton will be answered. Will his career prove to be anti-climactic, a la the “Prince?” Or will he establish himself as one of the greatest English warriors of all time?

After Saturday, we should know.

M

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