HBO’s Mayweather/Hatton 24/7 reality series is doing an amazing job of spotlighting the back story and personalities of both Floyd Mayweather and Ricky Hatton and their respective families, camps and assorted hangers-on. I recommend everyone — boxing fans and non-boxing fans alike — tune in Sunday, next Thursday and even hit HBO On-Demand for the previous two episodes. It’s great television, artfully done.
What it’s actually doing reasonably little of is focusing on the boxing itself. There are a few reasons I can imagine for this. They’re clearly trying to lure the general public into buying this fight Dec. 8, and a technical analysis of who has the better left hook would siphon away some of the drama. Another reason, I suppose, is that hardcore fans know this fight could completely blow, so focusing on that aspect of it would make anyone watching ask, “Why should I pay $50 for this again?” It could be a fantastic battle, don’t get me wrong. There’s just a distinct possibility that it won’t be.
So assuming the next two episodes won’t delve into such matters, I’m taking it upon myself to try to educate any neophyte who wants to arrive for the show briefed about what will make the fight entertaining or not, a blowout for Mayweather or a real competition. More experienced fans can read this and hopefully find something enlightening, or just take it as a starting point for debate.
Part II, coming Monday, will look at all the tools both Mayweather and Hatton have that are important in every fight, no matter the gladiator: who’s faster, who’s stronger, etc. Part I, below, will focus on some of the things that are unique to this fight and these fighters.
How Mayweather chooses to fight. Mayweather is a strange avatar for the renaissance of boxing. No active fighter has the combination of physical gifts and ring intelligence that Mayweather possesses. As he’s moved up in the weight classes to welterweight (147 lbs.), it’s zapped some of his knockout power, but otherwise, Mayweather can do virtually anything he wants in the ring. Alas, his extraordinary defense and ability to hit his man more frequently than he gets hit means that should he choose to do so — and, all too often, he has made this choice — he can coast to an easy victory on the scorecards without ever putting himself in harm’s way enough to create a lot of action or deliver a KO. It’s not as if I don’t understand the rationale, but it sometimes makes for boring viewing. On the flip side of the coin, any time Mayweather has made the decision to take risks, he has usually looked spectacular. It’s a little like watching Kobe Bryant: an otherworldly athlete plying his craft at a high level and dominating all comers. Even when Mayweather has decided to amp up the offense by putting himself at a distance where his opponent can hit him, he has slaughtered his competition. That’s because his reflexes and anticipation are so extraordinary he can stand inches from his opponent and block or dodge incoming punches without sweating. These one-sided affairs — Mayweather hasn’t even lost many rounds of his career when he’s opted to take risks — have been wildly viewable. What he did to Arturo Gatti in 2005 was about the most watchable shellacking imaginable. What he did to Diego Corrales in 2001 was a dream of both boxing purists and even some fans who only want to see knockouts. It’s boils down to this: When Mayweather wants to win easy, he does, and fans are more likely to go to sleep than his opponent. When he wants to make it a little harder on himself, he at least creates the impression that his opponent has a chance, and he often wins by a far more aesthetically appealing landslide. Against Hatton, Mayweather has pledged to stand in front of him and trade blows, but we’ve heard that from Mayweather before only to be left wanting. Yet, given his advantages over Hatton, I see no reason he couldn’t take the latter approach and still win.
How Hatton choses to fight. Hatton, too, has alternated between being fun to watch and being abysmal. When he’s at his best — as he was in 2005, when he was the Ring Magazine fighter of the year for conquering Kostya Tszyu and Carlos Maussa — he’s all out energy and commotion. Even the best version of Hatton is a little too prone to wrestling and fouling, but it’s better than the lesser version of Hatton, the one who throws one punch, then grabs and holds his opponent so he doesn’t get hit. Anyone who could watch his “hook and hold” approach to scoring a clear victory in the eyes of the judges this year over Juan Urango is a far more patient and tolerant boxing fan than I. If there’s good news here, it’s that in his biggest fights, Hatton has usually put on his most entertaining displays. When Hatton beat Jose Luis Castillo in May, he was plenty watchable. Hatton seems to take some pride in pleasing fans, so I would expect Hatton will try to put on a good show. Mayweather, by contrast, performed on the biggest stage of his career against Oscar De La Hoya this year and showed little interest in looking good doing it, perhaps because De La Hoya was significantly bigger than him and he wanted to minimize the chance of getting knocked out. I’m not sure which version of Hatton stands a better chance of actually beating Mayweather, though.
The referee. Yes, that’s right, the referee. Hatton has benefited frequently from permissive referees who let him foul, wrestle and generally maul has opponent in ways that aren’t quite legal. It’s legal to hold, for example; it’s not legal to hold excessively, as Hatton often has. A referee who cracks down on some of Hatton’s antics will multiply Mayweather’s chances of winning and take away a significant chunk of Hatton’s. Getting held and pushed around saps a fighter’s energy. Getting hit below the belt does the same. With speedy, light on their feet types like Mayweather, the best hope of victory is to drain them of the energy they need for optimal movement, making them more hittable. Ideally, the referee won’t err too far in either direction — letting Hatton get away with too much, or implementing a zero tolerance policy. Letting Hatton run free would taint the fight with too much foul play. Getting fascist about it would rob Hatton of opportunities to win, and unfairly swing the fight too far in Mayweather’s direction.
Mayweather’s conditioning and brittle hands. Mayweather, in addition to his stratospheric talent, has shown a devotion to preparation that has him training into all hours of the evening. He stays at around his fight weight year-round, a rare trait for any fighter, which means he never has to be worried about shedding pounds quickly, which can be draining come fight night. But Mayweather is coming off a run on the TV show “Dancing With The Stars,” which every past participant has said requires hard work that was intense beyond what they could imagine. Mayweather already trains so intensely that the combination of the show and training camp could leave him “overtrained,” which also tends to leave fighters with a deficit of energy come fight night. This probably is a minimal worry, but it’s something to consider. More worrying is Mayweather’s tendency to break or otherwise injure his hands during fights. When he has suffered such an injury, he usually goes into “win easy” mode. That hand injury tendency has never put him in much jeopardy before, but against a world class fighter — and lest we forget, that’s what Hatton is — it could be dangerous.
Hatton’s conditioning and tendency to get cut. Hatton is on the extreme opposite end of the ledger when it comes to between-fight discipline. He often swells up some 40 lbs. in weight when he’s not preparing for his next payday, leading to a lot of self-deprecating “Ricky Fatton” jokes. In the ring, this habit has resulted in some problems. For instance: Fighters who have to lose major weight between fights tend not to take body punches very well. Against Urango this year, Hatton was doing some pretty work in the ring early, at least until Urango nailed him with a major body shot that clearly hurt him. To win, Hatton felt compelled after that to go into “hook and hold” mode. Mayweather isn’t a slouch when it comes to body punching. Despite his weight issues, Hatton has shown a knack for getting stronger as the fight goes on, which is a pretty remarkable tribute to his own training regimen. Punches to the face present a whole different dilemma for Hatton. Early in his career, particularly, Hatton suffered any number of cuts. A bad enough gash will lead a referee to stop the fight, and, given the rules of boxing on the result of such a stoppage, depending on what round he stops it in and whether the cut is the result of a punch as opposed to a head butt or elbow, a cut Hatton could equal a defeated Hatton. Not long ago, Hatton had some plastic surgery that reduced his tendency to cut, but this could become a factor again.