Say whatever you will about Ricky Hatton — and he has his share of detractors, a group I do not consider myself a part of — but he’s great for pugilism. He has helped revitalize boxing in Great Britain, and because he’s such a colorful character, he helps bring star power to the sport that might not otherwise exist. Above, the boys from Oasis get in on the act, and David Beckham and others were in the crowd Saturday night. Don’t party too much with the brothers Gallagher down in Mexico, Ricky.
There’s plenty more to discuss about this weekend’s fights besides their relation to the cocky authors of “Wonderwall.”
- In my rush to condemn Paulie Malignaggi’s performance, I did go a little short on praise for Hatton. He really did look like the best version of Hatton. I say this despite the fact that I saw no major, fundamental improvement in Hatton as a fighter because of the addition of Floyd Mayweather Sr. as his trainer — a few more jabs, some better head movement, sure, but nothing much overall. What was improved is that the junior welterweight (140 lbs.) champ just looked like he did back when he was a terror in 2005. There was none of this hanging by the skin of his teeth stuff he’s done ever since his breakout year. He went out and totally controlled Malignaggi. Even if Malignaggi looked terrible, Hatton deserves credit for that. He just beat the clear #2 man in the division with ease, and while I haven’t decided where to put him on my pound-for-pound list yet, I think a return to the top 10 is very credible.
- What I’d hate to see is Hatton get too enamored with straying from junior welterweight again. A great junior welterweight is exactly what he is, nothing more and nothing less. Hatton asked rhetorically in a post-fight interview what kind of champion he’d be if he stayed at one weight class. I say this stuff all the time about Manny Pacquiao’s division-bouncing ways, but it bears repeating: Staying at one weight class is perfectly acceptable and moving around to a bunch of them is not all it’s cracked up to be. Marvin Hagler was a middleweight (160 lbs.) his whole life. I don’t hear anyone complaining about that. It’s because longevity in one division, and repeatedly taking all comers in said division, is one of many ways to build a legend. I understand the desire to fight Pacquiao or Oscar De La Hoya, depending on who wins their welterweight (147 lbs.) showdown, because it would be the biggest fight in the sport among active boxers. But Pacquiao could easily fight at 140, and De La Hoya’s been hovering somewhere south of the welterweight limit himself. Hatton’s a proven failure at welterweight; he should turn down any fight at that limit, and at worst, should insist on a catchweight fight with anyone above 140. Fighting at 147 may be where the money’s at, but it’s also a recipe for Hatton’s disaster, and too many losses at 147 could deliver critical hits to his marketability.
- I failed to note how impressed I was with James Kirkland’s one-sided beat down of Brian Vera in the HBO undercard for Hatton-Malignaggi. The two men fought at 157 lbs., which is a little above Kirkland’s natural junior middleweight home and well below where Vera has fought in the past. The result was that Kirkland’s power was not as overwhelming as it has been to some past opponents, and considering the kind of chin Vera has exhibited south of 168, it meant Vera took a sever pounding and continued with a smile, even after getting knocked down a couple times. I approved of the stoppage because Vera was way behind, never hurt Kirkland and was just taking an unnecessary battering. Most interestingly, Vera hardly ever even hit Kirkland. In several rounds, Kirkland’s punch connect percentage was at 30 or more per round, and Vera’s never broke double digits. That’s encouraging to fans of Kirkland, who has appeared vulnerable defensively. What’s not encouraging is that Kirkland seemed to wear down after about three rounds. It’s not surprising, given how easily he’s blown people out early on in recent fights. But maybe trainer Ann Wolfe needs to adjust her weird training tactic of having four men wrestle Kirkland to the ground and add in, like, a fifth man.
- Hmmm, so I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised that nobody’s calling out the dual-belted junior featherweight (122 lbs.) Celestino Caballero after the way he destroyed Steve Molitor Friday night on Showtime. Juan Manuel Lopez’ plans for 2009, from some BoxingScene article transcribing some other news organization’s article or the other, do not include Caballero’s name. With a couple belts, Caballero may also be tied up with mandatory challengers for a while, but I hope not. I understand why he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I thought he was aesthetically pleasing Friday night — none of his usual fouling or awkward action. Just some clever boxing as window dressing for a boatload of long-armed power punches.
- I’ve already said all I feel I need to say about the losers of the HBO bouts, but I think a little something more is warranted about Molitor. Some folk in Canada are freaking out a little about his loss, as this columnist from up north writes. A little bit of a freak out is warranted. After all, Molitor just didn’t look very good. But to write him off entirely, or to suggest boxing in Ontario might be done as a result of one loss, strikes me as an overreaction. Here’s another of my mantras: If a boxer got to his level of esteem by beating quality opponents, then gets beat by the highest-quality opponent of his life, he is not necessarily worse than we thought; more likely, he simply fell short in his toughest test. It’s what happens after that fighter’s loss that matters most. We just saw Hatton beat two top-10 junior welterweights this year after suffering a knockout loss last year. Molitor, like Hatton, got knocked out by a man who was by far his best opponent. Hatton has bounced back. Others, like Jeff Lacy, have not bounced back after losses against their best opponents. Molitor, I think, deserves another shot to prove himself at the tender age of 28. There is cause to be skeptical, but there is no cause to turn into a complete atheist.
- Case in point of a bad bounce back: Rey Bautista. The Filipino junior featherweight prospect stepped up big last year and got knocked out by Daniel Ponce De Leon. But as he had just entered his 20s, and was almost completely unproven prior to that bout, I saw no reason to discount his future. Now, though, as of this weekend, Bautista has acquired a second loss, this one against a journeyman. I’ve seen fighters bounce back from early losses like this, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Bautista’s career rallies. But given that he’d not accomplished much prior to his first loss, his second loss against an opponent far inferior to De Leon is the kind of setback that would make a reasonable person wonder if his hot prospect-ness was an illusion all along.
- Case in point of a good bounce back: Jhonny Gonzalez. He’s another junior featherweight who recently suffered not one but two heart-breaking losses. Gonzalez looked like he was on his way to victories over both Israel Vazquez and Gerry Penalosa before being knocked out. Now, at age 28 (same as Molitor), he’s inches away from another shot at an alphabet title, because he’s rung up a streak of plausible victories, including one this weekend. He could be fighting Caballero as a mandatory challenger soon, in fact. That’s a good fight if it happens. Gonzalez is a serious crowd pleaser, and I admire him all the more for the way he’s been able to recover from the kinds of losses that can turn a good fighter into one who never recovers his confidence. And he’s done it without arousing any fears that he’s got the kind of irrational confidence that keeps some fighters going too long.