Ricky Hatton, The Day After

Part II of our look at the aftermath of the Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton fight examines Hatton one day later, and the undercard. Earlier today, Part I looked at Pacquiao.

Multiple reports now have indicated Hatton is OK after that chilling knockout. A few, too, have suggested that as a fighter, “OK” is about as high as he rates.

I beg to differ. It isn’t easy to become the Fighter of the Year, as Hatton did in 2005. It isn’t easy to get into the Hall of Fame, as Hatton almost certainly will once he retires, which he’s thinking about doing. It isn’t easy to reign as the legitimate lineal champion of one’s division for five years, as Hatton has, beating every top contender put in front of him. Hatton has spent the better part of five years on the list of the 10 best boxers in the sport. I just don’t have any respect for anyone who dismisses the man out of hand. There are, however, certain things about Hatton that are worthy of criticism, and some of them surely played into his loss.

Hatton is world-class, or at least he was, but he got there with fewer physical talents than most fighters. And when it came right down to it against his two toughest opponents, Pacquio and Floyd Mayweather, Jr., he wasn’t able to contend with them physically. Mayweather was too big, too fast. Pacquiao was too fast, too powerful. Hatton found a style that worked for him against all but a couple opponents — that mauling, pressuring inside-oriented attack — and rode it, along with considerable willpower and stamina, to boxing’s elite.

His skill level, particularly on defense, hasn’t been a strong point. Offensively, he has had a complete array of effective punches, but he underutilized his jab to set up those shots and couldn’t dodge a punch to save his life. That was the idea behind bringing in Floyd Mayweather, Sr., to make him faster and slicker. I said after the Paulie Malignaggi fight that I didn’t see much difference, and I was in the minority there. I still didn’t see much difference for the Pacquiao fight. Nor did the Sky Sports folk who called the fight here (h/t RR&C). He came out charging straight ahead like always trying to launch power punches, and whatever head movement he’s added to improve his difference, he only used a little. Maybe, I dunno, twice? Otherwise, his head was on a shiny, motionless platter. That’s not enough against a puncher with Pacquiao’s speed. Hatton got hit. A lot. By 57 percent of Pacquiao’s punches, to the 23 percet he landed.

I was a little shocked at how horribly Hatton handled getting punched by Pacquiao. As always, all credit due to the man who made him look so horrible — Pacquiao clearly is a real junior welterweight, not a smaller man masquerading as one. But Hatton’s reaction to getting hit was enough was enough to make me wonder if there was something wrong with him. The Sky Sports team, again, suggested all the years of putting his body through torture to make weight after gaining 30 pounds or more between bouts had caught up to him. We all knew it would eventually. I thought it had happened in 2008, when he looked so terrible against Juan Lazcano, but he bounced back against Malignaggi. Maybe Malignaggi just didn’t have the power to make Hatton look spent. Pacquiao certainly did.

Back to Mayweather, Sr. He encouraged Hatton after the 1st round not to stand toe-to-toe with Pacquiao, that getting him knocked down twice and all. Hatton, according to his father, recognized his mistake. “He just said, ‘The old heart ruled the head again, Dad; steaming in, got my warning signs in the first round. Set off OK at the start of the second round, caught Manny with a few shots. Really worried Manny a little bit. Manny was just throwing wild shots.’ He said, ‘Then the heart ruled the head again and I went steaming in.’ ” (Actually, Manny was throwing wild punches because he was going for the knockout.) That doesn’t justify, in my mind, the callous way Mayweather refused to stick up for his fighter. “I really thought Ricky would get him,” Mayweather, Sr. said. “I really don’t want to get into it more than that.” I’ve heard trainers chastise their fighters a little after a fight, but usually they offer words of encouragement, too.

Mayweather, Sr. kind of put down Hatton, too, with the word choice for his suggestion that he retire. “I would suggest he retire. At the end of the day, it’s his decision,” Mayweather, Sr. said. “He tried twice. He failed twice. He lost to my son and to lose to someone below that, it’s time to leave the ring. He made a good profit. Sometimes you have to go when your prime is still there.” You know you’re going to get a couple things with Mayweather, Sr. One is he’s going to speak his mind. I don’t get the impression he says anything he doesn’t mean. But the other is that he’s going to be totally self-serving. If he’s your trainer and you win a fight, he’s going to be grabbing at the microphone in the post-fight interview. If you lose, he’s going to put the blame on you. Maybe some of his self-serving comments after this fight are related to the alleged training camp squabbles he had with members of the Hatton team. Who knows. It’s still in his m.o.

But in his ruthless suggestion that Hatton retire, there might be some wisdom. You never know how a fighter who gets brutally knocked out in fights that are in close proximity to one another will rebound, or if he ever will. It’s playing with fire. For now, Hatton is fine, as he said in his dressing room; he also checked out swell at the hospital, according to his dad. But Hatton does have a decision to make. “Obviously, we will support him in whatever he does and we’ll leave that with him,” the elder Hatton said. “At this moment in time, he’s probably got a few mixed feelings about it. He’ll make that decision whichever way he wants to and the family will support him.”

Until I see a fighter in irrefutable decline, I’m hesitant to suggest retirement. It’s their lives. They can do what they want with them, but if a fighter looks like damaged goods, I’ll do my part to be a voice shouting at them and putting pressure on them to hang up the gloves. If Hatton wants to keep fighting, I don’t see any reason he can’t beat a good share of top junior welterweights. But I can’t take him seriously as a pound-for-pound caliber fighter anymore, because it’s been a while since he’s beaten someone on that level — Jose Luis Castillo almost two years ago. He’d have a lot of rehabbing to do. If I were Hatton, in sound financial shape with a family tat hates his choice of career, not far from planned retirement anyway, I’d be thinking of a farewell fight in Great Britain and riding off into the sunset. The two losses he suffered were embarrassing. But if this is the end, he’s to be applauded for challenging himself; for fighting hard despite his limitations and beating some top-notch opponents in a remarkable career; and for becoming a hero in the U.K. and entertaining fans with his fighting spirit and personality.

On to the undercard:

  • Junior middleweight prospect Erislandry Lara sliced through his chubby opposition, Chris Gray to win an easy decision, although Gray did give an honest effort. Lara is a very good prospect — great variety of punches, good defense, exceptional poise in the ring — but people are getting too carried away about him. I question his punching power, for starters, and he’s never been hit solidly by anyone who can hit, but HBO’s Emmanuel Steward was out of his mind for suggesting Lara could beat Paul Williams. That is just beyond premature. A guy with five fights beats one of the elite fighters in the game? Let’s see Lara get a real opponent in the ring — not to mention a quality journeyman, a former titleholder, a top-10 divisional foe — before we start jumping to wild-ass conclusions. In four rounds, Gray landed a total of 11 punches to 10 times that for Lara. Williams would land 10 punches in the first minute of a fight with Lara.
  • Middleweight prospect Matt Korobov had an even easier time with his opponent, Anthony Bartinelli, who was far more experienced than Lara’s opponent but looked much worse, although, again, he gave an honest effort. I like Korobov a little more than I like Lara, because I think he can punch, and scored a 2nd round knockout. He’s a more fluid athlete than most fighters of Russian origin, but I still have questions about his speed and defense. As with Lara, it was just his fifth fight, so let’s not jump to any conclusions. I also honestly thought these fights shouldn’t have been on the undercard. The casualish boxing
    fans at my apartment were more than a little unimpressed by what were transparent mismatches.
  • Super middleweight prospect Daniel Jacobs won every round of his fight with Michael Walker, I thought, but Walker nonetheless gave him a test. Jacobs got stretched to eight rounds. Walker can take a punch. He also was troubling Jacobs with a mauling style, particularly in the middle rouns. Jacobs, though, began to turn Walker by the end of the fight and outbox him easily. I like Jacobs the best of the featured prospects. He’s proving himself as he steps up in competition, and I think he’s the frontrunner for the 2009 Prospect of the Year nod if he keeps it up.
  • Top junior lightweight Humberto Soto got some real friction from Benoit Gaudet, brought in to be something of a patsy. Despite the knockout win for Soto, Gaudet proved anything but, and I hope he gets another payday for his effort. I thought he had begun to take over the fight after an early knockdown with his elusive counterpunching, but he got dumb and decided to trade with Soto, a bigger puncher, who got him in the 9th. Soto clearly doesn’t do well against slick movers — see, this fight and his fight against Joan Guzman — so he either needs to change that or avoid them. But it’d be terrific to see him fight somebody in the top-10 of his division some day, something he hasn’t done in six fights since late 2007.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.