Joseph Santoliquito

Hatton, Malignaggi say they’ve learned their lessons

Ricky Hatton plays to the cameras after his arrival in Las Vegas for Saturday's fight against Paulie Malignaggi. Photo / Tom Hogan

Forget the hair extensions. Paulie Malignaggi will be wearing a buzz cut. Forget the wrestling, mauling tactics. Ricky Hatton will be showing off his dusty boxing skills. Malignaggi says his right hand is OK. Hatton says his waistline is trimmer from running mountains in Nevada.

We'll see Saturday night, when the two meet for THE RING magazine's world junior welterweight championship at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

What we know for sure is that Malignaggi (25-1, with five knockouts) and Hatton (44-1, 31 KOs), the reigning RING world 140-pound champ, are both coming off subpar performances from which they say they learned valuable lessons.

Malignaggi won a split decision over Lovemore N'Dou on May 24 in Manchester, England. At the time, “The Magic Man” was defending the IBF title, a belt he's since relinquished to pursue Hatton. Malignaggi had dominated N'Dou the first time they met, on June 16, 2007, to capture the IBF title. It was arguably Malignaggi's finest performance as a pro.

So who thought he'd have such a rough time in the rematch? Certainly not Malignaggi, who was out to prove something on the undercard of the main event between Hatton and Juan Lazcano. Malignaggi was there to show he was Hatton-worthy.

Only each time he threw a punch at N'Dou during their May meeting, Malignaggi's hair extensions flew in his face, creating a whipping feeling against his eyes and hampering his vision. By the end of the fight, Malignaggi underwent an impromptu haircut in the ring to break free from the Rastafarian look with which he entered the ring.

“Never again,” Malignaggi promised, “never again will I do something as stupid as (the hair extensions). Oh, I learned my lesson. I learned a lot. But I came away with a win, and now that set me up for Hatton. I think what a lot of people forget about the N'Dou fight was that I broke my right hand half way through it. I fought that fight with one hand.

“You can see the difference in the two fights I had against N'Dou. The first fight both hands were healthy and held up, and you saw what I did to him. It's something I know I can do against Hatton. He just doesn't have enough speed to keep up with me. He has no defense, and I've been punching with my right hand since August. I haven't felt anything. No pain. My right hand feels great. My camp went great, and all I know is Saturday night, I am going to beat his ass!”

Malignaggi questions whether Hatton can change his straight-ahead, mauling style. He questions Hatton's resume, saying he caught name opponents on downward slides. He questions Hatton's ability to get out of the way of a punch. And he doubts that the addition of Floyd Mayweather Sr. as Hatton's new trainer will make any difference.

“They seem to think Hatton will become this defensive whiz; I think they know Ricky is what he is,” Malignaggi said. “We'll see what kind of a game plan he has once he gets punched in the mouth. On the level of defensive wizardry, you need to have the natural defensive ability, and natural defensive radar. Ricky Hatton has no sense of anticipation on what's coming his way. Defensively, he's horrible. I'm concentrating on being the best Paulie Malignaggi can possibly be, and Ricky is not going to be able to handle it.”

Mayweather Sr., who takes over for “The Hitman's” long-time trainer, Billy Graham, is amused by Malignaggi's comments. Still, we might not see any shoulder rolls or Hatton spinning out of the corner — signature moves of Mayweather's proteges.

“Everything I heard from Paulie Malignaggi, you have to laugh; this kid is going to get beat to death,” said Mayweather, who's been working with Hatton for close to two months. “I never tried to take nothing away from Ricky in terms of his style, because I feel he should be aggressive; smart and aggressive.

“It's why you catch punches, slip and slide from punches. I tell Ricky, 'You don't need to get beat up by being an aggressive fighter.' Ricky has been doing that very well. Ricky was telling me he could move his head, but can't punch, now he's moving his head and punching at the same time.”

It will be up to Hatton to put Mayweather Sr.'s tutelage to practical use Saturday night against an opponent who's not so easy to hit. Malignaggi certainly won't be there in front of him. He'll attack using angles, unlike Kostya Tszyu and Juan Lazcano, who were happy to exchange with Hatton. In fact, Hatton didn't beat Lazcano as much as he survived. Lazcano rocked him in the third round and Hatton went down, though it was called a slip by British referee Howard Foster.

“I wasn't delighted with my performance against Lazcano; I came up with a chest infection and I only got half the training under my belt, which is different than what I normally do,” Hatton said. “But I think I'm faster than what Paulie thinks I am. To say I don't have any speed; that's shocking. What will be essential in this fight is to show head movement, which I haven't done in the last two years.”

Hatton has said publicly that if he doesn't beat Malignaggi, he should retire. He backed slightly away from that statement earlier this week: “I should beat him, and if I don't beat him, I'll have to start looking at things a little closer. I've shown I have boxing ability. Sometimes I don't use it. Floyd has brought out the best in me. I plan on cutting the ring down and there will be a lot more method in the madness; more technique work. You'll see a lot more polished Ricky Hatton.”

We'll see.

Essentials for Malignaggi: Getting off to a fast start, using his quickness and hand speed to get in and out of harm's way. Controlling his emotions. Malignaggi has frequently said he got drawn into a war he couldn't win in his lone loss against Miguel Cotto. He let the moment get the best of him, taking him out of his game plan, which relies on speed and not brawling.

Essentials for Hatton: Exerting his strength and will on Malignaggi, which could depend on whether or not the referee allows him. Hatton's game is power and inside fighting. He'll need to corner Malignaggi and get inside, before Malignaggi can scramble free and use the center of the ring. Hatton has to avoid chasing Malignaggi, which could make it a long, boring night of boxing.

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