HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – Matthew Hatton was in a very unusual position on Wednesday afternoon, surrounded by eager reporters who fired off question after question about his fight against Saul Alvarez on Saturday in Anaheim, Calif.
That had always been his brother’s territory, the center of attention in the days leading up to a big fight. Now, with Ricky Hatton apparently finished as a fighter, it’s Matthew’s turn to enjoy the spotlight.
And he’s earned it.
The younger Hatton, who had a limited amateur background, has had to learn the fundamentals of boxing as a professional while constantly being compared to his more-famous and profoundly popular older brother.
Things didn’t go well for Hatton (41-4-2, 16 knockouts) in the beginning. He consistently beat mediocre opponents — with a few exceptions — but never looked as if he’d amount to much. Few in the UK believed he could even win a regional title.
“I didn’t really receive a lot of credit early in my career,” Hatton said in a small dressing room at the Wild Card Boxing Club. “My performances, to be honest, didn’t merit it. I wasn’t performing to the best of my ability. I was underperforming. I’d be the first to admit I was an average fighter but I knew I was capable of so much more.
“… I wouldn’t have dreamed of saying, ‘Oh, I still believe I would be a world champion,’ because some people would’ve thought I was absolutely insane. … But I got better and better. And I think my improvement over the past two years has been massive.”
Of course, Hatton improved in part because he gained experience fight by fight. However, he’ll tell you the biggest difference in his career was leaving his original trainer – Billy Graham, who also worked with Ricky – and ultimately finding current mentor Bob Shannon.
Hatton said Graham didn’t have enough time to invest in him – “I was training myself, to be honest,” he said – and left him after he lost to Craig Watson for the British Commonwealth welterweight title in 2008.
Hatton is 8-0-1 since that setback, having evolved from a rather simple pressure fighter into a more well-rounded boxer.
“I should’ve left Billy Graham’s gym sooner than I did,” he said. “… Bob Shannon is putting in the time with me, really working with me. That’s been the main reason for the improvement, really.”
Hatton made an important statement when he outpointed Gianluca Branco in March of last year to win the European welterweight title, which he has successfully defended twice. He is proud to have won it.
He wasn’t satisfied with that accomplishment, though. When he received an offer to face a high-profile opponent like Alvarez on national television in the U.S. – even though he didn’t know at the time it would be for a major title – he didn’t hesitate to accept it.
The fact he’ll fighting for the WBC 154-pound belt (at a catch weight of 150) is a bonus.
“I just like a challenge, really,” he said. “A lot of fighters say I want to fight him and him and him. When push comes to shove and the opportunity is handed to them, though, in reality they don’t want it. … I never ducked anyone in my life, never turned down an opportunity, and what a fantastic opportunity this is.
“I didn’t think about it for a second. I wanted it straight away.”
Hatton knows that he goes into the fight Saturday as an underdog, just another stepping stone on Alvarez’s ascension to stardom.
He’s not fazed. He has grown confident of his own ability, having gained the skills and experience it takes to succeed. And while he respects Alvarez, he sees a 20-year-old kid who is biting off more than he can chew.
“He’s a fantastic prospect,” Hatton said. “… I 100 percent genuinely believe that at this point in history, though, this point in my career, I’m the better fighter and will win this fight. He could go on to achieve great things. I’m sure he will. But he’s a young man at 20. He still has a lot of improving to do. I think I have a lot of improving to do, too, but I’m physically and mentally coming to my peak now.
“I’m on a roll at the moment. This comes at a perfect time for me.”