Lee Groves

Ten notable U.S. vs. U.K. welterweight title fights

December 8, 2007 – Floyd Mayweather Jr., TKO 10 Ricky Hatton, MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada

Following the Collazo victory, Hatton returned to 140 and decisioned Juan Urango to pick up the IBF strap, then crushed Jose Luis Castillo in four rounds. Following the Castillo victory, Hatton used the post-fight interview to lob a verbal bomb at boxing’s current occupant of Mount Olympus, Floyd Mayweather Jr.

“I think you saw more action in these four rounds than you sure have value for money in Floyd’s whole career and I’ll just leave it at that.” The boisterous crowd cheered Hatton’s brazen declaration but one particularly interested party wasn’t so enthralled.

“When Hatton made the comments he made on HBO,” said Mayweather adviser Leonard Ellerbe, “Floyd looked at me and said, ‘Make the f*cking fight happen.’”

Tickets for the fight sold out the MGM Grand in less than 60 minutes – and why not? Between them, they had climbed into the ring 81 times and 81 times, they exited a winner. Both of them were firmly ensconced in the top reaches of the pound-for-pound lists and were the ultimate exponents of their respective styles. No active fighter practiced scientific boxing better than Mayweather while Hatton was the sport’s model of animalistic brutishness. Adding to the intrigue was this: Hatton’s physical style closely mirrored that of Castillo, who, in their first of two fights, landed the most punches of any Mayweather opponent to date and, in many eyes, did more than enough to keep his WBC lightweight title.

Their diametrically opposing approaches were only one part of the fight’s appeal. Hatton inspired such enormous passion in Europe that thousands of his countrymen flew across the pond to vociferously express their love and support for their man. His back-to-back-to-back U.S. performances against Collazo, Urango and Castillo created plenty of American backers too, especially after witnessing “The Hitman’s” one-punch body shot knockout of “El Temible.” Though his U.S. support wasn’t nearly as intense as that of their British counterparts, American fans generally liked Hatton’s humble, regular-guy identity and his hearty, blue-collar style inside the ropes.

Mayweather, on the other hand, smartly capitalized on the platform given to him by Oscar De La Hoya to create the “Money” persona – a flashy, charismatic character who showered himself in opulence away from the ring but was also all-business in training as well as within the squared circle. Although the “Golden Boy’s” presence guaranteed massive profits, Mayweather’s masterfully executed villain turn helped create an all-time record 2.44 million pay-per-view buys. Although Mayweather’s victory came by split decision, the spoils were profound – a spot on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” (co-stars Wayne Newton, Mark Cuban and Helio Castroneves were among those who took part in Mayweather’s ring walk), a second mega-PPV build-up (and paycheck) and a first chance to shine as the A-side.

The contrast in styles and personalities made the lead-up a compelling one. Through HBO’s “24/7” series, the combatants traded stinging verbal barbs and their salesmanship resulted in an electrically-charged full house at the MGM and 850,000 pay-per-view buys in the U.S.

The opening round saw both men implementing their blueprints as Mayweather backpedaled and counterpunched with short hooks to the jaw while Hatton sought to bully the champion at every opportunity. The thunderous singing of Hatton’s fans was broken only by their ear-splitting cheers whenever their hero did well, such as when a cuffing hook to the neck sent an off-balance Mayweather stumbling toward the ropes midway through the opening round. Hatton did his fair share of damage for the remainder of the round as his quicker-than-expected hands found Mayweather’s head and body from time to time, prompting HBO’s “unofficial official” Harold Lederman to score the round for Hatton.

Hatton scored heavily with a hook along the ropes early in round two but Mayweather clinched, spun away and resumed his success with lightning-quick right leads to the face that nailed the onrushing “Hitman” with outstanding frequency. Referee Joe Cortez stopped the action multiple times and issued mini-lectures regarding Hatton’s wrestling tactics as well as Mayweather’s constant clinching. Mayweather’s sharpshooting raised a swelling under Hatton’s right eye while the Briton’s head created the slightest of abrasions on Mayweather’s cheekbone.

Hatton began the third by landing a shotgun jab flush on Mayweather’s face but then the fight devolved into a two-sided, foul-laden grapple-fest that lacked free-flowing action. Mayweather cinched the round after stunning Hatton with a needle-sharp right lead that opened a small cut over Hatton’s right eye. After the round ended, cutman Mick Williamson, a London taxi driver who Hatton declared to be “the only man who can close my cuts,” went to work.

The start of round four saw Hatton successfully trap Mayweather in the corner and land several cuffing blows while the champion pelted him with quick-fisted counters whenever space allowed him. Even at ring center, Mayweather opted to battle Hatton in the trenches, mostly because he now was finding the mark with his comet-like blows. A right-left-right struck Hatton in the final minute and reopened the eye cut, which to that point, had held up well.

The fifth was a quintessential Hatton round as he continually roughed up Mayweather with arms, shoulders and short, clubbing punches throughout the three minutes. Cortez, while still delivering constant verbal cautions, allowed the action to flow more naturally. At round’s end, a frustrated Mayweather pressed his head against Hatton’s face, jammed his left elbow into the opponent’s chin and pushed his left forearm into the challenger’s throat, all of which drew a stern warning from Cortez between rounds.

The roughhousing continued in the sixth but this time, Hatton was the perpetrator – and he ended up paying a bigger price than his opponent. After landing a good combination in close, Hatton turned Mayweather and as Mayweather was turning away, he struck him with a rabbit punch. The blatantly illegal move prompted Cortez to issue a point penalty and at that, an exasperated Hatton turned his back and bent over at the waist to illustrate that it was Mayweather who caused the punch to land where it did. The Hatton partisans registered their discontent by chanting, “What a piece of rubbish!”

Though Hatton’s mathematical momentum was stemmed, his strategic success continued in the seventh as he pinned Mayweather to the ropes and forced the champion to fight him on his terms. That said, while Mayweather threw fewer punches, he landed his at a far higher rate.

The eighth saw Mayweather continue to fight on the inside but this time, he was the man bullying Hatton. He blasted right hands to the head and body and his jabs to the belly widened the area Hatton had to defend. Hatton showed signs of duress for the first time in the fight and Mayweather drew strength from Hatton’s weakness.

Late in the round, Mayweather produced some foreshadowing as he backed toward the corner post to draw Hatton in, then popped him with a left hook coming in. That blow precipitated a massive attack that had Hatton in severe trouble. The chanting that reverberated throughout the arena stopped as it became clear that Mayweather had assumed total control.

Those chants returned in the ninth, this time intended to breathe new life into their struggling hero. Hatton tried his best but it was evident his gas tank was less than optimal. Two full-leverage jabs violently snapped back Hatton’s head and a pinpoint right in the final seconds cemented Mayweather’s second consecutive dominant round. After many rounds of struggle, the momentum was now clearly Mayweather’s. The question now was how he would build upon it.

That answer came exactly 61 seconds into the 10th when he executed the same move that proved so successful in the eighth. Mayweather voluntarily backed toward the corner post and, knowing Hatton would follow him in a straight line, he pivoted ever-so-slightly and nailed the challenger with a dynamite hook that left Hatton flat on his back. Up at eight, Hatton was still profoundly shaken and he did his best to burn off the clock by clinching. But those clinches weren’t nearly strong enough to hold off the fiery-eyed Mayweather, who went all out for the kill. A pair of hooks drove Hatton toward the ropes and a short right to the chin produced a delayed reaction knockdown that wasn’t completed until after Cortez had already stopped the fight.

For Mayweather, it was a sensational end to a difficult night at the office, though the official scorecards had him well ahead (89-81 twice, 88-82). With the victory securely in hand, Mayweather approached Hatton’s corner, dropped the “Money” facade and issued heartfelt and positive words to his vanquished rival. He repeated those sentiments during the post-fight interview with HBO’s Larry Merchant.

“Ricky Hatton is one tough fighter; he’s still a champion in my eyes and I’d love to see him fight again,” he said. “Ricky Hatton is probably one of the toughest competitors that I’ve ever faced. He kept coming and I hit him with some big shots, some big body shots, but he kept coming. I see why they call him ‘The Hitman.’ He’s one hell of a fighter.”

“What a fluke that was,” Hatton said jokingly. “I think I was forcing it but he’s very good at making you miss and slipping and sliding. I thought I was in the fight but he had a good round and he was better inside than I thought. He could use his forehands to make room for the shots and he got me. I didn’t quite stick to the game plan; I think I was a little bit too gung ho, so to speak. I think I could have been a little bit more subtle in my approach but he felt big and strong. I don’t think he’s the biggest welterweight I’ve seen but I felt the difference. He’s more natural at the weight than me and I think it showed at times. He was more clever inside than I expected but it’s not a tickling contest; is it? You knock me down; I keep getting up and I keep coming back. Ricky Hatton’s not finished.”

Neither are Shawn Porter or Kell Brook; in fact, their stories are only beginning. Barring a draw or no-contest, Saturday’s fight will act to separate the potentially great from the merely good. Whether their bout will be worthy of a future list is, quite literally, in their hands.

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Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, W.Va. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won 12 writing awards, including nine in the last four years and two first-place awards since 2011. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales From the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics. To order, please visit Amazon.com or email the author at l.groves@frontier.com to arrange for autographed copies.

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