Lee Groves

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

May 13, 2006 – Ricky Hatton W 12 Luis Collazo, TD Banknorth Garden, Boston, Massachusetts

In the 11 months since his landmark triumph over Kostya Tszyu, “The Hitman’s” star status was poised to explode far beyond the shores of his beloved England. His immensely exciting twin wins over Tszyu and Carlos Maussa not only made him a two-belt 140-pound champion, it earned him THE RING’s 2005 “Fighter of the Year” award, a top-five spot in the pound-for-pound rankings and the opportunity to make a big splash on American shores. His violent fighting style moved HBO’s Larry Merchant to declare him the British equivalent of Julio Cesar Chavez and like “J.C. Superstar,” his ambitions included titles in multiple weight classes. That’s where Luis Collazo, viewed as “the other guy” despite being the defending WBA welterweight champion, came into the picture.

Collazo was perfectly content playing the party of the second part because he had already succeeded in spoiling the best laid plans of others. Fourteen months earlier, Collazo confidently walked into Jose Antonio Rivera’s hometown of Worchester, Mass. and walked out with his WBA title belt after waging one of the most thrilling 147-pound title bouts of the new century. He followed that victory with a clinically impressive seventh round corner retirement over former 135-pound titlist Miguel Angel Gonzalez. Not only did Collazo enter the Hatton fight with a winner’s mindset – he was riding a 12-fight undefeated streak following his only loss to Edwin Cassiani four years earlier – insiders believed his southpaw stance, his slick boxing ways, his unshakable self-confidence and his height and reach advantages would add up to an exceedingly difficult night for Hatton, and perhaps a losing one.

It sure didn’t look that way 10 seconds into the fight when Hatton’s first landed punch, a compact hook from a semi-lefty stance, put a shocked Collazo on his back. After Collazo arose at three, “The Hitman” sought to complete the job by hammering the champion’s body with scything hooks that landed with seeming ease. Collazo intelligently weathered the surge by allowing Hatton to barrel in, then clamping on well-timed clinches that ran off several valuable seconds every time he did it. Soon, Collazo’s head had cleared enough to engage Hatton in bruising, grueling in-fighting , a suicidal strategy for most but an effective one for the surprisingly strong Brooklynite. At the bell, a defiant Collazo disdainfully shoved Hatton toward his corner, satisfied that he had made his point: I am no one’s stepping stone. If you’re going to stop me, you’ll have to stomp me.

Hatton was just fine with that, for he began the second by bulling Collazo to the ropes and whacking him with body shots and piercing right uppercuts that brought blood from the champion’s mouth. From time to time, however, Collazo managed to strike Hatton with short right hooks and nifty flurries that not only stopped his progress but forced him to concede bits of territory. Those sharp blows reddened the area around both of Hatton’s eyes, whose scar tissue had been surgically scaled down to lessen the risk of cuts. A massive right near the end of the second nearly dropped Collazo a second time but the champ regained his balance and laid claim to his first round of the bout.

Hatton increased the pressure in the third and occasionally his efforts straddled the lines of legality. An accidental butt opened a vertical gash on Collazo’s shaven skull and after a brief exam by the ringside physician, the fight was allowed to continue. Collazo gave as good as he got in every way and the result was a hectic, frantic and fascinating war of skills and wills.

The pair savagely pounded one another at ring center through the fourth round and the TD Banknorth crowd “oohed” and “aahed” with every exchange. Hatton wore a concerned expression between rounds four and five as the realization set in that this champion would not fold so easily. Fortunately for him, his extreme conditioning methods properly prepared his body for that task.

The draining, high intensity action continued in the fifth through seventh and Collazo frequently landed sizzling combinations that regularly cut through Hatton’s guard. Hatton responded with his customary full-frontal force and thudding, meaty blows but one had the sense that Collazo had created a solid foothold in terms of strategy and the judges’ math.

The pulsating action continued in the eighth and both men got in their licks – Hatton with hooks and Collazo with well-timed lefts, one of which landed with full force but failed to crack the Brit’s beard. His eyes, however, weren’t quite as resilient. The right orb sported a knot underneath while the left one was bruised and closing with alarming speed. Despite his growing troubles, Hatton continued to throw and land more and thus he regained a bit of breathing room on the scorecards.

Collazo picked up the pace in the 10th but a powerful right late in the round might have shaded the session for Hatton. The challenger performed even better in the 11th as his indefatigable aggression forced Collazo to focus far more on holding him off than producing adequate counters. Hatton’s late surge seemingly set the stage for a hard-fought decision victory but the champion apparently had one last trump card in his educated hands.

As Hatton dove inside, Collazo nailed him with a chopping left to the temple that scrambled Hatton’s wires and caused him to drop to the canvas. Referee John Zablocki correctly called the fall a slip but the stage was set for what happened next.

With a little less than a minute gone in the round, a snappy six-punch combination that included a vicious right hook and left uppercut left Hatton badly wobbled. Two more left crosses smashed in with full force and suddenly Hatton’s impending coronation was in severe jeopardy. The quintessential predator was now Collazo’s prey but Hatton intelligently put his pride aside and slapped on a series of clock-melting clinches that helped him regain a semblance of his leg strength. Once again, Hatton’s immense conditioning benefited him, for he was able to summon a well-timed hook strong enough to stall Collazo’s advance. When the final bell sounded, it was clear the New Yorker had won the final battle but was it enough to win the war?

It wasn’t. The Massachusetts judging panel of Don O’Neill (115-112), Paul Driscoll (115-112) and Leo Gerstel (114-113) awarded Hatton a close but deserved unanimous decision that not only gave him a major title in a second weight class but a vital boost to his burgeoning brand.

“I think I was under pressure because I beat Kostya Tszyu and I beat Carlos Maussa,” Hatton told HBO’s Merchant. “I moved up to welterweight and my first fight at welterweight was against a world champion. Not even Floyd Mayweather did that. I think that shows you what I’m all about.”

Indeed it did.

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