Class shows as Hitman whacked

WHEN the end came, his undefeated status removed, Ricky Hatton met his fate with the same wit that had carried him through 14 weeks gruelling weeks of preparation, trash talking and media exposure.

Not only beaten for the first time in his career but knocked out with a series of stunning left hooks from a brilliant Floyd Mayweather in the 10th round of their scheduled 12-round WBC welterweight title fight, Hatton’s first words over the public address system at the MGM Grand Garden Arena were: “What a fluke that were.”

Only a man who knew he was comprehensively beaten by a better boxer and, against expectation, puncher, could have said that, especially with an adoring band of followers that would have allowed him to have lost with very little dignity at all. But such has Hatton conducted himself, not just over the build-up to this showdown but throughout a 44-fight career.

A ready charm and sincere modesty has made the 29-year-old Mancunian a folk hero among his fans, some 20,000 of whom were believed to have descended on Vegas this weekend. Only 4,000 were allocated tickets for the fight but the numbers that made it into the 18,000-capacity arena by the time the first bell sounded appeared to be closer to six figures.

You knew something big had been in the offing. After all, it’s not every day you bump into a legend like Emanuel Steward as he’s buying your morning paper, take a stroll around the corner and see Marco Antonio Barrera posing with fans for pictures and then walk into a press centre and see Bernard Hopkins and Joe Calzaghe throwing insults at each other while Lennox Lewis looks on.

If you still weren’t sure a major event was in the works, there was no mistaking it as that extraordinary morning was played out against a background wall of noise from hundreds of Ricky Hatton fans singing their hearts out in a nearby casino bar at the MGM Grand hotel having partied through the night.

And that was just Friday, before even the weigh-in, which turned out to be an event in itself.

Ring announcer Michael Buffer introduced Tom Jones to sing God Save The Queen although it had already been sung countless times during the week. But the Hatton army let their hero down shortly afterwards by drowning out the singing of the Star Spangled Banner with boos and whistles, an insult to patriotic Americans in their own backyard which lost many of the friends they had gained during a boozy but good-natured week on the Vegas Strip.

By the time Hatton entered the ring to the strains of Blue Moon the good vibes were all positive again and Mayweather added to the intensity by dispensing with his usual ring-walk theatrics and marching straight to his corner without pageantry.

It all contributed to a furious start to the contest, Hatton bursting out of his corner as expected but carelessly being the first to get caught as he walked onto a left hook from Mayweather. It proved to be ominous.

Hatton continued to unsettle the American but you don’t get to be the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet without thinking on your feet and Mayweather quickly adjusted and adapted to the Englishman’s rough and ready come-forward style, denying him the opportunity to deploy his stock-in-trade body shots and meeting fire with fire as he played Hatton at his own game.

It resulted in Hatton’s frustration getting the better of him in the sixth round. Referee Joe Cortez had done little to let the boxers get on with it, frequently breaking them up when others may have been less officious, docked Hatton a point for hitting Mayweather on the back of the head as he bundled the American between the ropes. While there was no disputing the punishment, Cortez was being inconsistent having only warned Mayweather for the same infringement in the second round.

But that was Hatton’s only true complaint and as he trailed on the scorecard and chased a knockout he left himself wide open to Mayweather’s left hook, which sent Manchester’s finest crashing to the canvas for only the second time in his career.

A third visit moments later saw Cortez call it off and when it was all over there was nothing left for Hatton to give but respect, something he got back from Mayweather for the first time in 14 weeks.

“Ricky is one hell of a fighter,” Mayweather said later. “I’ve got the utmost respect for him. I told you it would be a toe-to-toe battle and it was. I knew this kid was going to bring his ‘A’ game because he is tough as nails. I knew I would have to show versatility because he was rough and tough.”

Hatton said: “He used the right tactics and wasn’t scared when we got in close to give me a bit of the rough stuff back. That’s what a good champion is all about. I said it before the fight and it’s still true, he’s the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world today.”

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