Ricky Hatton will fly home to consider his fighting future this week after falling short in his quest to wrest the WBC welterweight title from Floyd Mayweather.
Hatton’s challenge came to a crushing end in the 10th round when Mayweather knocked him to the canvas twice with jolting left hooks and prompted referee Joe Cortez to wave the contest off.
The Manchester ’Hit Man’ had been simply outclassed by the masterful Mayweather, winning perhaps two rounds at best before the champion summoned the power to force an early ending.
Hatton, who yesterday finished third in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards, said: “I’ll go away and have a few months off to have a proper think about it, but don’t forget I moved up to welterweight to fight the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
“It wasn’t my night but I feel like I’m still improving. The knockout didn’t feel as bad as I thought it would and I feel like I’ve been in a lot more gruelling fights which I’ve won.”
Hatton did enough to suggest he has a great future back down at 140lbs, where he still reigns as the world number one and has a number of prospective big fights to consider.
Chief among his list of potential opponents is his British rival Junior Witter, while there is still rather ambitious talk of a Wembley clash against Oscar De La Hoya in May next year.
De La Hoya said: “The reason why it would be viable is because of his style. It would be a clash of the titans.
“Obviously you can’t rule anything out. All options are open but first we will absorb what happened here.”
Hatton’s trainer Billy Graham has often advocated an early retirement for his man, who earned an estimated £10m (€13.9m) for this fight.
But after his performance against Mayweather, Graham had other ideas.
Graham said: “Ricky still has a future down at light-welterweight if he wants one. He’s still the best in world because that’s his natural weight. I’m not going to be a sore loser. Floyd did what he had to do to win.”
Hatton’s camp admitted their frustration with Cortez, who docked a point from Hatton in round six whilst ignoring a number of infringements by Mayweather, who often met the challenger’s advances with his forearm.
But the mere fact that Mayweather was able to adapt and beat Hatton at his own rough game spoke volumes for the quality of the man from Grand Rapids who will surely go down in history now as one of the all-time greats.
“Ricky is one hell of a fighter,” Mayweather said afterwards. “I’ve got nothing but 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 kept thinking: 'Damn, he isn’t going anywhere yet. Damn, he’s still coming.' I knew I would have to show versatility because he was rough and tough.”
Hatton claimed the point deduction worked against him. He had possibly shaded the first and fifth rounds of a frantic but careless contest and admitted he felt the need to open up when Cortez forced him further behind.
That decision only made him more vulnerable to Mayweather’s unerringly accurate shots, and it was a minor miracle that Hatton stayed on his feet when his head was jolted back in the seventh from two right hands.
Mayweather pounced three rounds later as Hatton’s resistance finally crumbled. The first left sent the Mancunian reeling to the canvas via the corner post, and the second, moments later, flat on his back.
“I’ll be back,” insisted a defiant Hatton afterwards. Then, with a flash of the type of down-to-earth humour which has endeared himself to Stateside fight fans, he added with a painful grin: “I was doing all right until I slipped.”