- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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Isn't timing supposed to be everything? Try telling that to junior welterweight champion Kostya Tszyu and British sensation Ricky Hatton, the mandatory challenger.
Tszyu and Hatton are set to meet Saturday night (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET/PT) well, actually Sunday morning where they'll be fighting in a long-awaited showdown that kicks off a month-long feast of high-level action in the loaded 140-pound division.
Tszyu, the Russian-born, Australian hero, will defend the title in Manchester, England, Hatton's hometown, where the MEN Arena's 22,000 seats sold out in about two hours. Not bad for a fight that will take place at 2 a.m. Manchester time.
They'll meet in the wee hours of Sunday morning in order to satisfy Showtime, which paid millions of dollars in rights fees for the fight and wanted to air the bout live in the United States, at least on the East Coast.
The fighters have managed their training schedules differently to account for the unusual start time.
During the final few weeks of training, Hatton (38-0, 28 KOs) has shifted the time he does his road work to 2 a.m. to make sure he is ready.
"To be honest, the first three or four days were a little bit awkward and tiring until my body got into the swing of things," Hatton, 26, said. "This is my second week now and it just feels like second nature. This week I will go in and do a couple of gym sessions because working out at 2 the morning is very different, doing sparring and pad work. Obviously, your brain needs to be taking over to do the pad work where with road work, to a certain degree, you can just basically get your head down and get on with it."
This is not the first time an American network has dictated such an unnatural start time. One of the most recent examples was in 2001, when Hasim Rahman won the heavyweight title against Lennox Lewis in South Africa. That bout began at 5 a.m. South African time in order to accommodate a live HBO broadcast in the United States.
Tszyu (31-1, 25 KOs), a veteran professional with the steely demeanor of an assassin, dismissed the start time as an issue.
"It does not matter what time it starts because if you are 100 percent ready, if you are a professional, you have to be ready to fight any time, and that is what I am doing," said Tszyu, 35, a future Hall of Famer who is participating in his 17th world title bout. "I am fighting at 2 in the morning in a different country, in the backyard of Ricky Hatton, and I am very confident of my ability to do the job."
So confident is Tszyu that he didn't make any major changes like Hatton did.
"I decided not to adjust anything," Tszyu said. "I am very comfortable with what I am doing. I had lots of discussions with scientists for advice. One bit of advice I have got is if I am 100 percent ready and prepare really hard and am in good condition, I do not need to change anything really because when it comes to the day of the fight, you are going to be ready.
"If you train at 2 in the morning every single day, it is like a night shift. You are going to get tired eventually. Doing it only once, I won't have a problem. I decided to live and train normally and be ready only once [at 2 a.m.]."
Tszyu-Hatton is the first significant junior welterweight bout in a month filled with them. All of the division's top stars are in action during the month.
After Tszyu-Hatton, rising star Miguel Cotto defends his belt against Olympic rival Muhamad Abdullaev on June 11. On June 25, Arturo Gatti defends his title against Floyd Mayweather in one of the summer's biggest fights. Vivian Harris, another of the 140-pound belt holders, defends on the Gatti-Mayweather undercard.
Ultimately, the Tszyu-Hatton fight could be the best of the group given their aggressive styles. Hatton, in his first fight against a serious opponent, is especially aggressive, relying on a punishing body attack.
Whatever punches Hatton throws, the Manchester faithful will adore him. The hometown crowd figures to give him a boost.
"I think it could be an advantage, but only a very slight one," Hatton said. "I think Kostya Tszyu is so effective that if anybody can deal with going into somebody's backyard in a hostile atmosphere, I think he can. My crowd is a little bit different. I have been to fights in the States and the atmosphere is definitely different. The atmosphere at a Ricky Hatton fight tends to be more what you would relate to as a soccer match. It can be very vocal, very loud and very passionate. So it may give me an advantage because I think no matter how experienced you are, I think you have to be a very tough man for it not to affect you."
Hatton respects Tszyu for coming to his hometown when he didn't have to visit.
"That is why he is No. 1 in the division and pound-for-pound is one of the best," he said. "He is coming over to Manchester and fighting at 2 in the morning and he has not batted an eyelid. Of course, he is getting very well paid for it but this just shows why he is the champion that he is."
Tszyu, who once defeated Julio Cesar Chavez in Phoenix in front of 15,000 vocal Mexican fans, is undaunted about fighting in front of Hatton's crowd.
"First, [Hatton] is the No. 1 contender for my title. Secondly, he is a great physical and mental challenge. Sooner or later, I would have to defend the title against him anyway and the circumstances came that I had to fight here in England," said Tszyu, who returned from a 22-month injury layoff in November to blow away Sharmba Mitchell in three rounds in their rematch.
"Because I do love great challenges for myself all the time, I am excited to come here to England and show my skills to all the English and European people. So I decided that this fight was good for me."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
Ricky Hatton has adjusted his training schedule to account for the 2 a.m. start time in his title bout with champion Kostya Tszyu on Saturday. His opponent has not.