Hatton wants to fight big names

Updated: June 10, 2004, 11:42 AM ET
By Thomas Gerbasi | MaxBoxing.com

With all due respect to Jimmy Cannon:

You're Ricky Hatton, prizefighter. You're unbeaten in 35 fights, and 26 of those opponents didn't hear the final bell. On Saturday night you will step into the ring with Carlos Wilfredo Vilches, a tough guy who has more mileage on him in a fistic sense than his 27 years of age would dictate. You should win the fight, but with your style -- one that puts the fans in front of your safety, that's not always a given.

And the fans appreciate such an attitude. When you duck between the ropes in the MEN Arena in Manchester, 20,000 of your closest friends will be there, cheering you on. The lights will dim, the strains of "Blue Moon" will waft from the speakers, and as you face these people, your people, it would appear to be the equivalent of a fistic revival, with you in the role of the punching preacher.

But it's not enough for you. For you, there is a world outside of Manchester, outside of Europe. It's a world you've seen with gloves on only three times, with little other than an unbeaten record to protect.

You've still got that unbeaten record, but now you want to protect something even more precious -- your reputation. You've heard the whispers. And now you want to silence them.

You're Ricky Hatton, prizefighter. But for too long, you've just been a fighter. Now you want the prize -- prizes that come with heavy price tags. But you're willing to pay every cent you have to get them. And for prizefighters, the currency is blood, sweat, toil, and risk.

You're willing to do whatever it takes.

"I'll fight absolutely anyone," said the 25-year-old Hatton. "My promoter (Frank Warren) knows that and I'm a little bit frustrated as to why the big fights haven't taken place. There's only one thing I can stress to fight fans and that's if the big fights aren't being made, it's not through Ricky Hatton. I've beaten good opponents like Ben Tackie and Vince Phillips; I've beaten Eamonn Magee, who was another good British fighter who was ranked in the top five of the WBC at the time when I boxed him. So I have beat good contenders, but the big names in the division have proven a little bit slippery."

For Hatton (35-0, 26 KOs), the years of building a name and compiling experience are over. He knows that, and Warren knows that. After Saturday's bout with Vilches (41-4-2, 25 KOs), the hunt will be on for a name opponent who will not only keep the ambitious Hatton happy, but who will calm down the critics who have begun to doubt the intentions of Manchester's favorite son.

The current name being floated around for Hatton is former lightweight champion Paul Spadafora, whom Warren has stated will be ringside Saturday. It's the type of bout that can appeal to fans on both sides of the pond, and will also show whether Hatton can handle a slick boxer something that will serve him well if he ever gets in the ring with the likes of Sharmba Mitchell or Floyd Mayweather Jr.

"That's a fantastic fight," said Hatton of the prospect of facing "The New Pittsburgh Kid." "Obviously Paul Spadafora is unbeaten, he has a fantastic record, he's thought of very highly in the States and in world circles, and he's a world-class fighter. Those are the type of people I want to be in with.

"I've shown so much promise in my career so far, but I believe I still haven't found my best form yet because I've not been in there with -- no disrespect to the lads I've faced -- an opponent who has pushed me hard enough to bring the best out of me. In the main, I've been boxing people who I'm expected to beat. It's hard because I think I'm in the stage of my career now where I need the big tests, because if they don't come soon, I think that complacency might set in, and that's something we definitely don't want. I feel that although I've done well in my career so far, I'm a lot better than what I've so far shown."

What Hatton has shown thus far is action, and plenty of it. Coupling a ferocious body attack with a consistently high punch output, "The Hitman" is the UK's version of Arturo Gatti. Unfortunately, to this point, he hasn't found his Micky Ward or Ivan Robinson to push him to greater heights. Instead, his record is dotted with the likes of Dennis Pedersen, Aldo Rios, and Mikhail Krivolapov -- all decent fighters, but not exactly world-class foes knocking on the door of the Top Ten.

Yet every one of those aforementioned fights sold out the MEN Arena in Manchester, making it obvious to all that it doesn't matter who Ricky Hatton fights, just that he fights. He could probably even shadowbox and draw a crowd. It's star power that only an Oscar De La Hoya could rival. Sure, Joe Mesi does great in Buffalo, and Spadafora draws sizeable crowds in and around Pittsburgh, but they don't do a 20,000 fans type of good.

So if you were Frank Warren, why would you even think of risking that type of consistent ticket seller against one of the top names at 140 pounds?

"I think that's the biggest problem," said Hatton. "Because of the amount of tickets that I do sell in Manchester, from a promoter's point of view, it's not good business to box sticks and go somewhere else. At the end of the day, I can box in Manchester against anybody and sell the place out, but for the sake of Ricky Hatton's career, I don't want to retire from boxing and be remembered as just the WBU champion who defended his title in front of 20,000 fans in Manchester every time. I want more belts around my waist, I want to say I've been over to the States, been over to Las Vegas, and beat the top names. That's the stage I'm at now, and I'm hoping that in the next 12 months it's going to happen. If it doesn't happen, I'm going to be bitterly disappointed because I don't want to be remembered as winning one world title and defending it in Manchester. I know I'm one of the best, I want to find out how good I am, and if I am the best."

When Hatton has stepped up his class of opponent, against Phillips and Tackie in 2003, the 25-year-old has performed well, nearly shutting both out over the 12-round distance. Both fights also showed that he's not simply a face-first brawler, but a fighter with some decent all around skills something he's eager to show more of in the future.

"Though what you see is what you get with me, I feel I have underrated boxing ability," said Hatton. "I've got good boxing skills and I showed that against Ben Tackie. It was a performance that people really didn't expect from me because I am a 100-mile-an-hour, body-punching, pressure fighter."

"I feel I've improved, and I got into a bit of a routine where I was knocking all my opponents out, and the majority of them I was knocking out very early, in under four rounds," he continues. "As a novice professional, sometimes you start believing all the hype and you think you're a little bit indestructible. And as I climbed up the rankings and started fighting better opposition, I started realizing that I've got to be a little more cautious and careful."

But let's face it, the fans who will pack Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., next month aren't paying to see Arturo Gatti box, and the ones who will fill the MEN Arena in Manchester are certainly not paying to watch Hatton do his Pernell Whitaker impression. They're coming to see him stick to Carlos Vilches like a bad rash, and keep punching until the Argentinean has had enough. That's a Hatton fight.

"I fight to the opponent, but sometimes I think the way my style is and the way my mentality is, when I know I should be more cautious and box, sometimes I don't, and I can get a little bit funky," He laughs.

Couple that blue-collar work ethic with a down-to-earth attitude, and it's no wonder why the "Hitman" industry is thriving in England. Yet he makes no bones about the fact that he wants to take his show on the road in the next 12 months.

"Back in Manchester, it's quite unbelieveable, to be honest," Hatton said of his local appeal. "I'm very, very popular and I think my popularity in Britain is beyond question now. I box a lot in Manchester, in my hometown, and there are 20,000 people there every time I fight. Even if I travel up and down, whether it be London or Newcastle or wherever I boxed, I think you'd have the same because people get a no-nonsense guy and a no-nonsense fighter that always gives value for money. I'm a very attacking fighter with a huge work rate, and it's what fight fans look to see. ...

"The way my mentality is and the way my style is, I hope to get the same following in the States as I do over in Britain. That's my main goal right now. I don't think I can get any more popular to British fight fans, and hopefully now, the next stage is to get the big fights in the States and against the top American names, and hopefully my fan club can be as big in the States as it is over here. I've been hearing for the last two years that I'm gonna get matched with the big names, and nothing's happened so far, but I'm putting the pressure on my promoter to try to get these big names for me so people will see the best of me and I can set my popularity to another level."

Hatton's already built a sizeable following in the United States, thanks to his numerous appearances on Showtime, as well as his media accessibility, which has brought his story to a worldwide audience. And though he does have the style and personality to become "must see" TV to fight fans on this side of the pond, nothing could ever match the atmosphere at a Hatton fight in the UK, or the devotion shown in England to the quiet kid with the loud fists.

"From a very young age when I started boxing, I had confidence in my boxing ability, and I always believed in myself that I could get to this level," said Hatton. "But having said that, what you dream and hope and believe you could get to, once it happens, it's still very, very strange. You always hope that you would get to this stage, but once it happens, you still have to pinch yourself. The atmosphere when I fight, as you come out to 20,000 people, and walking down the street and everybody knows you and comes running up for your autograph, it's a nice feeling and it makes all the hard work worthwhile. But you do have to pinch yourself sometimes because I still look at myself as no different or no more special than anybody else really. It is very, very strange, but I like that feeling, and having that feeling spurs me on and makes me try even harder. I want to feel that same feeling hopefully when I go over to the States. That will be the next thing on the agenda, the next goal."

Needless to say, everything has changed now for Ricky Hatton, and there's no turning back. He's put down the gauntlet and made it clear to the world that he wants nothing but big fights from now on. And he's not just tossing out challenges to average folks; he's going for the whole ball of wax.

"Obviously Kostya Tszyu is the main guy in the division, he's the super champion of most of the versions, and one of the best, pound-for-pound, in boxing," Hatton said of his personal hit list. "I think he's the one everybody's aiming at. But I would definitely like to fight Arturo Gatti. I think me and Arturo Gatti, you don't need to be a brain surgeon to work out what an exciting fight that would be. And I believe me and Vivian Harris would have a good tear-up. He's a decent puncher and he has another one of the belts, so that's someone I would like to be in there with. And obviously Miguel Cotto, who is being tipped as boxing's next superstar. He's fighting for the WBO title; if he can lift that, even if it's 12 months down the line, that would be the fight that everybody would want."

Unquestionably.

That's Ricky Hatton, prizefighter.