- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Junior welterweight champion Ricky Hatton, who has fought exclusively on HBO since signing a contract with the premium cable network in early 2006, has a new American TV home. Well, for at least one fight anyway.
Golden Boy Promotions, which signed free agent Hatton to a promotional agreement two weeks ago, has made a deal with Versus to televise Hatton's next fight May 24 from his hometown of Manchester, England, Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer told ESPN.com on Saturday.
The fight, a previously announced match with El Paso, Texas, native Juan Lazcano (37-4-1, 27 KOs), will be televised live in the afternoon, Schaefer said.
Versus will also air the other title bout on the card, Paulie Malignaggi's second defense of his version of the 140-pound crown in a rematch against Lovemore N'Dou (46-9-1, 31 KOs), the man from whom Malignaggi (24-1, 5 KOs) won his belt last summer.
If Hatton (43-1, 31 KOs) and Malignaggi each win, they are slated to meet in the fall. That bout, Schaefer said, would mark Hatton's return to HBO, which has televised his last four fights, including his 10th-round knockout loss to welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather in December in one of the biggest fights of 2007. Hatton's deal with HBO ended after the Mayweather fight.
HBO passed on Hatton-Lazcano. Besides a packed schedule and budget concerns, it didn't care for the matchup and was not too interested in doing a fight on the typically low viewership Memorial Day weekend.
Showtime passed on the card also. It opted to buy another fight for May 24, the super middleweight showdown between former titlist Mikkel Kessler and big puncher Edison Miranda.
Versus is a relatively new entrant into televised boxing. The former OLN network has had an exclusive deal to televise Top Rank-promoted fights for the past couple of years, but that deal is close to expiring.
Schaefer said he hopes the agreement for the Hatton fight leads to future dates on the network.
"We hope, of course, it will lead to something else, but there are no assurances or guarantees," he said. "But it was important for us to showcase Ricky's fight in the United States and important for fans to be able to see it live. We are really glad that Versus stepped up to the plate. There were other networks interested, including ESPN, including Showtime, but we felt we wanted to do it with Versus. We talked to NBC and ABC, but those would have been time buys. Everything fell into place with Versus. They really wanted the fight and were excited and enthusiastic to have someone like Ricky Hatton on their network. They wanted it the most."
Versus will pay "in the low six-figures" for the rights to the card, said Schaefer, who is headed to London for a press conference on Thursday to talk about the fight with the British press.
The fight should provide viewers with quite a scene. It will take place outside at the City of Manchester Stadium, where Hatton's passionate fans gobbled up 55,000 tickets almost instantly.
Lazcano, who turns 33 on Sunday, hasn't fought since losing a competitive decision to former beltholder Vivian Harris in a title eliminator 13 months ago.
Dan Rafael is ESPN.com's boxing writer.
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