Hatton feeling at home with Mayweather Sr. in his corner

Updated: November 21, 2008

John Gichigi/Getty Images

New and improved: Ricky Hatton is bringing a whole new game plan to the table on Saturday.

Hatton, Mayweather Sr. mesh nicely

LAS VEGAS -- Boxing sure can make for strange bedfellows, can't it? Take, for example, the case of junior welterweight champion Ricky Hatton and his new trainer, Floyd Mayweather Sr.

It was just about a year ago when Hatton was about to challenge his new trainer's son, Floyd Mayweather Jr., for the welterweight title that Mayweather Sr., who is estranged from his son, referred to Hatton as a "human punching bag."

Now, they are nearly inseparable as Hatton prepares for his fight under Mayweather's tutelage when he defends the 140-pound world championship against Paulie Malignaggi -- who vacated a sanctioning organization belt to make the fight -- Saturday night (HBO, 10 ET) at the MGM Grand.

Opening the telecast, a pair of Austin, Texas, middleweights meet as big puncher James Kirkland (23-0, 20 KOs) steps up in class against third-season "Contender" participant Brian Vera (16-1, 10 KOs), who is coming off an upset knockout of heralded middleweight prospect Andy Lee.

Hatton-Malignaggi

Graham Houston, Kieran Mulvaney, Darius Ortiz and Dan Rafael weigh in with predictions for Saturday's Ricky Hatton-Paulie Malignaggi showdown on HBO

Predictions
Hatton will battle his way to a close win by decision. His speed at closing distance and his physical strength on the inside could surprise Malignaggi, whose left hand will score points and win him some rounds but likely won't be enough to win him the fight against a two-handed Hatton. -- Graham Houston, ESPN.com contributor
Malignaggi won't be able to hurt Hatton, but he might be able to move enough that Hatton can't hit him. I am less confident than I was but I'm leaning toward a Malignaggi decision. -- Kieran Mulvaney, ESPN.com contributor
Now is not the time to be a boxer, Ricky! There's only one way to beat Malignaggi, and it's moving forward. Hatton will probably realize this late in the fight, but by then Paulie will have racked up enough points behind his jab to coast to a decision. -- Darius Ortiz, ESPN.com boxing editor
Hatton is tough, but I think he's slowing down a little and it gets harder and harder to take off the weight, especially with how poorly Ricky lives his life between fights by balllooning up in weight. And this one means everything to Malignaggi, who is faster and more skilled. I like Malignaggi on a decision. -- Dan Rafael, ESPN.com boxing writer
Hatton will face Malignaggi in the same ring in which Mayweather Jr. knocked him out in the 10th round, sending him back to junior welterweight to rebound from a rough loss. In May, Hatton (44-1, 31 KOs) did bounce back in front of more than 50,000 fans in his hometown of Manchester, England, outpointing Juan Lazcano while Malignaggi (25-1, 5 KOs) took a decision from Lovemore N'Dou on the undercard to set up the showdown between the No. 1 and No. 2 junior welterweights.

However, Hatton was not sharp against Lazcano. In fact, Hatton hadn't been sharp in several of his recent fights. Trainer Billy Graham took the fall as Hatton fired his longtime cornerman after the Lazcano fight.

"If you watched [HBO's] '24/7' [before the fight with Mayweather Jr.] you could see how bad Billy was struggling with his own injuries," Hatton said. "It's was a simple case that my training was suffering. There was no real method to the madness. Floyd has slowed me down a little, has me using my jab more and I've showed him I have this boxing ability. He's polished my technique."

Graham remains bitter about the breakup, yet for some reason he has flown here to be around the fight, almost in a perverse manner. No longer part of Hatton's team and no longer on speaking terms with his former charge, Graham instead spends his days and nights sitting in the same spot at the lounge near the MGM lobby, sometimes talking with British fans in town for the fight.

Meanwhile, Hatton couldn't be more pleased with Mayweather, whose defense-oriented training style couldn't be more different than the way Graham trained Hatton.

"We got used to each other so quickly," said Hatton, who has designs on next fighting the winner of the Dec. 6 Oscar De La Hoya-Manny Pacquiao fight. "Me and Floyd took to each other like ducks to water. I have this boxing ability that nobody seems to believe I have. Floyd has brought it to the forefront. I've not changed my style, but Floyd has polished it and brought out things lurking in the background.

"He reminded me there are two Ricky Hattons. I have showed good boxing skills before against guys like Ben Tackie and Ray Oliveira. I have it in me, but I forgot it recently."

Mayweather's intention was not to change Hatton's aggressive style. He just wants Hatton to fight smarter. That means taking fewer punches, moving his head more and utilizing his jab.

"I never try to take nothing from Ricky in terms of his style," said Mayweather, who elected to train Hatton rather than remain De La Hoya's trainer. "He should be aggressive, but I want him to be smart. I don't want Ricky to get hit because he's aggressive. That's why you catch punches, slip punches and slide over from punches. You don't have to get beat up because you are aggressive. You can beat the man by making him miss and making him pay. Ricky has been doing that very well.

"It didn't take long. I thought it would be quite difficult, but it wasn't difficult at all. Ricky is a very good student."

Brash New Yorker Malignaggi, 27, isn't buying it. He said Hatton, 30, is not about to change after 11 years as a pro.

"They think he will be this defensive whiz," Malignaggi said. "I think they know he is what he is and he will fight the way he fights. They say everyone has a plan until you get punched in the mouth. Come Saturday night, he'll get punched in the mouth and then we will see about his plan.

"I don't know if he's going to become a defensive fighter. You can teach defensive wizardry, but you need the talent to go with it. You have to be born with that natural defensive radar. Ricky Hatton has no sense of anticipation of what's coming his way. You can teach him all you want, but he doesn't have those instincts."

Darchinyan-Arce?

Last year, one of the hottest fights possible was Vic Darchinyan vs. Jorge Arce, fighters with action styles and big mouths. But their promoters, Gary Shaw and Top Rank, respectively, which don't get along, postured until both guys eventually lost. Darchinyan was knocked out by Nonito Donaire and Cristian Mijares outboxed Arce with ease, killing the fight.

Now, both have revived themselves -- Darchinyan knocked out Mijares to unify three junior bantamweight titles Nov. 1 and Arce has won five in a row and claimed an interim belt -- and the fight is close to being made for Feb. 7 (Showtime) at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., Shaw and Top Rank's Todd duBoef told ESPN.com.

DuBoef plans to meet Friday with Arce co-promoter Fernando Beltran to go over the details of the proposal.

The fighters are interested in facing each other.

Valuev, Ruiz

AP Photo/Israel Leal

Back in the saddle: Jorge Arce wants a fight with Vic Darchinyan.

Arce (51-4-1, 39 KOs), who had been pursuing junior featherweight champ Israel Vazquez, is now two divisions heavier and wants Darchinyan.

"Vazquez had his shot, but he waited too long to make a decision and quite frankly, I think he was scared of the matchup," Arce said. "I can only hope that Darchinyan won't run for the hills like Vazquez did. I really wanted the fight against Vazquez, but this is a business and right now a fight with Darchinyan makes more sense."

Said Darchinyan (31-1-1, 25 KOs): "If Arce thinks he has a snowball's chance in hell of beating me than he's a bigger sucker than those lollipops he chews on. Arce shouldn't be worrying about me running for the hills. He should be worrying about me running him out of boxing. The last real ring test he had was against Cristian Mijares in 2007 and we all know how that ended. It was a murderous unanimous decision victory for Mijares, scored 119-109, 118-110 and 117-111. And everyone saw what I did to Mijares on Nov. 1. Arce is going to be my human piņata."

Underdog Holyfield eyes history

The promotional push for Nikolai Valuev's heavyweight title defense against 46-year-old Evander Holyfield (42-9-2, 27 KOs) on Dec. 20 in Zurich kicked off this week with the fighters appearing together at a news conference.

Valuev, Holyfield

MICHAEL KAPPELER/AFP/Getty Images

Evander Holyfield, left, insists he has enough left in the tank to dethrone Nikolai Valuev.

"I want to make the most of the chance and become world heavyweight champion for the fifth time," said Holyfield, an improbable challenger because of his age and because he lost a lopsided decision to then-titleholder Sultan Ibragimov in his last fight 14 months ago. "I do not just want to win the title but also defend it afterwards. I am still in great shape,"

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Holyfield, who faces a vast size disadvantage against 7-foot, 320-pound Valuev (49-1, 34 KOs), is scheduled to undergo an extensive medical evaluation in Germany.

"I might not have fought in over a year but all those who think that I am not able of competing for the world title any more will be surprised," Holyfield said. "I know what to do inside the ring. I have been boxing for 38 years so I know how to make correct assessments."

Said Valuev: "He is a legend. Despite his age, I take him very seriously. It has always been my wish to fight against him -- I used to follow his bouts closely in the past."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.

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QUICK HITS

Haye

• Golden Boy's Richard Schaefer told ESPN.com he is talking to HBO about putting heavyweight David Haye on in early 2009. Haye, the former cruiserweight champ who moved up and knocked out Monte Barrett in an exciting fight last week, could have his next fight in the U.S., possibly as soon as late January on a Shane Mosley undercard. Golden Boy co-promotes Haye, who is angling toward a summer fight with one of the Klitschko brothers but wants another fight before then. "We'd like to bring David here to get him some exposure," Schaefer said. Two names mentioned as possible opponents: Eddie Chambers and ex-titlist Oleg Maskaev.

Vazquez

• The proposed fourth fight between junior featherweight champ Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez, which Showtime had been eyeing for February, is dead, Marquez promoter Gary Shaw told ESPN.com. Shaw said he and reps for Vazquez promoter Sycuan Ringside Promotions negotiated the fight, which would have paid each fighter a career-high purse of $1 million, but neither side was in a rush to commit. Showtime's Ken Hershman was tired of waiting and finally withdrew his offer Monday, Shaw said. Marquez was unhappy with his purse, Shaw said. Vazquez, according to manager Frank Espinoza, is recovering from a second surgery for a detached retina in his right eye and his timetable to return is up in the air. "I can't tell you when he's going to come back," Espinoza said. "He's had successful surgery and is looking forward to coming back in 2009, but I can't tell you the exact date." After Showtime, which aired all three classic battles and had a right to No. 4, withdrew its offer, Shaw said Hershman gave him permission to shop it to HBO. Shaw met with HBO's Kery Davis Tuesday, but Shaw said Davis was lukewarm about it, at which point the fight died.

Cotto

• Two of Top Rank's biggest stars, middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik and former welterweight titlist Miguel Cotto, are planning their next fights after coming off losses. Top Rank's Bob Arum told ESPN.com he's planning their returns for Feb. 21 in an unusual split-site pay-per-view card. It would feature Cotto, in his first fight since being stopped by Antonio Margarito in July, at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall with the three leading candidates to face him being England's Michael Jennings for the welterweight belt Paul Williams vacated last week, ex-titlist Kermit Cintron or fringe contender Jesus Soto Karass. Following Cotto's match, the action would shift to the Chevy Center in Youngstown, Ohio, where Pavlik, coming off a nontitle light heavyweight loss to Bernard Hopkins in October, would make a hometown mandatory defense against Marco Antonio Rubio. Arum said HBO and Showtime passed on the doubleheader, which is why he's planning a PPV. "They have the right to turn down any fight they want and I have the right to do any fight I want," Arum said. A Cotto victory would likely propel him into a summer rematch with Margarito.

Angulo

• Promoters Gary Shaw and Don King are close to finalizing a Feb. 14 doubleheader on which rising junior middleweight contender Alfredo Angulo will face ex-titlist Ricardo Mayorga in a battle of brawlers, Shaw told ESPN.com. Shaw said he and King have made a deal on the money but King was still going over some details with HBO. "Angulo's Valentine's Day gift for Mayorga will be a kiss goodbye out of boxing," Shaw said. The other bout would be unified lightweight titlist Nate Campbell defending against South African mandatory challenger Ali Funeka, who recently signed with Shaw. King and Campbell have to work things out between them. Funeka is not known in the U.S., but he turned in a devastating fourth-round knockout performance against Zahir Raheem in July to earn the title shot.

Abraham

• A unification match between middleweight titleholders Felix Sturm and Arthur Abraham, both from Germany, would be a huge event in their country, but they fight for rival promoters, which has made putting the fight together nearly impossible despite sporadic talks in recent years. On Thursday, Sauerland Event, which promotes Abraham, said it offered Sturm, who is promoted by Universum, $2.5 million Euros ($3.1 million U.S.) for the fight. Abraham said it's not a PR gimmick. "The offer is on the table," Abraham said. "It was officially submitted in writing by our managing director [Chris Meyer]. This is as serious as it gets."

Gamboa

• Rising featherweight contender Yuriorkis Gamboa (12-0, 10 KOs), the 2004 Cuban Olympic gold medalist who is one bout away from fighting for a title, will headline the season premier of ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" on Jan. 9 against an opponent to be named in Primm, Nev., promoter Arena-Box announced. In the co-feature, heavyweight Odlanier Solis (12-0, 8 KOs), also a 2004 Cuban Olympic gold medalist, will make his U.S. debut after having previous visa issues. If Gamboa wins, he'll next face Elio Rojas for an interim belt while titleholder Oscar Larios recovers from cuts.

Mijares

• In the wake of a one-sided ninth-round knockout loss to Vic Darchinyan Nov. 1, former unified junior bantamweight titlist Cristian Mijares plans to move up to bantamweight. Co-promoter Lou DiBella told ESPN.com that talks are under way to match Mijares with titleholder Anselmo Moreno of Panama in Mexico sometime between February and April. The bout would be televised as a small pay-per-view in the U.S.

Quartey

• Former welterweight titlist Ike Quartey of Ghana, scheduled to end a two-year layoff Dec. 5 in South Africa, has withdrawn from the junior middleweight bout, Quartey promoter DiBella told ESPN.com. DiBella said he pulled out for personal reasons but he intends to fight in early 2009. Quartey, who has had several long layoffs, hasn't fought since losing a decision to Winky Wright at middleweight in December 2006.

Lopez

• Top Rank finalized junior featherweight titlist Juan Manuel Lopez's second defense. Puerto Rico's Lopez (23-0, 21 KOs) faces Argentina's Sergio Medina (33-1, 18 KOs) on the Oscar De La Hoya-Manny Pacquiao undercard Dec. 6 (HBO PPV) in Las Vegas. Medina's lone defeat came via decision in May 2007 on the Floyd Mayweather-De La Hoya undercard.

Guerrero

• Golden Boy has the remaining television slot for the De La Hoya-Pacquiao PPV card and it could go to ex-featherweight titlist Robert Guerrero (22-1-1, 15 KOs), who is moving up to junior lightweight. Although Guerrero is training, he hasn't been added to the card yet because he and manager Shelly Finkel are awaiting a ruling from an arbitrator in California. Guerrero, 25, is in arbitration with promoter Dan Goossen in an attempt to break their contract. If the decision goes Guerrero's way, Golden Boy plans to put him on. He hasn't fought since February, when he scored a spectacular eight-round knockout of Jason Litzau and then vacated his title.

Solis

• Featherweights Jorge Solis and Monte Meza-Clay will meet in a title eliminator to determined the mandatory challenger for Cristobal Cruz. Top Rank, Solis' promoter, won Tuesday's IBF purse bid for $52,500 to gain control of the fight. The boxers are entitled to 50 percent of the bid. Top Rank has 90 days to put it on. The only other bidder was Meza-Clay co-promoter DiBella Entertainment, which bid $48,500.

QUOTABLE

Roach

"Oscar stated in his media conference call that training to fight Manny has put the fire back in his belly. If he thinks he has a fire in his belly now, wait until Manny starts landing right and left hooks there. Oscar's belly will be a raging inferno. I have never seen Manny look better. He is as close to a complete fighter as he has ever been. His speed, footwork and stamina are supreme. But it's his power that has surpassed anything I could have hoped for." -- Freddie Roach, who trains Manny Pacquiao, on recent comments by Oscar De La Hoya, Roach's former fighter and Pacquiao's opponent Dec. 6.