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Hatton wants to fight big names

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.