Hungry Hatton out to prove naysayers wrong against Lazcano

A red-eyed Ricky Hatton staggered into the room after a night on the town.

Quietly, he sat down in a small conference room adjacent to the MGM Grand Garden Arena, his features and demeanor betraying the raw emotion of genuine grief as he faced the full gathering of British media.

His words were drawn out but he spoke with a heartfelt passion.

"I'll be damned if Ricky Hatton is going to finish [fighting] after getting knocked out for the first time in his life by someone," Hatton said. "No chance. You all know me and you know that I'd rather die than finish on a loss, lying flat on my back. Now could you please switch off the camera before I start crying?"

That was then, the day after his defeat on Dec. 8 against Floyd Mayweather in Las Vegas. Five months later, as Hatton prepares to put his world junior welterweight title on the line against Juan Lazcano in front of up to 55,000 people at the City of Manchester Stadium, the message remains impassioned and defiant.

In the old, converted hat factory that is the Betta Bodies Gym in Denton, England, which also houses a gym full of Manchester's most fanatical bodybuilders, Hatton reiterated last week just how much it will mean to him to be able to bounce back from the first loss of his career.

"How many fighters and men, the minute they have a few problems, just roll over and die?" he asked. "That's what greatness in a fighter is, coming back and overcoming obstacles when your back is against the wall and everyone is expecting you to go down, but instead you come back stronger.

"Financially, I don't need to carry on now because I've done all right [on the Mayweather fight alone, Hatton's purse was close to $40 million]. But what is all the money in the world, if you have a reputation that says the minute you got beat, that was you done?"

Citing the example of Naseem Hamed, who lost his unbeaten record against Marco Antonio Barrera in 2001 in Las Vegas and boxed only once afterwards against low-profile Spaniard Manuel Calvo, Hatton insisted that he is interested only in securing his redemption.

"Naz had a superb career, lost one fight and he never recovered from it. He disappeared off the face of the earth," Hatton said. "Rightly or wrongly, it tarnished his legacy and I don't want that to happen to me."

Ironically, Hamed's nemesis may be at ringside on Saturday, for Hatton and Barrera are firm friends.

Hamed's downfall is the perfect cautionary tale.

The former world featherweight champion's career had begun to unravel even before he left the company of his old trainer and manager, Brendan Ingle. He trained when he wanted to, he listened to no one and he became lost in his own hubris.

In each subsequent fight after his split from Ingle, there was marked decline in his level of performance. Paul Ingle [no relation to Brendan] brought him to the edge of exhaustion and a possible stoppage defeat before he pulled out victory with a pulverizing left hook in the penultimate round.

Hamed's fight against Cesar Soto was like something from WWE.

Vuyani Bungu, nicknamed The Beast, was little more than sacrificial lamb and Augie Sanchez knocked Hamed down and demonstrated blatantly that the Prince was a fading force whose salvation was his prodigious power, freakish for a featherweight.

Hatton has his own weaknesses, of course. By his own admission, his life resembles that of a monk about as closely as Idi Amin, the self-proclaimed former heavyweight champion of Uganda, came to be recognized as his people's "Great Emancipator."
When a British tabloid newspaper followed Hatton to Tenerife, Spain, in the wake of his knockout by Mayweather, the reporter detailed a "titanic booze bout" lasting four days when, allegedly, "Ricky sank 57 pints, 17 vodka and Red Bulls, four vodkas, three whiskey chasers, and a bottle of Moet champagne." Remarkably, Hatton remained standing.

His relationship with trainer Billy Graham became the subject of scrutiny when the same newspaper suggested that they were about to end their partnership. But Graham is still in Hatton's corner, an indication perhaps that Hatton will not suffer a similar sudden downfall as Hamed.

Lazcano, a lightweight for most of his career and a failed challenger for the vacant WBC 135-pound belt against Jose Luis Castillo in 2004, has boxed at junior welterweight for the past three years.

In his most recent bout 15 months ago, Lazcano lost by a close but unanimous points decision to Vivian Harris, who went on to lose to Junior Witter.

Witter's defeat by Timothy Bradley two weeks ago indicates that form favors Hatton, who has never been beaten at junior welterweight.

But Freddie Roach, Lazcano's former trainer, is convinced that the "Hispanic Causing Panic" can at least cause Hatton problems.

"Juan always makes the fight tough for the other guy," Roach said. "Certainly, it will be no walkover for Hatton."

But he will want to appear strong again in his natural domain of 140 pounds. Welterweight is not Hatton's strongest suit, just as John McCain acknowledges that his is not the economy. Like the Republican Party's presidential nominee, however, Hatton is convinced that he can come back.

"This fight will shut up all the people who think that I'm finished and that I'm ready to leave via the back door," he said. "I know that the daggers are out and there are people who think that it has finally caught up to me, all the ballooning up and down in weight. These people don't necessarily want me to fall but they think that I will never be the same again.

If Hatton repels Lazcano's challenge, he will travel back to America to encounter New York's Paulie Malignaggi later this year. If he is successful in that bout, Hatton hopes to engage Mayweather in a rematch next year at Wembley Stadium in London.

Five months since his loss to Mayweather, though, the pain has not diminished.

"I don't think that I was comprehensively beaten [by Mayweather] at all," Hatton said. "I thought that the fight was in the balance.

"Don't get me wrong, I was knocked out in the 10th round and you can't get more comprehensive than that but it was only the last couple of rounds when it started to fall apart. Up to Round 6, there was nothing in it."

Nothing except Mayweather's supreme ring intelligence and precise, damaging punches which were too much to overcome, especially when Hatton's aggression and efforts to smother his opponent proved ineffectual after the first couple of rounds.

But Hatton is a warrior and the warrior code demands that a man must think in a certain way. Sometimes this is delusional, so in order to hush the naysayers, Hatton's immediate requirement is an emphatic performance against Lazcano.

Brian Doogan covers boxing for The Sunday Times and Ring magazine.