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Hitman Or Magic Man – Who Has The Formula To Win In Vegas?

By CONOR WARD: Manchester’s much-loved hard-living puncher Ricky ‘The Hitman’ Hatton is on another eagerly anticipated mission in the Nevada Desert this weekend, as he takes on brash and talented New Yorker Paulie ‘The Magic Man’ Malignaggi. In official terms, the prize at stake is Ricky’s IBO light welterweight title, but the reality is that these two are locking horns in a battle to establish the de facto king of the division. WBC champ Timothy Bradley, Junior Witter’s vanquisher, might have something to say about that, and no doubt he will get his chance at a later juncture, but for now, Hatton-Malignaggi is where it’s at in the 140 pound class..

Hatton, as ever, brings huge support with him to Sin City, as he returns to action at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, the scene of his only defeat last December - a demoralizing kayo at that – at the hands of recently retired welterweight maestro ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd Mayweather Jr. And in one of sport’s strange ironies, Hatton has turned to Pretty Boy’s estranged father - the vastly experienced, highly-respected though motor-mouthed Floyd Sr. – to get him primed for the challenge of Malignaggi.

Having parted company with his long-time cornerman Billy Graham after an unspectacular points victory over Juan Lazcano in May, Hatton’s choice of Floyd Sr. as his new trainer is certainly a little baffling, and has been hotly debated. For one thing, it’s frankly pretty late in the day to change tact so dramatically. To offer a blunt analysis of Ricky’s style over the last few years, he’s a come-forward, imposing and aggressive brawler. That’s no criticism, it’s just the reality, and it was good enough to establish a record of 43 wins without loss and secure a string of world titles at both light welter and welter. You can’t argue with those credentials.

Being humbled and simply outclassed by the mesmerizing skills of Floyd Jr. has forced Ricky to reassess, however. Floyd Sr. is a renowned expert on the defensive side of the game. It was his own trademark during a career in which he proved a tough and durable welterweight contender, and he has been credited with instilling those same remarkable defensive attributes early in his son’s career. But Ricky is a different fighter entirely, as we all saw last December when he was led a merry dance by the undefeated, and some would argue unbeatable Floyd Jr.

But in seeking to improve his ability to dodge punishment this time around, is Ricky moving too far in the other direction? And as the old adage goes, “Can you really teach an old dog new tricks?” Although he maintains that training with Floyd Sr. has enhanced his skills, it seems that Ricky is in serious danger of compromising that which made him such a force to begin with – his come-forward pressure approach. Trying to “outbox the boxer” could play right into Malignaggi hand’s – and fast hands they are too.

Furthermore, in the heat of battle against a slick and skillful fighter, Ricky’s familiar defensive frailty may again be exposed. There seems little point in Ricky attempting to take a measured contemplative approach at this late stage in his career, rather than seeking to overpower and overwhelm Malignaggi with the pressure game. It is of course possible that Hatton could produce a wonderfully refined performance, one which combines the best of both worlds, but that would seem unlikely.

Malignaggi, for his part, is not shy in the art of self-promotion, but there is substance behind all the mouth. Considering that he took to the sweet science relatively late in life (Malignaggi was in his late teens when he first entered Brooklyn’s famed Gleason’s Gym), his array of skills are quite remarkable. He has good lateral movement and sound defensive instincts. He builds his attack starting with his lightning quick jab and has the ability to produce punches in bunches. While his lack of power has been much maligned in the build-up to this fight (he has only scored 5 knockouts from his 25 pro victories), his speed and accuracy will surely be problematic for Ricky, especially later on in proceedings, if the fight ends up going the distance. Malignaggi also proved, in his solitary defeat to the power-punching Miguel Cotto, that he can soak up punishment and that he’s no soft touch. He has never suffered a knockout.

This is without question an intriguing clash of personalities, and more especially, of styles. The key for Ricky is to get on top early doors, cut off the ring, slow Malignaggi’s momentum, and hurt him with good work on the inside. The more the action takes place at range, the more Paulie can assert control by using his quick hands and slipping away from Ricky’s bombs.

Despite the fact that Malignaggi is just two years Ricky’s junior, he’s the much fresher fighter, and he’s looking to move to the next level of stardom. Ricky has been there, done it, and bought the T-shirt, so one wonders whether he has quite the same level of motivation. You also can’t help but feel that 45 pro fights (most especially the heavy shots he received from Mayweather The Younger), and more late nights than he can care to remember, might just have caught up with the ever-popular ever-endearing Hatton.

Ricky’s infectious character makes it all but impossible not to root for him, but he is in for a real tough test here without doubt. The ramifications of the outcome will be big for Ricky one way or the other, but that’s for another day.

It’s a tough fight to call, and everyone seems to have a different opinion. Here’s hoping it makes for an entertaining spectacle. But if I were a betting man - which I am - I’d fancy that Malignaggi to win on points is worth a few pounds, euros or dollars.

Article posted on 21.11.2008



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