Boxing


THE RICKY HATTON ROADMAP

15.12.03 - Jason Leavy: As the acclaim subsides after the most impressive performance of his career to date, light-welterweight star Ricky Hatton (photo: Tom Casino/Showtime) is no doubt asking himself the same question that the rest of us are: what happens next?

The Mancunian bodysnatcher answered any doubters in the most emphatic manner possible on Saturday evening, dominating Ghana's Ben Tackie with a masterclass combination of slick boxing skills and all-out aggression. What his victory proved beyond doubt is that Hatton is a world-class fighter, and there is now an acceptance that 2004 will witness his assault on the current crop of title holders in his division.

Hatton's misfortune is that the light-welter division is currently boxing's deepest in terms of talent, so his route to the top has to be planned with both skill and caution. If you think of Hatton's quest as akin to climbing Everest, he has reached base camp in style with his victory over Tackie, but now faces a tough and potentially treacherous ascent to the summit. The fun for boxing observers is in deciding which routes to take, if Hatton is to achieve his goal. And before making any decision, it's necessary to study the terrain and the 'obstacles' that lie in wait:

Junior Witter
Hatton's long-term British rival was meant to further his bid for a showdown by defeating dangerous Brazilian puncher Kelson Pinto on the same bill as Hatton vs Tackie. However, Witter's withdrawal due to a hand injury means he has fallen down the pecking order and in the short term has no place on the Hatton roadmap. If he still wishes to face Hatton, he will now have to accept that he will have to make his own way to world level in the first place. The chances of Hatton facing Witter in 2004 are now surely no more than 10 per cent at best.

Demarcus Corley
In the wake of his defeat to Zab Judah, the former WBO title-holder has become a member of the 'who needs him?' club. While Hatton would be slightly favoured to overcome his slick boxing skills, the match would do little to raise Hatton's profile Stateside and so represents an unnecessary risk. It really only become an option if Hatton's bid to fight for the world title becomes frustrated by promotional difficulties - therefore only a 10 per cent chance of coming off.

Zab Judah
The talented WBO belt-holder scored an impressive first round KO at the weekend, even if it was against a limited opponent. While question marks remain concerning Judah's chin and temperament, there's no doubt that his hand speed, footwork and power mark him out as one of the most dangerous men in the division and he could have the style to give Hatton fits. Given the standing of the WBO bauble (there are rumours Judah himself may vacate), this represents an unnecessarily risky fight for Hatton to take at this stage. The chances of him facing Judah are no more than 20 per cent in this writer's opinion.

Floyd Mayweather Jr
After his electrifying performance against Philip N'dou, 'Pretty Boy' is near the top of most experts' pound-for-pound lists, and his team have already expressed an interest in facing Hatton when he moves up to light-welterweight. You can make a strong case for saying this is a no-lose situation for Hatton, as he'd enter the fight as a heavy underdog and US observers in particular would expect Mayweather to hand out a boxing lesson to him. If indeed that did happen, Hatton's currency wouldn't be badly damaged through losing to such a stellar performer, and if Hatton manages to rough up Mayweather with his superior size and strength a la Castillo, he could be on the verge of a Honeyghan Vs Curry-style breakthrough. Nonetheless, given the wealth of other options out there for him, it's unlikely that Hatton will take this match - around a 20 per cent possibility.

Otkay Urkal
The under-rated Urkal gave super champ Kostya Tsyzu one of his hardest ever fights and as his display against common opponent Eamon Magee proved, he is under-estimated at your peril. Given his style he could actually represent one of the toughest possible opponents out there for Hatton, but first he has his own test in the shape of his challenge to belt holder Vivian Harris. It's quite possible to see Urkal beating Harris, particularly as the fight is in Germany, and any possible fight with Hatton is dependent on him achieving this - certainly there'd be nothing in it for Hatton to face a defeated Urkal. However, even if Urkal is crowned champ, there is a strong case for saying there are better match-ups for Hatton out there. One to avoid, and therefore only a 40 per cent possibility.

Sharmba Mitchell
The slick Southpaw gets his long-awaited rematch with divisional king Kostya Tsyzu in early 2004, and any potential match-up with Hatton depends on the result of this bout. Hatton's following in Mitchell's shadows at the moment, with similar wins over Vince Philips and Tackie. You can never read too much into fights against common opponents, but at the very least Hatton has proved he belongs at a similar level. Hatton vs Mitchell could be a fascinating match-up - the slick boxer who also carries a decent dig vs the aggressive box-puncher with underrated boxing skills. There are also question marks surrounding both Mitchell's desire when the going gets tough, and Hatton's skin, making it a real 'pick 'em' fight. However, if Mitchell loses again to Tsyzu there's nothing for Hatton to gain in facing him, and if he wins, there is a strong case to be made that there are easier routes to a title out there. Therefore we're looking at a 40 per cent chance of this fight happening in 2004.

Kostya Tsyzu
What more can be written about the 'daddy' of the division. Hatton has said since day one this is the fight he wants, and if Tsyzu still has enough left in his legs to turn back the stiff challenge that Mitchell is going to present, it could become a reality. Hatton's chances of beating the division's 'super champion' if he faces him are far higher than they would have been just a year ago, however there is a genuine possibility that the Russian/Aussie will retire before Hatton gets the chance to prove he can beat him. Even if Tsyzu stays active, you can make a strong case for Hatton going for one of the 'lesser' belts first before heading for a showdown with the 'daddy' - a 60 per cent chance of seeing this fight in 2004.

Vivian Harris
Opinions are divided on the WBA belt holder, who some believe is over-rated, while others feel he is a hidden gem. While he looked less than impressive on his march to the title, his two-round demolition of Diobelys Hurtado made most sit up and take a bit more notice. Harris undoubtedly has a big right hand, and uses his reach to good effect, but it's easy to make a case for saying he would be overwhelmed by Hatton's swarming aggression and body punching. The waters are muddied somewhat by Harris' upcoming tough defence against Urkal and his ongoing spat with rival champ Zab Judah that could lead to a New York showdown, but this is still a bout that could be made, particularly as Harris has shown he is willing to travel to defend his belt - certainly a 60 per cent chance.

Gianluca Branco
Along with Urkal, Branco represents Hatton's only other competition in Europe. While he has one notable scalp in the shape of Dane Allan Vester, the rest of his statistically impressive record has been padded out with nobodies. Consequently Hatton would be strongly favoured if the two were to face off. However, Branco might well lose his unbeaten record before that, as he faces Arturo Gatti for the vacant WBC title at the end of January. If he does come through against the Canadian warrior, expect at least an 80 per cent chance of him facing Hatton in 2004.

Arturo Gatti
Under the expert tutelage of Buddy Mcgirt, the always-exciting Gatti has turned his career around and in the wake of his thrilling trilogy of battles against Mickey Ward now gets a deserved crack at a title with the match against Branco. Gatti has to be favoured as he would appear to have too much strength, experience and all-round savvy for the Italian. And once Gatti has claimed the title, the clamour for a fight with Hatton from the press, TV and, most importantly, the public, will surely become irresistible - we're talking 90 per cent that he will face Hatton in 2004.

THE IDEAL ROUTE:

A marking time fight against the likes of an Omar Weiss to stay sharp, before a summer showdown with then WBC world champ Arturo Gatti at Maine Road. It'll be like McGuigan and Pedroza all over again, with a huge crowd cheering on Hatton as he survives some rocky moments to grind out a hard-fought points victory over Gatti in a modern classic. Then it'll be on to trying to negotiate the big showdown with Tsyzu...

Article posted on 15.12.2003



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