ONE of the things that made Ricky Hatton so appealing is that he was a fan of the fans. “People watch me because I’m an exciting fighter,” Ricky once said. “But I think they watch me too because they look on me as a mate. I don’t expect people to roll out a red carpet when I walk down the street. There are no bodyguards. I don’t want VIP treatment. I’m just a normal kid doing very well at what he does. I like my food. I’ll go to the pub for a few pints and to throw darts. The best thing about being a fighter is when people come up to me and say, ‘Ricky, you’re a world champion and you’re just like me.’ What the fans think means a lot to me. There’s no point in being a great fighter if people think you’re a dickhead.”

Most ordinary people want to be treated like stars. Hatton was a star who wanted to be treated like ordinary people. I was privileged to see that firsthand when Team Hatton allowed me into its inner circle for Ricky’s December 8, 2007, challenge against Floyd Mayweather Jnr at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. With boxing having ground to a halt in 2020 because of the coronavirus, this is a good time to revisit that historic fight.

Mayweather had become The Man in boxing in May 2007 by virtue of a split-decision victory over Oscar De La Hoya. Hatton was undefeated with 43 victories in 43 fights and 31 knockouts. Two years earlier, he’d stopped Kostya Tszyu in 11 rounds to seize the IBF 140-pound crown. Then Ricky went up in weight to claim the WBA welterweight title by decision over Luis Collazo.

Mayweather was a clear betting favorite over Hatton. Age wasn’t a factor. Floyd was 30; Ricky was 29. But weight was. This would be only Hatton’s second fight at 147 pounds.

‘There’s no point in being a great fighter if people think you’re a dickhead’

Ricky Hatton

“I’ve studied the tapes,” Ricky said prior to the bout. “Floyd is very, very good at what he does. He’s got fantastic hand speed. He’s got a wonderful defence, and he likes to take the steam out of his opponents by making them miss. He’s a very versatile fighter. He has so many tricks; you have to deny him the time and space to do his thing. But it’s very pleasing for me that the fight where Floyd was at his least comfortable was the first fight against Jose Luis Castillo, who was able to bully him to the ropes a lot. I don’t think Castillo is physically as strong as me, as quick as me, or has footwork as good as me. I move in very, very quickly on my opponents and stick to them like glue. I’ve got the style to give Floyd absolute nightmares. His handspeed will concern me if I’m on the outside, but it won’t bother me when I’m on his chest. I will constantly be in his face and give him no chance to rest.”

“I don’t think Mayweather realises I’m as good as I am,” Hatton continued. “He just sees the obvious. Strong kid with a big heart who keeps coming forward. But there’s a lot more to me than that. There’s a lot of thought to what I do; if you watch carefully how quick I move in on my opponents, how I change the angles. It’s only when fighters actually get in there with me that they realize there’s a method to the madness.“

And there was one more factor to be considered. The Hatton camp wanted (and needed) a referee who would let Ricky fight on the inside and not prematurely separate the combatants.

Floyd Mayweather vs Ricky Hatton

There was a buzz in Las Vegas during fight week. An estimated 18,000 Hatton fans flew in from England, bringing energy to The Strip that hadn’t been seen since De La Hoya vs. Felix Trinidad in 1999. The Ricky Hatton theme song sounded again and again:

                              There’s only one Ricky Hatton

                              One Ricky Hatton

                              Walking along

                              Singing a song

                              Walking in a Hatton Wonderland

On fight night, Hatton entered dressing room #4 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena at 5:45 pm. A piece of paper taped to the door read, “Blue Corner – Ricky Hatton.” Beneath that, someone had scrawled in a blue marker pen, “Ready by 7:55 pm.”

The dressing room was hot and stuffy. A British flag was taped to the wall. A large blue-plastic tub filled with ice and several dozen bottles of water stood by the door. Three pint bottles of Guinness had been thrown into the mix for a post-fight celebration.

Minutes earlier, Matthew Hatton (Ricky’s brother) had completed an eight-round fight against Frankie Santos of Puerto Rico. He had yet to return to the dressing room.

“Matthew won,” Ricky was told.

“Knockout or decision?”

“80-72, 80-72, 79-73.”

Ricky smiled. “That’s a good start on the evening.”

Matthew and his cornermen (trainer Billy Graham, nutritionist Kerry Keyes, and cutman Mick Williamson; all of whom would work Ricky’s corner later in the night) came through the door. “We got that one out of the way,” Graham said. “One down and one to go.”

Ricky fingered a rolled-up piece of tape and shot it toward a garbage can in the manner of a basketball point guard. The tape missed its target. “Not my sport,” he said. He walked over, picked the tape off the floor, and dropped it in the trash.

A SKY tv crew came in to conduct a brief interview for British television. They were followed by Larry Merchant of HBO.

“Just leave me alone and let me do what I have to do,” Hatton said to no one in particular after the television crews were gone. “I’m trying to make sense when I talk, but my mind’s not on doing interviews now.”

Then Hatton set about connecting the wires on an audio-system he’d brought with him and positioned the speakers where he wanted them. For a moment, he looked like a young man moving into a new apartment.

At 6:35, music began to blare. For the next two hours, it would be very loud in the dressing room. Except for the time spent having his hands taped, Ricky would be on his feet, constantly moving like a hyperactive child, pacing and shadow-boxing with increasing intensity to the music.

A television monitor at the far end of the room showed Edner Cherry knocking out Wes Ferguson with a picture-perfect left hook in the first pay-per-view bout of the evening. “I wouldn’t mind landing one of them in a bit,” Hatton offered. “Please give me one of them tonight.”

Billy Graham looked across the room at Mick Williamson and said quietly, “I’m afraid we’re going to need him tonight. I’m a realist. I think Ricky will win but he gets cut. He gets bad cuts, and Floyd throws those fast slashing punches.”

As time passed, Sugar Ray Leonard, Shane Mosley, and Marco Antonio Barrera entered to wish Ricky luck. The music kept changing, from rap to acid rock to something akin to an Irish jig. At seven o’clock, Hatton changed tracks again and the raspy voice of Mick Jagger was heard.

“I can’t get no satisfaction . . . ”

Ricky picked up the pace of his shadow-boxing and sang aloud.

“I can’t get no satisfaction . . . Cause I try and I try and I try and I try.”

Soon everyone in the room was singing.

“I can’t get no . . . I can’t get no . . . When I’m drivin’ in my car, and that man comes on the radio . . .”

Floyd Mayweather’s image appeared on the television monitor.

“I’m coming for you, f**ker,” Ricky growled.

Al Bello/Getty Images

David Beckham entered the room. He and Hatton had met earlier in the year and been text-messaging back and forth ever since. “I can’t believe that someone like David Beckham texts me,” Ricky had said several months earlier. The fighter had attended a Los Angeles Galaxy soccer game as Beckham’s guest. Now the favour was being returned.

Beckham stood by the door, maintaining a distance; one world-class athlete respecting the mental preparation required of another. At 7:15, for the first time in ninety minutes, Hatton sat and Billy Graham began taping his hands. Only then did Beckham walk over and clasp Ricky on the shoulder.

Recording star Tom Jones (who would sing God Save The Queen later in the evening) came in. Ricky looked up. “Is Elvis coming too?” he queried.

At 7:24, referee Joe Cortez entered the room to give Hatton his final pre-fight instructions. Five months earlier, Cortez had refereed Ricky’s fight against Jose Luis Castillo without incident. Now Cortez ran through the usual litany and closed with, “Any questions?”

“Ricky is an inside fighter,” Graham said. “He fights clean but he’s an aggressive fighter.”

“I’ll let the fight take its course,” Cortez promised.

The referee left. Graham finished taping Hatton’s hands. David Beckham and Tom Jones slipped out the door. Kerry Kayes helped Ricky on with his trunks; teal-and-silver with black trim and black fringe.

The television monitor showed Jeff Lacy and Peter Manfredo facing off for round one in the final preliminary bout of the evening. It was expected to be a short fight. Hatton gloved up and began working the pads with Graham.

At eight o’clock, Lacy and Manfredo were still in the ring. It was only round five.

Ricky paced a bit . . . There was more pad-work with Graham.

8:12 . . . Lacy and Manfredo began round eight.

8:20 . . . Aggravation was etched on Ricky’s face. He had expected to be in the ring by now.

At 8:23, Lacy-Manfredo ended. In the main arena, Tom Jones sang God Save The Queen followed by Tyrese’s rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner.

Finally, Team Hatton left the dressing room.

As Ricky came into view, there were thunderous cheers from the crowd.

The fighters were introduced and the bell for round one sounded.

As expected, Hatton moved forward from the start with Mayweather pot-shotting from the outside. The crowd roared with every blow that Ricky landed, but Floyd’s hands were significantly faster. Mayweather’s speed was a problem for Ricky. And the conduct of referee Joe Cortez made the challenge more daunting.

To get inside, Hatton had to navigate his way past Mayweather’s fists and also Floyd’s left elbow. Once inside, he was frequently fouled. Mayweather was allowed to go low; hold; and use his head, forearms and elbows as offensive weapons. Often, Ricky maneuvered into position to work effectively and Cortez broke the fighters even though Hatton was still punching. By breaking them prematurely again and again, the referee denied Ricky the chance to impose his physical strength and forced him to fight much of the battle at long range. That, in turn, exposed him to Floyd’s potshots as he tried to work his way back in again.

In the first round, Cortez broke the fighters 11 times; many of them when one or both men had an arm free and was punching. From there, it got worse; 13 times in round two and 14 in round three.

A live underdog waits for the moment when the favourite makes a mistake that will undermine his superiority. In Mayweather-Hatton, it never came. In round three, Floyd opened an ugly gash above Ricky’s right eye. Still, Hatton persevered. In round five, he did his best work of the night, winning the stanza on the cards of all three judges. Significantly, Cortez broke the fighters only four times in round five.

Round six began with another Hatton offensive. Then, fifty seconds into the stanza, Mayweather appeared to turn his back as a defensive maneuver with his head going through the ropes. Ricky threw a punch and missed, and Cortez took a point away from Hatton.

Floyd Mayweather vs Ricky Hatton

“When the referee took a point away, I lost my composure a bit,” Ricky said afterward. “I thought I was doing all right. I was two rounds down probably, but coming on nicely. Then the point got taken away, and I felt it wasn’t going to be a level playing field. So I began trying to force things and took more risks and left myself open more than I should have.”

Thereafter, Mayweather ran the table. In round eight, he began putting his punches together, landing hard clean shots to the head and body. Round nine was more of the same. But Hatton kept coming and his fans’ ardor never dimmed. The crowd sang “there’s only one Ricky Hatton” again and again with a fervor that increased as their hero’s troubles grew, as though they were trying to will him to victory

In round ten, Mayweather closed the show. Hatton launched a left hook from too far away. As Ricky’s arm went in motion, Floyd countered with a highlight-reel blow. Rather than wait for the punch to miss, he threw second and landed first with a lightning left hook of his own. Hatton never saw the punch coming. He went down and got up, but he knew he’d been hit. Then Mayweather landed several more blows, and Cortez appropriately stopped the fight.

Six thousand miles is a long way to travel for a broken heart.

In the dressing room after the fight, Hatton sat on a chair and bowed his head.

Carol Hatton walked over to her son, leaned down, and hugged him. “You did us proud,” she said.

Ricky’s father and brother joined them.

“I really thought I was going to win,” Ricky told them.

Ray Leonard came in to offer condolences.

Billy Graham stood off to the side.

“I still think Ricky can beat Floyd,” the trainer said. “But he didn’t, so that’s it. I give Floyd credit. He finished the fight. He brought the curtain down, didn’t he?”

A security guard opened the door. “Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie would like to come in. Is it all right?”

Before Ricky could answer, the women in the room, who now also included Jennifer Dooley (then Ricky’s girlfriend) and Jenna Coyne (Matthew’s fiancee) answered in the affirmative.

The celebrity couple entered. Brad Pitt walked over to the fighter. “There’s still only one Ricky Hatton,” he said.

Ray Leonard went in search of a photographer who would take a photo of him with Pitt and Jolie.

Eventually the well-wishers filtered out and Ricky was left with his core team.

“The referee did me no favors tonight,” he said, reflecting on the previous hour. “I can’t complain about Floyd. It’s a rough business. You do what you can get away with, and Floyd was good on the inside. I’m not exactly Mother Theresa in the ring myself. If I can get a sly one in there, I’ll do it. But the referee let Floyd foul the living daylights out of me. And when I was in position to do damage, he forced me out to long range again. Let’s be honest. The referee was poor tonight.”

Floyd Mayweather vs Ricky Hatton

Then Hatton lay down on the rubdown table, motionless with his hands crossed across his chest. Dr. Frank Ryan closed the wound above his right eye with one deep stitch on the inside and seven on the outside. One could only begin to imagine the echoes that were reverberating in Ricky’s mind. The three bottles of Guinness lay in the ice, untouched.

Thomas Hauser’s most recent book – A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored him with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. On June 14, 2020, Hauser will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.