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September 12, 2018

Floyd Mayweather TKO10 Ricky Hatton, December 8th 2007

by Matt O'Brien

An edited version of this article was published on website on December 8th, 2017: 

“My heart will explode before I leave him alone for one second,” Ricky Hatton had promised prior to his December 2007 showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. In the event, far less was required to inflict a first defeat on the determined challenger, though no one could ever accuse the Englishman of not giving everything he had that night in Las Vegas.

Billed as “Undefeated”, the MayweatherHatton superfight pitted the flashy, cocky and sublimely skilled American champion against the down-to-earth, crowd-pleasing British brawler. They entered the contest with a combined record of 81-0 as Hatton, the lineal light-welterweight champion, stepped up to challenge for Mayweather’s WBC welterweight crown.

In a mega-media tour that had taken in Los Angeles, Grand Rapids, New York, London and Manchester, Mayweather had done his best to rile the Englishman, mocking and clowning him on stage and spouting incessant trash-talk into his ear each time they faced off. Hatton responded mostly by laughing off the insults, even wearing a pair of industrial-strength ear protectors at one point before, finally, taunting the American with a foul-mouthed tirade on live TV at the Manchester press-stop, to the amusement of his local supporters.

HBO’s 24/7 series lapped up the contrast between Hatton as the everyday-bloke-down-the-pub versus Mayweather the obnoxious, pseudo-gangster. And while the roles felt overly scripted at times, there was no doubt that Hatton connected with his fan base like few athletes before or since, and in a way that Mayweather could only dream of.  

It was estimated that more than 30,000 travelled to Las Vegas to support the Mancunian, and at the weigh-in 8,000 raucous Brits crammed into the MGM Grand Garden Arena, booing the champion loudly on his home turf. The fighters went nose-to-nose for several seconds and then pushed their faces against each other, almost sparking a melee before they were separated and a fired-up Hatton took to the mic, roaring out, “Let’s fucking have him!” to his baying fans.

Team Hatton were confident, though they were under no illusions as to the scale of the task before them. Mayweather was, after all, already a five-weight champion, had competed at world title level for eight years longer than Hatton, and was universally acclaimed as the pound-for-pound No.1.   

That being said, there was a good argument to be made that the Hitman’s swarming style and relentless body attack just might be the one needed to knock Mayweather off his pound-for-pound perch. An emphatic fourth-round stoppage of Jose Luis Castillo six months earlier – the same Mexican who many still swore had beaten “Pretty Boy” Floyd handily in their first encounter – did not do the challenger’s case any harm. Ricky’s signature win over Kostya Tszyu also gave him a more impressive name on his record that anything in Floyd’s long career – with the exception of his most recent victory over Oscar De La Hoya, that is. In other words, while the champion was rightly the bookies’ favourite, there was serious potential for the match to be Floyd’s toughest ever.

A roll call of Hollywood A-listers sat ringside, from Sly Stallone and “Brangelina” to David Beckham and Tom Jones, who sang God Save the Queen to the delight of the thousands of rambunctious Brits in attendance. By the time the fighters were introduced the Hatton faithful had reached fever pitch, and the American was, once again, loudly jeered in his own backyard.

As battle commenced Hatton immediately went on the offensive and within seconds they clinched for the first time. The action resumed and again they clinched, this time referee Joe Cortez warning them to “watch the holding guys”. 14 seconds had elapsed in the fight.

Cortez called “break” a further 11 times in that first round alone, with Jim Watt, commentating for the UK broadcast, noting as early as the first minute: “Already… I’m spotting Joe Cortez is a little bit too busy. He was jumping in there before he knew if they were gonna throw punches. Hope he’s not gonna be too busy and ruin Ricky Hatton‘s chances here.”

Halfway through the first stanza Hatton surprised Mayweather with a well timed left that sent him reeling backwards on his heels; the crowd went crazy, though he was more off-balance than hurt. The challenger’s foot speed and the intensity of his assaults were troubling Mayweather, but he also showed poise under pressure, countering Hatton‘s rushes with some crisp lead rights and left hooks. By the end of the round, the pattern for the remainder of the fight had been firmly established: Hatton pressured relentlessly forward while Mayweather threw stinging pot shot counters, with lots of mauling for position in between, and far more involvement than necessary from Joe Cortez.

The challenger’s raw determination and fast, leaping lefts again had Mayweather looking flustered in a good second round for the Brit. Unfortunately, Cortez’s poor start went from bad to worse, as he repeatedly broke the fighters apart and gifted Mayweather the breathing space that Hatton was working so hard to eliminate, separating the boxers 13 times – an average of once every 14 seconds – in both rounds two and three. At one point in the third, Cortez broke them four times in a 16 second period, barely leaving room between each shout of “stop, break it out clean,” before beginning the command over again.  

On HBO, Jim Lampley questioned whether Cortez was stifling Hatton’s chances of victory, noting that, “It’s Mayweather who’s holding, there’s no question who’s doing the holding. If points were to be deducted you would have to think it would be Floyd who’d be giving them up.” Meanwhile, an incredulous Jim Watt yelled in disgust, “I’ve never heard such a refereeing piece of nonsense!

As the rounds progressed Cortez’s overzealous calls to break did die down somewhat, but his constant badgering formed an almost continuous backdrop even when he wasn’t physically pulling the fighters apart.

As for Mayweather, he showed that as well as being one of the most skillful boxers in the world, he could rough it up with the best of them, too – repeatedly shoving his forearm into Hatton‘s face to create punching room, despite several warnings from the referee. Taking advantage of the extra leeway, the champion peppered Hatton with some eye-catching right hand leads, opening a cut over the Englishman’s right eye. “Keep doing what you’re doing, that’s all you gotta do,” instructed a satisfied Roger Mayweather between rounds. “That motherfucker can’t out-fight you no way.”

The fifth was probably Hatton’s best of the fight, as he managed to push Floyd to the ropes and finally gain some momentum, though “the Hitman’s” trademark body shots were still few and far between. Twice in the last 20 seconds of the round Mayweather pushed his elbow forcefully into Hatton’s face in full view of the referee; yet again Cortez warned him but took no points.

Going into the sixth, both Harold Lederman (scoring for HBO) and Jim Watt (scoring for SKY) now had the challenger in a 48-47 point lead – a very unusual situation for Mayweather to find himself in (though we learned later the official judges were not giving Hatton’s aggression nearly as much credit). Early in the round they traded inside, with Floyd ducking and catching Hatton’s face with another elbow as he turned his back away. Hatton pursued and threw an overhand right, grazing the top rope but barely making contact with the back of Floyd’s head. This time, Cortez called “time out” and deducted a point.

As they resumed, Hatton turned his back on Mayweather and bent over in the centre of the ring, mocking Cortez’s ruling. He found sympathy with the crowd, but the frustration cost him as his work became more ragged. Floyd was countering Hatton’s rushes with growing regularity and started to look more and more comfortable, perhaps sensing some of the fight finally beginning to drain out of the Englishman.

The eighth was all Floyd, as the champ went through his full repertoire: stiff jabs to the body, lead right hands to the head, hooks to both sides of the midsection – it was vintage Mayweather in full flow. At one point he sidestepped and landed a beautiful counter “check hook” as Hatton charged at him in a corner, before unleashing a barrage of spiteful, accurate shots to head and body. To his great credit, somehow Hatton found the resolve to come firing back at the end of the round, but he was taking a real pummeling now.

Hatton marched forward again in the ninth, but Mayweather simply took his time and picked him off with stiff, single jabs. Sensing their hero needed an extra lift, between rounds the terraces broke out into a hearty rendition of their favourite tune and Hatton responded positively, pressuring and looking to work in some body punches early in the tenth. Boxing is a game of extremely fine margins though, and by now Mayweather had established permanent access to the extra inch of space he had sought all night.

Sure enough, a minute into the tenth Hatton leapt in with another left hook only to find that Mayweather had already taken half a step to the side and thrown his own perfectly timed counter check hook to the jaw – a carbon copy of the move in the eighth round, except this time an exhausted Hatton’s momentum took him forward head first into the turnbuckle, before bouncing off and lying flat out on his back. He rose unsteadily and tried desperately to hold and clear his head, but the damage was already done. As Mayweather unloaded a series of grazing shots Hatton’s legs betrayed him; he stumbled sideways and fell, with Cortez immediately waving the finish.

An elated Mayweather ran to the corner and jumped onto the ropes, crying tears of joy as he looked to the heavens. At the time of the stoppage, the judges had him leading by scores of 89-81 (twice) and 88-82 – cards which failed to tell the story of just how fiercely contested those early rounds had been. There was also no telling just how much Joe Cortez impacted the final outcome, though it’s unquestionable that his performance benefitted Mayweather far more than it did Hatton.

Moving back down to chase the big fights at 140lbs, “the Hitman” successfully reclaimed a version of the world title before being brutally knocked out by another all-time great, Manny Pacquiao, and finally called it quits in 2012. He will go down as a two-weight world champion who went 1-2 against three of the best pound-for-pound fighters of the modern era, as well as being one of the most popular British athletes in living memory.                                                                                

As for “Money” Mayweather, after a two-year self-imposed absence from the ring he also returned to reclaim his position at the top of the sport, becoming the highest grossing fighter in history. He will almost certainly be remembered as the greatest boxer of his era, and while there are other more significant victories on his ledger than the Hatton win, there are few where he displayed his ability to box and fight so completely, and none that were accompanied by the electric atmosphere when 30,000 Brits invaded Las Vegas.

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