An edited version of this article was published on TheFightCity.com website on December 8th, 2017: https://www.thefightcity.com/dec-8-2007-mayweather-vs-hatton-boxing/
“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 Mayweather–Hatton 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.
An edited version of this article, with the title “Undisputed Chaos”, was published on TheFightCity.com website on September 25th, 2017: https://www.thefightcity.com/undisputed-chaos-title-belts-boxing/
This past weekend witnessed a special event in boxing, as WBO/WBC 140lbs belt-holder Terrence Crawford swept aside IBF/WBA ruler Julius Indongo to become just the third man in history to unify boxing’s “Big Four” sanctioning belts. With each of the four governing bodies naming a minimum of one titlist across seventeen weight categories – not to mention various pointless distinctions between “super”, “regular”, “interim”, “diamond” and “emeritus” champions – the anointment of a truly undisputed king, albeit in a single division, provides a welcome reprieve from boxing’s messy landscape.
Sadly, the ideal scenario of crowning an undisputed champion in every division is a virtually impossible task. In practice, the requirements of each governing body set against the promotional and contractual obligations inherent to the business of boxing almost always prevent a single fighter from capturing all four belts, with multiple titles fragmenting far more easily than they are unified.
Bernard Hopkins, who became the first man to unify all four belts following his blockbuster clash with Oscar De La Hoya in 2004, managed a single defence before losing to Jermain Taylor, who was promptly stripped by the IBF before rematching Hopkins. Now joined by Crawford, they are the only men in history to achieve the feat of simultaneously holding all four belts, although the late 1990s and early 2000s saw Lennox Lewis, Roy Jones, Kostya Tszyu, O’Neil Bell, Winky Wright, Cory Spinks and Zab Judah widely recognized as “undisputed champions” of their divisions, despite only holding the WBC, WBA and IBF titles.
Whether these men were ever truly “undisputed” is debatable, though. For while it’s now accepted that there are four bona fide world championships, it’s far less clear precisely when the WBO gained recognition as a member of this group. When Pernell Whitaker unified the WBC, WBA and IBF lightweight titles in 1990, for example, the WBO existed but was not yet widely viewed as a genuine world title. By the time Kostya Tszyu performed the same feat at 140lbs a decade later, the WBO was much more widely respected, with a plethora of modern great fighters – including the likes of Johnny Tapia, Marco Antonio Barrera, Naseem Hamed, Joe Calzaghe, Dariusz Michalczewski, Oscar De La Hoya and Winky Wright, to name a few – having already established themselves as legitimate world champs by virtue of their WBO status.
In other words, aside from Hopkins, Taylor and now Crawford, how long the list of undisputed champions from the modern era really is depends on which source you read, and on whose definition you accept at a given point in history.
With the relative dearth of fighters successfully able to navigate the minefield of boxing politics in order to become the “undisputed” ruler of their weight, fans and scribes also appeal to the notion of a “lineal” champion to resolve the issue of divisional supremacy. The lineal championship functions much the same way as a royal bloodline: you are “the champ” by virtue of the fact that you beat the champ, who beat the champ… all the way back (in theory) to the original champ.
The advantage here is that it circumvents the political chicanery of the alphabet bodies. The drawback though comes packaged with the lack of tangibility: since lineal status is conceptual rather than concrete and depends on historical linkage rather than “official” recognition, sooner or later it diverges from the sanctioned titles. And though the lineal championship carries more historical value, it lacks the visible force that comes with wearing a big shiny belt.
Muddying the waters further still is the fact that situations arise where rival lineal and undisputed champions exist at the same time. A classic example of this occurred in the late 1980s, after Michael Spinks defeated IBF and true heavyweight champion, Larry Holmes. Later, Spinks was stripped by the IBF for refusing to fight their No.1 contender in favour of a more lucrative bout, leaving the bizarre situation whereby the man holding the most legitimate claim as heavyweight champion didn’t own a single one of the official belts. Meanwhile, a new force by the name of Mike Tyson blitzed his way through the rest of the division, collecting the WBC, WBA and IBF titles in order to become “undisputed” champion – the paradox being that Tyson’s status as undisputed champ was legitimately disputed by the lineal champion, Spinks.
Fortunately the mess was resolved when the two rival claimants met in the ring in June 1988. In an event billed as “Once And For All”, Tyson knocked out Spinks in ninety-one seconds to settle the argument; though in more modern times we haven’t always been lucky enough to witness such a conclusive resolution.
The situation in the light-heavyweight division over the last twenty years provides a case in point. In 1999, WBC/WBA belt-holder Roy Jones Junior defeated IBF counterpart Reggie Johnson to unify their three titles, and in 2002 The Ring magazine presented Jones with their inaugural light-heavyweight belt. Commentating on the Crawford-Indongo telecast for Sky Sports on Saturday, former middleweight contender Matthew Macklin recited a popularly held misconception when he stated, incorrectly, that Roy Jones “was undisputed champion for many, many years.”
In fact, Macklin’s description and The Ring’s designation of Jones as their champion both ignored the stronger lineal claim of German-based Pole, Dariusz Michalczewski. Two years prior to Jones, Michalczewski had also unified three belts, adding the WBA and IBF to his WBO crown by defeating Virgil Hill, in June 1997. Michalczewski immediately dropped the WBA and IBF belts that Jones subsequently acquired, but successfully defended the WBO and lineal title a further fourteen times, finally losing to Julio Gonzalez in 2003.
Jones’ supreme talent and almost universal recognition as the best pound-for-pound fighter during that time led many observers to simply overlook Michalczewski’s earlier fine achievement and more valid claim as the true light-heavyweight king. For years a potential bout between the pair was one of the hottest in world boxing, but with Michalczewski content to defend his lesser-regarded WBO belt in Germany and Jones refusing to contemplate travelling to Europe, sadly unlike Tyson-Spinks the matter was never resolved between the ropes, and the mess left behind still resonates today.
In April 2008, Bernard Hopkins and Joe Calzaghe fought for the same Ring 175lbs belt, in a bout widely described as being for the lineal championship of that division, by virtue of the fact that Hopkins had defeated Antonio Tarver, who had defeated Jones. This was only true though if you were willing to ignore the less glamorous claim offered at the time by Zsolt Erdei, whose lineage stretched back to Michalczewski, via Julio Gonzalez. In the end, both Calzaghe and Erdei vacated their championships without ever losing in the ring (Calzaghe retired while Erdei moved up to cruiserweight), and almost a decade later we find ourselves pretty much back where we started.
Today, Andre Ward effectively sits in the position previously occupied by Roy Jones: widely regarded as the world’s pound-for-pound No.1 boxer, he also holds the WBA, IBF, WBO and Ring 175lb titles, though crucially, rival WBC belt-holder Adonis Stevenson owns the stronger claim as lineal champion. Following his first-round demolition of Chad Dawson in 2012, Stevenson became known as “the man who beat the man”, but much like Michalczewski before him, a lack of ambition in his choice of opponents has made it easier for the fight fraternity to overlook his status. Having initially been recognized as The Ring champion, in November 2015 the magazine stripped Stevenson due to a lack of top-level opposition, awarding their vacant title to the winner of the Ward-Kovalev rematch instead.
Regardless of The Ring’s decision, ultimately – as with the Jones-Michalczewski situation – they cannot re-write history. Ward may correctly be viewed as the more talented boxer and deserving champion, but until he meets Stevenson in the ring he cannot claim total supremacy over the division.
Meanwhile the current situation at heavyweight has echoes of the Tyson-Spinks episode, with IBF/WBA titlist Anthony Joshua’s status as the numero-uno effectively hinging on Tyson Fury’s return to the ring. Whether Fury still considers himself to be an active boxer seems to depend which way the wind is blowing, though should he return anytime in the near future his 2015 victory over old king Wladimir Klitschko at least gives him a legitimate claim to being the true ruler of the heavyweight throne.
At middleweight, thankfully things are moving in the right direction as triple belt-holder Gennady Golovkin finally gets his shot at the lineal crown held by Saul Alvarez, whose 2015 WBC title victory over Miguel Cotto links him directly back to the original undisputed king, Bernard Hopkins. Somewhat annoyingly, technically the winner of the GGG-Canelo mega-bout will still need to capture Billy Joe Saunders’ WBO belt in order to reclaim true undisputed status, but at least the consensus No.1 and lineal positions will be consolidated again.
Unfortunately for boxing fans, identifying a single, incontrovertible champion in every weight class is likely to remain a pipe dream for some time to come. The lack of a centralized governing body means that controversy will continue to surround differing interpretations and competing interests, and a consensus view of who “the real” champ is from within the fight community may be about the best we’ve got. The only solution and route to clarity, really, is to ensure that the best fight the best as often as possible, so that we resolve the question of supremacy more like Tyson-Spinks, and less like Jones-Michalczewski. Terrence Crawford now sits as the WBC, WBO, WBA, IBF [undisputed], Ring and lineal light-welterweight champion. Here’s to hoping we don’t have to wait another twelve years for the next boxer to attain the same status.
Author’s Note: This article was written on 17th April, 2008, and was my first ever attempt at a full-length boxing article. I’d like to extend a huge thanks to Thomas Hauser and T.K. Stewart, who kindly took the time to read it and offer feedback and words of encouragement.
After a combined total of 44 world title fight victories including two of the longest title reigns in the history of boxing, culminating in both fighters becoming undisputed champions in their respective divisions and one of them a two division champion, finally Bernard ‘The Executioner’ Hopkins and Joe ‘The Pride of Wales’ Calzaghe will meet in the squared circle. The fight will determine not only who can call himself the best light-heavyweight in the world, but which man can claim supremacy over an entire era. Most likely niether fighter will remain in the sport of boxing long after Saturday’s contest, regardless of the outcome. So as another of boxings era’s draws itself to a close – with the likes of De La Hoya, Roy Jones, Mosley, Trinidad, Barrera and more all likely closing out their hall of fame careers in the near future – so two more legends of the modern era duke it out to decide just who can ride off into the sunset with his pride in tact; his will executed. Read more
An edited version of this article was published on TheFightCity.com on February 13th, 2017: http://www.thefightcity.com/super-middleweight-super-six-boxing/
Since being established by the major sanctioning bodies in the mid-1980s, the super middleweight division has produced some classic contests. I was fortunate enough to be growing into an avid boxing fan in the midst of the division’s heyday for British & Irish boxing, during a wonderful era in the 1990s. James DeGale didn’t quite manage to emerge victorious in his recent IBF/WBC unification fight against Badou Jack, but he nevertheless earned a rightful place in the discussion alongside Britain and Ireland’s best 168lb fighters. Looking at each man’s achievements in the sport, as well as why they earned a special place in my heart as a boxing fan, here’s my personal Super Six: Read more
This article was published by BoxingInsider.com on December 30th, 2016: http://www.boxinginsider.com/columns/ronda-rousey-returns-biggest-upset-combat-sports-history-not-long-way/
Friday night sees the long-awaited comeback of “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey following her shocking defeat to Holly Holm last November, in a result infamously described by UFC commentator Joe Rogan as, “the biggest upset in combat sports history”. Prior to her defeat, Rousey had demolished a string of 12 opponents with only one of them making it out of the first round – a devastating record by any standard, and there’s no doubt that Holm’s knockout was a truly enormous upset, with the challenger overcoming odds of up to 12-1 against her.
That being said, it takes two people to make a fight, and the bookies’ published odds are not the only ingredient that goes into a big upset – the wider context of the underdog’s role is also vital. Ronda’s record was indeed formidable, but keen observers had noted that it could be a far more difficult task than anything she had faced before, with Holm being a former world-boxing champion and arguably the first bona fide world-class striker “Rowdy” had faced off against.
So while Rogan’s assertion that it was the “biggest upset of all time” might be right as far as UFC or even MMA history goes, once we include the sweet science the scale of Ronda’s defeat falls a few rungs down the list of “greatest ever upsets”. Here are five of my favourite shocks in boxing history that eclipse Holly Holm’s upset victory over Ronda Rousey: Read more