Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008 | 2 a.m.
- Main Event: Ricky Hatton (44-1, 31 KO's) vs. Paulie Malignaggi (25-1, 5 KO's)
- At Stake: Hatton's Ring Magazine Junior Welterweight Title
- Date/Site: Sat., Nov. 22, 7 p.m. PT at the MGM Grand Garden Arena
- Tickets: $150-$1,000, mgmgrand.com
- TV: HBO Sports
There was no elaborate entrance this time around.
No British cab needed to drop off the pride of Manchester in front of the MGM Grand on Tuesday afternoon.
Something was certainly different about Ricky Hatton’s grand arrival to the grand casino on the Strip. The theatrical walk-up he performed for his last fight in Las Vegas a year ago was gone. So too were the fans, as only dozens from the "Hitman's" army were in attendance, compared to the thousands that cheered his every move last December.
But there was more to the story, a piece that only a matured Hatton, who turned 30 last month, could explain.
“I know I’ve got to perform,” said a straight-faced Hatton, after a workout Monday at the IBA gym in preparation for Saturday night’s junior welterweight title fight against Paulie Malignaggi at the MGM’s Grand Garden Arena.
“I can say until I’m blue in the face, ‘Look at me now, I've had my best training camp, I’m looking great in the gym, etc.’ But I still got to go and do it. To go out there and silence those critics who think that maybe Ricky has had one fight too many.”
It’s not as if Ricky was overwhelmed in his last soiree in Sin City. His first career loss came at the hands of the sport’s best pound-for-pound fighter in Floyd Mayweather Jr.
And his fun-loving appearances — the one’s where he played darts and enjoyed a pint or two at the city’s local British pub, the Crown & Anchor — didn’t offset his training, Hatton said.
On this trip, though, there seems to be another level of seriousness and focus.
“After the Mayweather fight, it was obviously very heartbreaking for me, my first defeat,” said Hatton (44-1, 33 KOs). “I needed a confidence-boosting performance in my last fight against Juan Lazcano to get rid of all the demons from getting knocked out, and I don’t think I got that. My performance was very mediocre.
“If I go out and put the performance that I know I can do, and I believe I can do Saturday night, it’ll put me firmly in the picture for some big fights.”
With a win against Malignaggi, Hatton likely would get a big shot, and even bigger payday, at a high-caliber fighter like Oscar De La Hoya, Manny Pacquiao or a rematch with Mayweather Jr., if he indeed decides to come out of retirement.
But the Brooklyn-based Malignaggi says not so fast. The 27-year-old gave up his IBF junior welterweight belt for the opportunity to take on Hatton.
“This is a crossroads fight for both of us,” said Malignaggi (25-1, 5 KO's), who like Hatton decided to tone down a big entrance for Tuesday’s pre-fight activities and said his “special planned ceremony” for Saturday night has also been scrapped.
“I was gonna decide on something special, but I got a little carried away in Manchester when I started dancing,” said Malignaggi, who defeated Lovemore N'dou by a split decision on the same card as Hatton’s fight in May, despite fracturing his hand in the bout.
“I decided against it. I have to be very focused. This fight, belt or no belt, will decide the best junior welterweight in the world.”
That's been Hatton's mission ever since his so-so performance last May. He decided to find a new trainer — leaving Billy Graham, the only man he ever trained with, in favor of Floyd Mayweather Sr., the father of the only fighter to ever defeat him.
"I think I’m with the right man now to bring out a new side of my game. The best way to describe it is the same old Ricky Hatton — just a lot more method to the madness," said Hatton.
He has lifted less weights than his past fights to focus more on endurance and quickness. He also retooled his finer points as a pugilist instead of relying on his over-the-top punching power.
“To be perfectly honest, I did have that in me," Hatton said. "In certain performances I think I showed it, but far too often I didn’t."
Hatton's quick learning caught the colorful-yet-strict Mayweather Sr. off guard.
“We all knew he had weaknesses. Not to say that he hasn’t learned a lot since (we started working together). He’s a very quick learner," Mayweather Sr. said.
"I thought he may have taken so many punches that he wouldn’t be able to learn. But oh how he fooled me. What I taught him he took home with him, studied it and got even better the next day. He’s learning, he wants to learn and he’ll continue to learn."
Mayweather Sr. said the pair's two-month training period will easily push Hatton past Malignaggi on Saturday, but he'll need to continue his extensive training for his next major bout.
“I think Malignaggi will run like a thief in the dark," Mayweather Sr. said with a big smile. "He has no power, he don’t even have hands. His hands all broke up. If he hits you, he’s gonna hurt himself. All he has basically is the jab. And we’re gonna take that away from him. That’s all he has, and his legs. We’re going right there, down stairs, and gonna take that away from him too.
"Once we take his legs away from him and his jab ... good night sweet prince, sayonara, hasta la vista, toodle-oo, ciao, outta here, no more."
Malignaggi, who said his right hand is fully recovered, said he isn't concerned with the preparations or talk coming out of Hatton's camp.
“We haven’t really focused on what Ricky’s gonna do or bring to the table," he said. "We’ve just focused on getting ourselves really sharp. We’ve had great sparring, something we haven’t gotten in the last few training camps."
While the legions of Hatton supporters might be a little lighter than the thousands that came from overseas to see the Mayweather Jr. fight, Hatton said he still believes he'll have a crowd numbering in the thousands.
"I expect that kind of support in Manchester, but when you come halfway around the world and people are showing it, that makes you as proud as anything." said Hatton, who asked that unlike last year, the crowd inside the MGM refrains from booing during the American national anthem.
"American fight fans have really supported me well, and last time that kind of stuck in my throat. I think it tarnished what was a magnificent occasion. My plea to the fans is to respect both national anthems.”
It seems like Hatton's new-found respects have made the return trip to the ring where his solo career setback occurred a little easier to swallow.
“I have no fear of coming back to the scene of the crime," he said. "That may be daunting for some fighters, but I think that shows a lot of what I’m about."
Andy Samuelson is a sports writer/editor for the Las Vegas Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-948-7837.